I’m from Doncaster, one of the four areas that make up South Yorkshire, others being Rotherham, Barnsley and Sheffield. I came across to Sheffield as a kid, mostly for shopping with family and then later to Meadowhall with friends, eventually moving across for University. I first came to live in Sheffield in 2004, after getting a place at Sheffield Hallam University. At the point of applying to uni, you have a list of a few places you can live that are in a short distance to your campus, or are even University owned flats and residences. I was lucky at the time to know people who already lived there and i moved straight into a shared house, away from all the intimidating and kind of nightmarish (to me) student halls lifestyle.
Coming from a working class family and with the limited amount of money to live on as a student, i moved into Sharrow, a highly populated poorer student area mixed with lower income families and people from all backgrounds, basically another estate but much more diverse that the one i came from, people arrived in this area at various points in their lives, not everyone was born on this street , grew up knowing the neighbours and then had a family there, like in my little estate and town. It was certainly a daunting and kind of scary time when i first moved to the city, it felt alienating and i didn’t feel a sense of community. I ended up leaving that first house after nearly 4 years following a pretty scary and damaging burglary (standard student area shit, almost inevitable to be honest) but despite that shaking me up a lot, i was really starting to feel at home in Sheffield.
Throughout my time at uni i worked full time hours around studying at the Odeon in town and had started meeting ‘real’ people from Sheffield, people of all ages from areas other than the city centre and student areas i had grown to know. I started discovering local landmarks, parks, lakes, old tales, ghost stores, tales of the city through history and it’s personality started to grow, as did my love and appreciation for the city.
I eventually lived in another part of Sheffield, Nether Edge which was a little less studenty and a lot more green with LOADS of roaming cats seemingly, a total jackpot as far as i was concerned! We lived in the top floor flat of an old converted block of terraces and despite it being pretty old and crumbly (condemned balcony, sash windows and cracked glass letting in crazy sound effects of the whistling winds and freezing cold drafts that made me wrap my face up in a scarf in bed in winter) it had loads of character and charm. As ever when you’re young and closely/intensely involved in either activism, creative arts or something that inevitably forms as a ‘scene’ people, places and actions can all become too much so i left for what i thought to be the greener situation and moved to Leeds back in 2008 for a fresh start. It only took 9 months and i was running back to my precious south yorkshire desperate for my roots, comforts and to find myself again.
Two years ago i moved back to Sheffield again for another chance, different people were in my life, i myself lived my life very differently, i had grown up a lot and saw life through a much wider lens. I moved to a township (so the local signposts say) called Westfield, a purpose built social housing district up in S20 by the illustrious Crystal Peaks (often namechecked by the older ladies at my Odeon job as ‘way better than bloody MeadowHELL’) a shopping centre on the edge of Sheffield that has become overshadowed by Meadowhall and is now mostly a mysterious place people only hear of unless you’re a local or a trad Sheffield type!! I absolutely love it here, i found my people. It’s a mostly working class area, majority social housing with loads of character, a mix of families born and bred and new people to the country or from other areas and we all come together with a real sense of community away from all the craziness of the city. It’s so quiet at night, the neighbours will update you with any crime info, bring your bin in for you, chat to you over the garden fence while you grab your washing in and amazing stuff like that i loved from growing up, something which the student areas with their fast changing tenants never had, something that made me so sad and lost.
Since 2004 when i first came here, i’ve learned so much about this city, it’s heritage, it’s people, our growth and shared history as a county and the different boroughs, areas and places we all share as a region. I’m proud to call it my home and feel settled and happy here, excited to share my stories, show visiting friends certain places and i know i’ll be here for some time.
This weekend my friend Claire, who is from Rotherham and has lived a similar South Yorkshire life as myself had her friend come up to visit and whenever a visitor comes, it always opens up all the best bits of the city for grabs, a new look at the amazing things we have around us that we don’t think to visit every weekend or even sometimes forget. We visited the old traditional sweet shop run by locals who gave Claire’s dog some treats and chatted to us about how old the building was and how things haven’t changed much. Claire remembered coming to the shop as a kid with her auntie who lived in the flats a little further along and had some precious flashback memories to share with the owners. The sign reads ‘Old fashioned spice at an old fashioned price’ which is so south yorks i love it, my Grandad always used to send me to the shop with a pound for ‘some spice.’
One of Sheffield’s major charms and landmarks, which welcome you to the city (other than the famous Tinsley Towers which were sadly demolished a few years ago) are the Park Hill Flats. The flats were built in the late 50′s/early 60′s and provided social housing until the last few years after the area became rife with poverty and crime, some people are also still living in the largely deserted flats and at night, in the mass of darkness, you can spot a few little lights still on in there.
Park Hill was previously the site of back-to-back housing, a mixture of 2–3-storey tenement buildings, waste ground, quarries and steep alleyways. Facilities were poor, with one standpipe supporting up to 100 people. It was colloquially known as “Little Chicago” in the 1930s, due to the incidence of violent crime there. Clearance of the area began during the 1930s but was halted due to World War II.
Following the war it was decided that a radical scheme needed to be introduced to deal with rehousing the Park Hill community. To that end architectsJack Lynn and Ivor Smith began work in 1945 designing the Park Hill Flats. Inspired by Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation and the Smithsons’ unbuilt schemes, most notably for Golden Lane in London, the deck access scheme was viewed as revolutionary at the time. The style is known asbrutalism. Construction is of an exposed concrete frame with yellow, orange and red brickcurtain walling. However, as a result of weathering and soot-staining from passing trains, few people realise this and assume the building to be constructed entirely from concrete.
The concept of the flats was described as streets in the sky. Broad decks, wide enough for milk floats, had large numbers of front doors opening onto them.
The size and presence of the now largely deserted neglected flats looms over the view of Sheffield from the train station and thankfully, despite the condition they had gotten into with neglect from the council and various accusations from tenants of not ensuring the safety of it’s inhabitants, increasing crime rates and eventually feeling forced out etc rather than seeing any improvements. Luckily for the buildings themselves and the Sheffield landscape, they were granted listed status and will never be demolished, which leaves this awesome structure with another chance to be used again and hopefully run much better this time.
One of the sections of the complex is now being developed into flats and studio space by Urban Splash. This gives the whole place a new and strange vibe, many people annoyed they are not being re-developed into new council housing or at least equity scheme property rather than high price, modernised flats, but hey. at least we’ll still have them, unlike the Tinsley Towers…
We decided, both as fans of the Park Hill Flats and both working class people from South Yorkshire with a strong passion and tie to other working class people and communities to take our guest to the flats to have a look around and see the contrast between the old and new, the dilapidated older buildings and the brand new, not even let-yet regenerated side. At first it was sad and concerning, the boards up on windows, the satellites left up, the old nursery buildings, the children’s play areas inhabited by nobody, just the occasional pigeon or magpie. Once we walked right into the heart of the old buildings, you could really feel the character of the flats and almost the intensity and the history of it’s experience.
It was so strange to piece together the way things used to be in each area we walked around. Everywhere told a story. My two favourite spots were the old pub with the sign still readable and the wall of faces by the old nursery.
Although initially popular and successful, over time the fabric of the building has decayed somewhat and some other disadvantages of the estate, such as poor noise insulation and easy getaway routes for muggers, have become apparent. For many years, the council have had difficulty finding tenants for the flats. The estate was nicknamed “San Quentin” by some residents after the notorious American jail.
Deep inside the flats it’s so calm and peaceful now, nobody around, no noise of everyday life, kids running around, telly noise, people interacting, nothing. To be in such a central place in a city and hear nothing was surreal. I found some cool videos on how things used to be and how they are now which i’ve posted below. It’s such an interesting topic to me and i’d recommend going to have a look at the contrast before the whole things becomes the new modernist dream it’s looking to be by the new developers.
Even now, inhabitants of Sheffield are split on the matter of Park Hill; many believe it to be a part of Sheffield’s heritage, while others consider it nothing more than an eyesore and blot on the landscape. Public nominations led it to the top 12 of Channel 4′s Demolition programme. Other television appearances for the flats include Police 2020 and in an Arctic Monkeys video. A BBC programme called Saving Britain’s Past sheds light on the building site’s past and discusses the listing from several viewpoints in its second episode, called “Streets in the Sky”.