Muddy Waters

DSCF4199Today I went to a workshop at Sheffield University. The title of the workshop was “What do urban rivers mean in the 21st century. We heard of a rivers in India and Portugal and throughout Europe. We then went on to explore what our urban rivers mean to us.

Quite possibly the most interesting conversations was with River management and local voluntary groups. The complaints may start from a different angle from those who are looking to preserve old buildings or woodlands or parks but the complaints are the same.

There were aspects I hadn’t thought of, I admit. The Don, Porter Brook, and the Rother are DSCF5312

all names for muddy brown waters. Not because of pollution but because of the peaty moorland they come from. One River manager said that the breaking up of weirs and other modern river management had cut down the variety of fish and amphibians that preferred the darker water. For rivers to be clean it doesn’t mean they have to be transparent. It brought into focus that not only had we to look at the uniqueness of our buildings and our Green Spaces how important it is also that we talk with those who know about what is needed to preserve the ecology of our waterways.


If the planners allow high buildings by the river they could cut the light to the water as well as make the area busier and nosier.  Too much activity in some areas will scare away the wildlife. We need areas of calm the River manager said.

What we want, they all said is for a discussion with all interested groups, heritage, developers, ecologists,  communities, and the Council. “Have you spoke to any councillors?” I asked . “We’ve tried.” they said but no one’s prepared to listen.” And there is where we all share the same problem. There is no debate, or discussion with the Council. No consultation.


Whatever decision the Council makes re development matters to the city as a whole. Yet decisions are made without considering all aspects. As the River manager said you can’t just divert a river because its looks better for the houses by the waterside, there will be a knock on effect elsewhere.


Likewise if you build a new shiny shopping centre it is more than likely you will drain the shopping areas nearby as Meadowhall has done in the past. If more people come from Tinsley Stocksbridge Dore Tortley whatever to shop in the city centre that means more traffic and more pollution. If we shift people into housing in the city the pollution will go down as fewer people will need to use cars or busses. We could build new inner city communities who would need shops and would also work locally. We would have a lively vibrant centre that would not shut down at 6pm.


But our Council is determined to sell our city centre to a National developer to make a city centre like every other city ripping out our heritage and throwing it on the rubbish heap, and at the end of it the outside developer will keep all the profits and control our city centre. If any of the backers pull out we will be left with a big hole in the middle of the city that we have no control over and gaps in the nearby Fargate and the Moor as shops either move there or close down. How will that improve our city? We need to talk and yet no one is really listening.

Shepherd Wheel

Shepherd Wheel

Suggested Reading

How can we save our town centres?

The Blue Loop

The Role of Historic Buildings in Urban regeneration. Eleventh report of Session 2003-2004 Volume 1 report. House of Commons ODPM: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Region’s Committee.       Heritage Counts 2014

Heritage Lottery Funding – strategic framework 2013-2018 A lasting difference for Heritage and people.

Lose or Reuse. Managing Heritage sustainability.  by Lydia Wilson published 2007 Ulster Architectural Heritage Society 66 Donegal Pass, Belfast B17 1BU

New Ideas need Old Buildings Heritage Lottery Fund. April 2013.





My thoughts on Heritage and recent Election Hustings

Castle House

Castle House

Last week I went to an election hustings to ask candidates what their policy was on heritage not because I was expecting instant answers but because not one manifesto I had read really seemed to consider heritage at all. Given the Council policy on heritage is a mere two paragraphs that wasn’t really a surprise. Nor is this a recent thing in Sheffield or dependent on what party controls the council. Likewise the idea of tourism for anything other than festivals or the great outdoors doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s agenda.

Albyn Works

Albyn Works

After hearing 5 minutes of each of the six candidates talking about their hopes and dreams for Sheffield it was obvious that none of them had heritage on their mind either as a matter for neighbourhood pride, green policies or economic regeneration. In the end there were 3 of us asking questions about heritage, myself about how with the new planning laws coming in we can protect our heritage against fast track planning decisions and speculative developers. A second questioner asking how we preserve our parks and keep them as a community asset , and a third questioner asking how we can keep our old buildings and develop an improved retail centre which fits in with Sheffield’s unique character and keeps finance within the city and not going to outside developers.

Ecclesall Woods

All six candidates stated they felt Sheffield’s heritage was important to them and spoke quite stirringly in favour. However I was left with the thought that whereas every candidate thought it was the right thing to say, they didn’t really understand the reasons why they should.  There was mention of Castlegate and the Old Town Hall and how they saw this as a place for re-development but the idea would seem to be bring in developers and that would generate knock on funding for the Old Town Hall and the other old buildings round about. To me they had it the wrong way round. A beautifully restored Old Town Hall and a Castle Park are what would regenerate the area and bring in useful investment.  We have around 10 hotels within walking distance of Castlegate. Are they going to come to tall office blocks and student accommodation blocks or to see the ruins of a medieval castle, and a historic building central to Sheffield’s growth as a city?

Old Town Hall Waingate

Old Town Hall Waingate

How would a concentration on office blocks and student rooms help link the other parts of Sheffield’s history together such as the Victoria Quays which is fast approaching its bi-centenary, the unique fire and police station of Westbar, Kelham Island Museum, Cholera Monument and Manor Lodge.  Linked together we present a package like no other package in any other city.

Butchers Works once cutlery works now apartments , gallery and workshops

Butchers Works once cutlery works now apartments , gallery and workshops

We had a candidate talking about saving  buildings as a charitable exercise or a rare flash of grassroots involvement. Indeed there was a lot of talking about grassroots involvement but not connected to our heritage. A lot of talking of bringing in new jobs and investment too but not a mention of tourism.  There is money in our heritage and passion from the “grassroots” which is just as marked in Sheffield as it is in the rest of the country but has yet to be part of any local politician’s ideas for a “vibrant city” People like old buildings and feel passionate about it to sign petitions in the thousands. The majority of small to medium businesses are in historic buildings. Many rely on the historic character to attract customers, others starting new businesses gravitate to the old buildings because of cost, proximity to similar businesses  they have is a unique building that stands out from the rest, and easier to fit into the local community. The vast majority of startup businesses start within listed building.

We three didn’t get any real answers to our questions. I didn’t expect any. What I got from the experience is that we have a long way to go to any local politician seeing our heritage as an economic asset or anything we should be worrying about when money is in short supply. It is seen more as a vanity project when there is money coming in rather than something that can generate money. That needs to change.


Why Now?

Today history was made. To some it would seem merely a conference on Heritage but to others like me this was a significant day. Our theme was Making History for a Successful City. Cohesion and Community Pride.


Manor Lodge

Today was both inspirational and daunting. Seems that the keynote speakers were quite blown away with the huge numbers at the conference. I was thinking not that many, considering how many I know there could have been there. I suppose after years of being told people weren’t interested in Sheffield’s culture part of me believes it. But the truth is that Sheffield have been always interested in their culture but they haven’t shouted as one voice before about it. Now they have.

The people and organisations were wonderfully diverse. From a couple from Rivelin Valley desperate to find ways of preserving their local heritage to National Trust North. All have their own view of what Heritage is, and everybody’s view equally valid. There are many different views but not at odds with each other. Despite their particular interests whether it be brutalist architecture or digging an Ironage site, or running a business, they are all in agreement Sheffield Heritage matters.


Bishops House Museum

There was in amongst this massive Heritage army a dissenting voice, not from a Heritage organisation, saying “the pot of cash is smaller now. You will all have to fight for it.” As if we were roaming packs of historians tearing each other apart for HLF funding.  No one in any case was there to talk about money. They know about money and no one involved in heritage expects instant pots of money. Some of the most successful organisations have taken between 10 and 20 years to get to this point. You need an incredible thick skin and dogged determination to be involved in preserving local heritage.


That doesn’t mean we couldn’t do with money but in Sheffield the pot has always been small and we have learnt to use what we have with great care. Sheffield has the most volunteers of any city. Our heritage economy is kept going by the blood sweat and tears of the volunteers. Travel round during Heritage Open Day and talk with the people and their stories are of hard work and struggle, and often against the local authority. Our city has many great historic buildings that were planned for demolition and now lauded as a part of what is good about Sheffield. It is true they are monuments to what is good about Sheffield but it wasn’t done with a ready pot of cash and pretty often despite the local Council.


So why Now? Why were we all together? Because our heritage is under threat and has been for some time. It is not the lack of money that worries us. We are used to that. It is that in the race to encourage investors and build more housing we are worried that the very things that are part of what brings and could bring more investment to the city are the most likely to be lost. No good 5 years after you have torn out the historic area of a city coming to the conclusion that you should have kept it. No good building huge housing estates without a distinctive neighbourhood that gladdens your heart as you approach your home after some time away.  We all need a sense of collective identity. That is what heritage gives us whether it is a Carnegie library, an iron age hillfort or the local pub.


Walkley Carnegie Library


If you have ever been in the habit of using a budget hotel you know there is the initial confusion, when you wake up as to where you are, as the hotels are all fitted out the same. It is only when you get up and look out the window that you know where you are. The landscape gives you your bearings. Ask directions to somewhere and it will not just be turn right and turn left. They will point out historic buildings and features in the landscape. Likewise our heritage gives us a sense of place and to incoming people a connectivity.

Ecclesall Woods

Sheffield is branded as the Outdoor City as if that was all there is on offer. It is a great green city with ancient woodlands and amazing public parks and part of the National Park is within Sheffield’s city boundaries. But people that like the great outdoors can go to Derbyshire and get much of that without ever crossing the city’s boundaries. There’s the Sport from Football to athletics, from cycling to climbing. Sport is a big part of the city’s economy and Sheffield is the birthplace of Soccer, ice skating, Yorkshire Cricket and so much more. You can’t talk about anything in Sheffield without ending up talking about the history behind everything.

Wincobank Hill view

Our nightclubs and pubs and high class eating establishments are in heritage buildings. Our theatres, all nine of them are all in listed buildings. Many of our hotels are. Our heritage is not disengaged from our day to day life, not our work or our leisure.

The dissident voice speaks of great shopping centre bringing in new retailers and having to sell the city to make them come, so that we do not lose the richer shoppers to another city but won’t we lose the shoppers we have who will find the city centre no longer theirs? And will we be able to bring in the shoppers from that other city when our centre is just a clone of all the other cities. Shouldn’t we be marketing what is distinct and unique about our city instead of hiding our identity under a glossy new shopping centre  as if we are ashamed of who we are, and the history of our city that has both formed and  still influences our day to day lives?

City Hall Barkers Pool

Is that important? Research would say so but even more convincing is the 100 plus at the conference spending their Saturday in a University lecture theatre, and seminar rooms. Can we change things? Can we bring together all aspects of Sheffield and market it as the Sheffield experience? The pubs, clubs, theatres, music venues and the creative industries, the manufacturing, the high tech and the low tech, the Universities, the parks, the woodlands, the waterways, the ethnic diversity, the radical history, the farms, the innovators, the buildings from medieval to brutalist, the ancient hillforts and Saxon crosses. Why not?


Cornish Works

Our Heritage is under Threat.



Beauchief Abbey founded in 12thc

Never has  Heritage been so much under threat than it is now.  Lancashire’s museums collapsing under the cuts and a major museum in North East England in Jarrow closing its doors. Libraries have closed in every county and what Museums and Galleries there are left survive by using unpaid volunteers and staff on short term casual contracts. The Tourism budget was abandoned in 2010 when the regional developments were closed. But the threat is even more than that. It comes from the shedload of planning laws in the last few years and cash strapped councils that lack the ammunition to strike back.


Sheffield Rotherham Canal built 1819

There is the possible free for all, that essentially says you can ignore previous and existing planning laws, if you are creating new houses or lots of jobs. Sounds great, but planning laws are there to protect our heritage and our environment. Green spaces are essential to keep down pollution and our heritage buildings are part of a places unique selling points to incoming investors. It is also more environmentally friendly to adapt what we have, than knock down and rebuild in most cases. Councils already are often letting through planning permission because they lack the finance to set up a challenge in the courts when the developer puts in an appeal.  Now the Governments says it may intervene and over-rule local planning decisions.


Bishops House Late 15thc  farmhouse

In Sheffield every new development plan talks of hundreds if not thousands of jobs being created but where do these figures come from? Generally figures come from looking at other cities of similar size who did same thing and created  lot of jobs. However as we have no real data on  Sheffield to make comparisons. In short we don’t know how much impact following another city’s plan will have on the economic and environmental and community life of the city.

City Hall Barkers Pool

Sheffield City Hall 

Many new retail developments have failed because they have not taken into account the local retail habits and the changes in the National market. This Christmas while many National companies were complaining of the drop in sales Sheffield’s Independent retailers were saying their sales were at an all time high. So shouldn’t they be the businesses we are encouraging?

Lyceum Theatre. One of 8 theatres. Soon to be 9. 


For centuries the North has been told they are philistines, uncultured, and backwards. Northern Culture has been ridiculed and ignored despite the facts there has been and are composers, artists, innovators, philosophers, musicians, poets and writers. Outsiders from abroad actually know this and find Northern Culture fascinating.  Cultural Heritage is worth Billions to our National economy. Far from demolishing our old buildings and closing our Museums we should be promoting our uniqueness and some of the great scenery all around us.


Butchers Works once cutlery works now apartments , gallery and workshops

It is the older buildings  that are becoming space for financial, legal, and creative companies who are relocating from expensive London offices,  because they like the Heritage and the green spaces in Sheffield. They don’t want a miniature London they want somewhere different.

Regather Horn Handle Works now a cooperative venture & entertainment centre 

So want to join the Fight back? Join the Sheffield Heritage Network, or if not from Sheffield link with us via our websites or Facebook page. Lets form networks across the North.

Next Sheffield Heritage Networking event 25th  February at Crookes Social Club 7pm -9.30pm  email

Happy New Year

King Edwards SchoolIt is now three Years since Timewalk project started. It started in response to things that people said to me and my friends. Seemed a very simple thing to do. Just map out the old buildings, put a little information with them about the places history and a link to the relevant heritage/history organisation. There is around 1’200 listed structures within the borders of Sheffield, and around 120 community heritage groups and about 12 museums. Some groups have several hundred members and have been working hard for decades, and some are fading due to the old age of their members, while others are growing fast pushed by youthful enthusiasm, and others are taking small nervous steps to create the first history group in the area. Museums range from the great Weston Park to the tiny Garden Tools Museum in Meersbrook Walled garden. Some people may be scornful of the small private museums but every museum in the country started with a small collection. Just because they are tiny doesn’t mean they are unimportant.


Manor Lodge

We started the mapping and certain issues arose. No point in mapping out buildings if we didn’t know whether there was anything to see, and how easy it was to see.   Then when you looked at the listing it doesn’t actually tell you much. It says about the buildings age and architectural features that need to be protected but nothing of the history of the building such as who built it and why, and who lived or worked there, or even who owns it now.  So it meant getting out there and looking, photographing and looking up the places history.  Seems simple idea but it set up a whole lot of other problems and issues.


Old Town Hall Waingate


I have mobility problems and a limited knowledge of IT. It became obvious that there had to be a way of also showing how accessible a place is.  Also a map on its own wasn’t enough. We needed an online presence where we could put more information. I set up our first community Facebook page to call for volunteers to take photos and give me information on their area. Through there met some amazing people and some great photographers and it also meant I could link to a lot of heritage groups in a much simpler way than searching all their websites for event information.  Also realised that there was no heritage events site. Many heritage groups weren’t online much, were scared of social media and only advertised fairly locally by leafleting so consequentially even in their own neighbourhood events were poorly attended simply because no one knew they were happening. So I started listing events on a Google calendar My version is clumsy but it works. Someday I hope for an IT expert to come and upgrade it all for us.


Very few of our problems have been completely solved. All I can say is that we now have a collection of access maps, several hundred places mapped and researched, listings of around 2’000 events a year and access to several thousand people online. We’ve watched the explosion of Heritage organisations and events over last three years which shows there is both an enthusiasm there and potential to build upon that. The Fire and Police Station Museum now the National Emergency Services Museum has gone from 3’000 visitors a year to over 40’000, the Cathedral has developed its Heritage side into a great schools programme but also some mega public events, Manor Lodge has restored several farm buildings and developed its WW2 section, as well as running better and bigger historical events.


With the rise of Austerity policies and cutting of funding from many sources is the preservation of old buildings merely a luxury we can’t afford? Why should we preserve old buildings? Can we afford the upkeep and cost or restoration work? We need houses, investment. Isn’t keeping hanging on to old buildings a purely sentimental attitude standing in the way of progress? No, for several reasons.


Bishops House Museum

  1. Community identity.

At first glance this looks like sentimentality. However many who find the heritage buildings in their neighbourhood important were not born in Sheffield, so it’s not merely the family memories of a place. It is what gives an area its unique identity. It’s how you describe your area to an outsider and often it is where your community meets. Sheffield is fortunate that there are few areas that do not have historic distinctive buildings. There is heritage round almost every corner.


  1. Economics of Uniqueness

Sheffield shares many attributes with other cities but it is what is different about Sheffield that has to be considered. If 2 similar cities are considered by incoming investors what is it that makes the investors decide which city to pick. Sheffield has many assets and it is impossible to look at Sheffield without considering how Sheffield came into being and how it is now without looking at the wealth of historic parks, scheduled monuments, listed buildings and historic traditions within the city. From the Peak National Park to the medieval farmland that became Meersbrook Park, from ancient British Hillforts to the Art Deco Central Library the history is evident to all. Much of what shaped the Nation started in Sheffield whether it was political, religious, or manufacturing. In world terms Sheffield is a small city but in terms of how it influenced and is still influencing the world it is vast. Where would the world be without stainless steel? Sheffield’s tools built the houses, cleared the land, and developed the technology to develop much of the world. It was this push to design adapt and innovate within Sheffield that built the Technical College, the Mechanics Institute and the Art College that in turn developed into Sheffield and Hallam University with a strong emphasis on engineering , science and design.


  1. Good for the Environment.

When Jessop wing was demolished to make way for the shiny box which is the engineering block, vanity got in the way of both environmental and community heritage. The argument that knocking down a 100 year old building because a new one would be more efficient and greener doesn’t match the facts. Older buildings are greener. The materials used to build them have been made years sometimes centuries ago. It is estimated that for a new building to even break even by being energy efficient will take between 40 and 60 years to match the cost of demolition and rebuild.  A third of non degradable  landfill is from demolished buildings. But aren’t old buildings cold draughty and use more energy to keep warm? They don’t have to be. New technology and better insulation can make old buildings more energy efficient.


Butchers Works once cutlery works now apartments , gallery and workshops


Tourism is not something that Sheffield really considers from a Heritage point of view. Sheffield is the city of the Outdoors or Festivals such as Tramlines or DocFest. A lot of people enjoy these festivals and DocFest brings in people from all over the world, but people coming to visit the Industrial Archaeology or the ancient Hillforts or the magnificent Cutlers Hall? A few perhaps but compared to even smaller cities than Sheffield, the city fares badly. Looking at Sheffield there are some great assets but being realistic there needs more development in that area. We have the 2 oldest Football clubs in the world, the works where stainless steel cutlery was invented, the battlefield of one of the greatest Saxon battles, the hunting lodge of the prestigious Talbot family, the Tudor farmhouse of the Chaplin to Henry V11, and countless other historic places and buildings.   However there is no Tourism budget and funding is lacking for organisations to develop the tourism potential of the area.

  1. Regeneration

Research has proved that old buildings far from holding back innovation,  are where in general startup  and creative industries blossom. They supply cheap rented space to experiment and start new businesses.  Many businesses like the feeling of continuity an old building gives their business. Throughout Sheffield old buildings are taken over by incoming businesses , new businesses and expanding old businesses.  A look at the area round Devonshire Street and also Abbeydale road will show new retailing is evolving in these areas and the stimulus is the historic character of the area and the availability of a wide variety of suitable buildings. Likewise in the Shalesmoor and Neepsend area new and innovative manufacturing businesses are developing. And there are the older existing businesses, some which stretch back 300 years. If we tore out these older buildings we could be in danger of tearing out our economic heart

Central Library

  1. Livability

That is the quality of an area that makes people want to live and work in the area. In Sheffield there is a higher percentage of graduates who stay after their studies are over than other University towns. A quick sample of historic buildings found that around 50% of new businesses started in old buildings were started by University graduates. In Manchester the city centre changed by redevelopment of old industrial buildings for the middle to higher priced apartments. Older buildings do not require the same amount of money to convert as it costs to build new. They also create an area with a distinctive character.


The problem that we have in Sheffield besides underfunding is the lack of data, and with that no strategic planning in relation to our historic areas in the city. We do not know what the economic impact of restoring buildings is compared with redeveloping the area. We do not know how many businesses rely on our old buildings. We have no assessment of an area’s viability or how our old buildings , parks waterways and woodlands relate to either our mental well being, the commercial viability or the environmental impact and yet the Government wants us to say where new housing should go.  The present austerity measures and planning laws are creating problems in funding our parks, museums and heritage buildings and pushing the planning authorities to make quick decisions without any knowledge of what a decision may do to future regeneration plans or to the community that lives and works within the city.


So 2015 has been a year of looking at the research from elsewhere on these matters and of talking to experts and concerned people. I have written articles, did a radio interview and even given a speech. Timewalk has worked together with a consortium of heritage groups and as a consequence in April we will have a Heritage conference, and later Timewalk is working with Hillborough Fest a new exciting cultural festival. Timewalk’s aim is to continue promoting Sheffield’s heritage but to work together to setting out a plan with as many organisations as possible to put forward Sheffield’s view of how Sheffield’s heritage should progress.  Endcliffe-Hall---Sheffield

Sheffield Plan Putting Heritage in.

Bishops House Museum

Bishops House Museum

Put Heritage in the agenda re city planning.

.. Fill in The Sheffield Plan consultation on…/the-sheffield-plan-nov…

There has been some concern about exactly where heritage fits in with the consultation on the Sheffield Plan. It is restricted in what it asking for and that is because the council knows that what the government is interested in is economic results and more housing so its trying to fit in with that. I suggest you make reference to specific areas of Challenge and Opportunity in the Citywide Options for Growth in Consultation Questions 2a and b and 3a and b.

In 2.2 Stimulating Economic Growth and Job Creation: there is much talk about the Advanced Manufacturing Park, but heritage buildings including old industrial one provide better economic value for money. The Heritage Lottery Fund report New Ideas Need Old Buildings from 2013 shows that commercial businesses based in the historic buildings of our major cities are more productive and create more wealth than is the average for all commercial business across the whole economy. See the stats on page 33. In other words economic growth flourishes best in cities possessing a good stock of historic, distinctive buildings. In responding to the consultation we ought to mention the characterful nature of our historic sites as a major plus for business start-ups and for creating ‘distinctive leisure quarters of a city and an atmosphere that fosters creativity.’ There are plenty of examples and stats in here that we could use and Abbeydale Road, Crookes, Portland Works, Devonshire Green etc from inside the city.

Lyceum Theatre. Rescued from demolition by the public. Award winning productions

Lyceum Theatre. Rescued from demolition by the public. Award winning productions


On 2.4 its a fact that the greenest building is the one already built
see…/the-economics-of…/ &

On 2.5 Promoting Health and Wellbeing – getting involved with heritage projects is known to be a massive boost to mental, physical and emotional health and wellbeing. Plus our surroundings are improved and that makes living in a city better for all.

On 2.6 digital start-ups love old buildings as they are generally cheaper and full of character – witness the £3.5 investment in the B&C Co-op as a digital hub. Lots more examples in

Portland Works. cutlery works with workshops. Now community owned. Birthplace of Stainless Steel Cutlery

Portland Works. cutlery works with workshops. Now community owned. Birthplace of Stainless Steel Cutlery

On 2.7 Retail Patterns there are lots of examples in

On 2.8 Making Sheffield a Fairer Place its obvious that a number of places in the city would be improved through heritage-led regeneration. I can think of the excellent housing stock slowly deteriorating in Darnall and Firth Park and the old industrial quarters such as round John Street and Neepsend that investment in would boost the area no end, plus the great work at Wincobank Flower estate and at Manor Lodge/green estate.

Manor Lodge Tower

Its not all about growth either. Its about lifestyle and the quality of our living and working environment, the streetscape, buildings and landscape around us. That type of qualitative data is not specifically in there but could be part of the Consultation Questions 2b and 3b.

Note that you can fill it in as a business with heritage interests, as a heritage organisation or someone with an interest in the sector, or all three if you are all three.

Note also that there will be A City Policies and Sites Consultation July to September 2016.

Thanks to Brian Holmshaw for this advice.