Know Your Place



Meersbrook Hall, Meersbrook Park

‘To be human is to live in a world that is filled with significant places: to be human is to have and know your place.’  (Edward Relph, Place and Placelessness, 1976)

There is a lot of talk about resilient economies by organisations such as ICLEI (Local governments for sustainability). Economies that can weather the storms both literally, such as flooding and storm damage  and financially such as recession and changes in the world economy.  But economies are made of people and in the lower income groups their ability to weather the storm is fast being eroded in ways that limit their ability to function as a member of a community.  Over the years many initiatives have been funded to fight inequalities in our northern cities.  Yet despite efforts the same areas remain areas of high deprivation and often crime. Some have had problems for so many decades many of the earlier residents have died or moved so it has to be something beyond who lives there.  A common factor is of course low wages, and high reliance on benefits.

On the face of it  selling a community asset  seems like an inconsequential act, possibly even a sensible way of conserving resources, but research from a variety of sources suggests any money “saved” by selling it may result in rise in costs elsewhere both tangible and intangible.

My own interest was sparked by a lecture streamed from the RSA given by Eric Klinenberg. Having studied community involvement with  heritage I have come to the conclusion that morale can be helped by the existence of heritage buildings or damaged when historic buildings are lost to a private developer, or worse, demolished. So many of the buildings are built in the centre of communities and are often the heart of the community.

Although some of  these examples are Sheffield related, I don’t think the main focus of the argument is, though some of the financial concerns are specific to the North of England. The argument is not purely about preserving heritage but also, I think,  why we need local authorities to have a holistic view of any decisions they make.

Common Ground

“  Today , societies around the world are becoming more fragmented, divided, and conflicted. The social glue has become undone.” Eric Klinenberg 1

In 1791 the people of Sheffield rioted, releasing people from the debtors prison, attacking the Rev. Wilkinson’s house and setting fire to his haystacks. Wilkinson was a major landowner and a magistrate. The enclosure act that they were protesting about enclosed the common land and left the ordinary people with nowhere they had a right to be. The riot of 1791 was the beginning of unrest in the city and throughout the country for a number of years. 2

Across the country decisions in local councils are having a cumulative impact that could have as lasting a mark on the poor as the Inclosure Act.  For those on lower income public spaces and buildings are the only places they have legal rights to be there.  In the case of historic buildings and sites it also incorporates a history of people like themselves that goes back generations for some, quite possibly the only place their history is preserved.

In June 2018 Locality reported that they had found that more than 4,000 publicly owned buildings and spaces are being sold off every year across England. These are such as parks, libraries, town halls and swimming pools. Many are being lost to private developers. Locality reported that a consistently high number of public buildings and spaces have been sold each year in England from 2012 to 2016.3

Around twenty Anglican Churches close each year, with the figures for non denominational churches considerably higher 4. One in four of South Yorkshire’s working men clubs have closed. In Sheffield in the last two years, five former clubs have closed. Across the country  the number of working men’s clubs have fallen from 4,000 in the 1970s to around 1.500 today.5

The Campaign for Real Ale said that many areas are losing their local pub with 467 closures across the UK in the first six months of 2018. Four out of five people have seen a pub shut down within five miles of their home in the last five years. 6

Carbrook Hall

Carbrook Hall formerly used as community pub now part of Coffee Chain.


Over the years because of changes made many community schools were closed as pupils were moved elsewhere and some were converted to flats or for business use.   Councils have also closed more than 500 children’s centres since 20107. The closure of many youth clubs over the past few years combined with a battery of cuts to youth services have left disadvantaged teenagers idle and isolated as the centres lie derelict or are sold off to private developers 8  Adolescent mental health services and career advice has also been cut throughout England combined with the rise in expulsions from schools 10 it must be hard for many  young people not to feel  abandoned. 

2,000 villages are classified as unsuitable for new housing because of the lack of a local pub or somewhere the community can meet together.11  Cuts to public transport has left many areas both rural and urban without adequate transport. 12

In industrial areas, changes within the steel industry and related trades and closures to coal mines have had a major impact on local communities as large local employers have gone from many areas and previous works have been demolished. Only a few buildings remain as a reminder of the origins of their neighbourhood, and most of these are public buildings or in public ownership.


Birley Spa presently under threat of sale.

Communities are losing their anchorage points and the distinctive character of their area, leaving people feeling angry, frustrated and disorientated. They are losing the familiar and safe community gathering points.  They may not be burning haystacks but there are signs of unrest.

Social Exclusion

In their report of 2018 the Sheffield City Partnership say, “Inclusive growth in a city is dependent on the health and wellbeing of the population since they are the principal  component of the economic  infrastructure.” 13 Health and wellbeing is dependent on not being excluded, but inclusion is not a simple matter of more jobs and better wages.

Power and Wilson (2000)14 describe social exclusion as a tendency to push vulnerable and difficult people into the least popular places. But as shown by the selling off of a pub and the church in a rural village social exclusion can happen in any area. The great divide is between those who are rich enough and fit enough to drive and those too poor to even use public transport if it is available. Social life within the community is based on who has a big enough house to invite others to visit and who they are willing to invite.

Neighbourhoods can break down if the three elements – home, services, and environment  are disrupted to a point where a feeling of security and familiarity in their neighbourhood   disintegrates.  In some areas the disintegration may not be so obvious but still has an impact.  In the old village communities even within the city there may be some that are experiencing mental health problems and chronic loneliness.

The environment you grow up in has an impact. Findings on children growing up in social housing, and children of similar income and social hardships, that children from Social Housing had a distinct disadvantage in future outcomes such as  qualifications , employment, depressive illnesses, and poor self esteem. So exclusion is not purely down to social disadvantage, but where you live. Research mainly from outside the UK would suggest that ways in which young people’s peer groups, social networks and social capital (the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society) as well as local norms and expectations and the social practical support available to families, can influence children and their life chances. 15 Research in Canada would also seem to back the idea that where youths  live is a big factor in whether youths turn to knife crime. Social deprivation may be a contributing factor but social environment definitely matters. 16


Abbeyfield House, Abbeyfield Park, Pitsmoor in partial community use.

In 1995 there was a heatwave  in Chicago that caused  739 deaths 17. Researchers comparing death rates in different neighbourhoods, which to all appearances were matched in levels of high deprivation, found some surprising results. It became apparent that there was something more to who died than whether they were wealthy  enough to afford an air conditioning unit. Areas that were identical in levels of high deprivation differed in how many people survived the heat. This set Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist wondering what could account for this marked difference.

It became obvious that the major difference was closer knit communities were used to checking in on each other and had busier street scene. After many of research the years Klinenberg 1 has drawn the conclusion that the layout of an area and the inclusion of a well used community building such as a library had a whole series of advantages for the local population including better health and  it has long been understood that social cohesion develops through repeated human interaction and joint participation in shared projects, not merely from a principled commitment to abstract values and beliefs. The social and physical environment shapes our behaviour, helps make us who we are and determines our lifestyle .  Klinenberg says that although solid infrastructures such as public transport are important, more important to the success of a community is the social infrastructure which  determines whether social capital develops.

He defines as social infrastructure public institutions such as libraries, swimming pools, athletic fields, playgrounds, parks and other green spaces that people can use freely. Community organisations including churches and civic associations act as social infrastructures when they have an established physical space where people can assemble. Commercial establishments can also be an important part of the social infrastructure, particularly when they operate as “third spaces” places  (such as cafes, hairdressers, post offices and bookstores )where people are welcome to congregate and linger regardless of what they’ve purchased.


Walkley Carnegie Library seeking commercial partnership.

When social infrastructure is robust, it  encourages mutual support and collaboration among friends and neighbours. When degraded, it inhibits social activity, leaving families and individuals to fend for themselves. Social infrastructure is vitally important, because local, face to face recurrent interactions are how communities are built.

The components of social infrastructure rarely crash as completely or as visibly as a fallen bridge and their breakdowns don’t result in immediate system failures. But when the social infrastructure gets degraded, the consequences are unmistakable. People reduce the time they spend in public settings and stay in their “safe houses”. Social networks weaken. Crime rises. Older and sick people grow isolated. Younger people get addicted to drugs and become more vulnerable to lethal overdoses. Distrust rises and civic participation wanes. In rural areas this is possibly not so obvious because younger people are forced to move out due to housing shortages in the area or are in too small a number to be seen  as a threat. The main impact may be unseen behind closed doors.

Even in the “nicer areas” communities are under threat  as the cuts continue and people’s income drops and the available social infrastructure is sold off. The places where connections can be made are gone. Green spaces on their own are not enough if the local community feels they cannot control activities that go on there.

People love the greenery but it is a source of problems, such as kids on motorbikes and antisocial behaviour in the woods. “In the past there used to be wardens and kids clubs and there was always someone responsible there. The open space is unsupervised and part of the discussion is how we create sufficient activities to get over the antisocial behaviour.18

Joseph Rowntree Trusts says  that mental health is shaped by a wide range of characteristics including the social economic and physical environments in which people live. They state the impact of the cuts has resulted in a loss of community resources and facilities and the erosion of social capital due to weakened social networks and reduced social interaction. 19

In  2006, Councils were given a statutory responsibility to explore local issues surrounding community cohesion and put together a tangible local delivery plan for delivering and effectively monitoring projects that bring local people together.  20

To create cohesion in the community several things are needed: a shared vision for a neighbourhood, a strong sense of individual’s responsibilities in an area and clear communication of what is expected of people and what they can expect in turn. There must be a strong sense of trust in local institutions  to act fairly in arbitrating between different interests. A strong  recognition of the contribution of both those who are new to an area and those who already have a deep attachment to a particular place with a focus on what they have in common.  A strong and positive relationship between people in the workplace, in schools and within neighbourhoods.  But the need for protection of community spaces does not seem to be considered as a necessary  component.

To appreciate why this matters, compare the social space of the library with the social space of popular commercial establishments, such as Starbucks or McDonald’s. Commercial entities are valuable parts of the social infrastructure, and there’s no doubt that classic “third places,” including cafes, bars, and restaurants, have helped revitalise cities and suburbs. But not everyone can afford to frequent them, and not all paying customers are welcome to stay for long. Spending time in a market-driven social setting—even a relatively inexpensive fast-food restaurant or pastry shop—requires paying for the privilege  1

Planners looking at urban regeneration are well aware of the need for an asset  place- based approach.  Gorman 21 states that  all neighbourhoods have individual and collective assets that need to be strengthened and enhanced, stressing resident involvement is an important factor. Place based development reflects a growing understanding that local settings present unique factors that can generate positive effects such as creativity and innovation but also negative effects such as feelings of exclusion  leading to loneliness, depression, and even violence.

While it is true that  1.2 million elderly people suffer from chronic loneliness,  there are 9 million people in the UK who are always or often lonely.  Two-fifths (40 per cent) of people aged 16-24 say they feel lonely often or very often, compared to 29 per cent of 65-74-year-olds and 27 per cent of those aged over 75. 22 

Loneliness is not new but we do increasingly recognise it as one of our most pressing public health issues. Feeling lonely often is linked to early deaths – on a par with smoking or obesity. It’s also linked to increased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke; depression, cognitive decline and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. It’s estimated that between 5% and 18% of UK adults feel lonely often or always. , And when we feel socially rejected, it triggers a response in our brain similar to one from experiencing physical pain” 23 

American research has found that elderly people with reduced social contact has a 31% higher  risk of death. The LSE calculated that each older lonely person could cost health and social care services up to £6,000 over 10 years. Lonely older people are 1.8 times more likely to visit their GP, 1.6 times more likely to visit A&E and 3.5 times more likely to enter local authority-funded residential care.24

NHS figures published June 2018 revealed that almost 400,000 children and young people aged 18 and under are in contact with the health service for mental health problems. According to the figures, the number of “active referrals” by GPs in April was a third higher than the same period two years prior. Those seeking help for conditions such as depression and anxiety showed a sharp increase. 25

The rise in mental health problems26  may be coincidental but indications are that children from lower income families are more likely to be isolated with low self esteem and fewer opportunities to socialise outside school.

Almost 25 per cent of children in Sheffield are living in poverty, compared to the UK average of 20 per cent. This varies considerably across the city, with almost 43% of children in Firth Park living in poverty compared to just three per cent in Ecclesall. 27  

Schools are social infrastructures.  For  pupils, teachers, parents, and entire communities, schools can either foster or inhibit trust, solidarity, and a shared commitment to the common good They can also set boundaries that define who is part of the community and who is excluded. They can integrate or segregate, create opportunities or keep people in their place. 1

Under funding has pushed many schools into taking the carrot offered to become academies.  However, continued under funding has pushed many schools into using untrained teachers to try and  fill the gaps. Official government figures show that the number of unqualified teachers has increased by more than 60% to 24,000 since the government removed the requirement for teachers to gain qualifications.28 Demands to perform to national standards despite the lack of qualified teachers has led to record levels of expulsions and cuts to creative subjects in the curriculum. Children from low income households rely on schools for their social interaction and unlike higher income households often don’t have access to social media.

This and the lack of after school clubs and external activities means many children lack social interaction and access to creative learning. This puts the children at a great disadvantage both re social skills and achievement levels . Mental health problems in the young  are rising. Sheffield has the highest rate of expulsions in the country 29 and it can be surely no accident that a rise in violent crime has risen in areas where there are the highest expulsion levels.

The links to youth violence rests on the youth’s perception on the degree of safety, social stability and social cohesion that exists within the immediate community. The location that a  youth lives in can influence the extent to which they experience both mental health and violent outcomes. In other words the young  need a strong social infrastructure too.16

The attacks have left Haigh and others scrambling for answers. Many of those involved in the violence are believed to be youngsters not previously associated with serious crime. “That’s what is most alarming about it,” said Haigh. “It’s people connected with very low-level criminal activity, or not connected with any criminal activity at all.” Dianne Hurst, a Labour city councillor on the Woodthorpe estate, said some of those involved were “from nice families … they aren’t those that you would expect to see in trouble”.30

Research shows the need for a community that is active and where  people are liable to bump into each other through the day to day activities, such as libraries, child centres, and workplace.  Libraries throughout the UK have closed  or had their services reduced.  In Sheffield although there have not been as many closures as in other authorities,31 sixteen libraries have become volunteer run.  Activities in the volunteer Libraries vary considerably from Library to Library but all are run on restricted opening hours  compared to previously.32  This apart from social interaction is problematic as it also limits access to a computer and the chance to study in a quieter setting after school than home may be.  It is obvious looking at the individual websites that the libraries lack the previous uniformity that happened under a professionally run Library service. With the cuts in Sure Start and other child centres and the neighbourhood school often no longer in the neighbourhood, the working men’s club closed down, the church re-purposed and the local pub boarded up, where is the social interaction going to happen? Even the local post office has gone from many areas.

The Therapeutic Value of Heritage.

Development banks like the World Bank have missions that go beyond profit to include “reducing poverty” and “promoting shared prosperity.” For many communities, wellbeing and prosperity are defined, in part, by an active connection to their cultural and spiritual heritage, often tied to geographic sites. 33

Public buildings that have a long history have an advantage that newer buildings without a history haven’t. It gives older people a chance to talk about their experiences to the young  and makes social interaction easier. Most older public buildings are geographically central to the community. The history and appearance gives the area an identity that is unique to their area.

Grenoside reading room.JPG

Grenoside Reading Room restored from derelict now  at the heart of the community

While  ‘therapeutic’ experiences are being found in the reviews of the heritage funding bodies such as Historic England and Heritage Lottery Fund, till recently they  have largely been absent in health geography literature or more widely within public health promotion literature. The positive experiences have been seen more as educational or in terms of economic regeneration, as an introduction to history, meeting other like-minded people and seeing wider community connections grow. But it became obvious that there were obvious benefits from using a person’s love of history and place, to boost their sense of belonging, cultural identity and security.  34

Heritage conservation is by its very nature about generating a closer relationship with one’s local area. Geographers have long explored the beneficial effects of having a strong sense of place and belonging.  Perceptions of places can be influenced by personal experiences and memories, the length of time spent living in a particular area, as well as awareness of historical significance for example, drawing on research on Wigan Pier, Northern England, demonstrates the active nature of heritage consumption, as visitors draw upon their memories and biographies to validate the interpretation of exhibits. Community-based heritage conservation is also by its very nature driven by the coming together of members of the community who participate in forms of voluntarism.

Sheffield council have the foresight of a myopic mayfly, the self awareness of a pebble and couldn’t plan their way out of a plastic bag. Time and again they have had the opportunity to do something great in this wonderful city, chances to make something of its people, location, history and atmosphere and time and again they have thrown the chances away.”  35 (comment by member of public in paper)

It is obvious from public protests at the loss of historic buildings that heritage matters to ordinary people. In a dispute about protecting the character of the Devonshire Quarter in Sheffield over 11,000 people signed an online petition and demonstrations were held outside the Town Hall.

But the cuts in funding  have made planning committees nervous to take on big developers due to possible high court costs if the developer challenges their decision in the court. In Sheffield there are approximately 120-130 Heritage groups and organisations. There are several hundred events a year which is a clear indicator that people’ heritage and culture matters to them. Many organisations have several hundred members and have been around for over thirty years. But recent pressure from government planning policies and the local authority’s desire to regenerate areas and create new business opportunities means that sometimes important assets are lost.

Urban planners and private sector property developers are increasingly prioritising top-down ‘master planning’ of the community. Top down planning often ignores the existing structures within a community.  Residents within acutely declining areas face an increasingly precarious future. Many developers argue for old buildings to be cleared for regeneration.  But clean sweep solutions are immensely damaging to community ties, costly and therefore impossible to implement in the several thousand acutely declining neighbourhoods in the UK.  There is an anger and a bitterness  within the displaced people that does not seem to shift with time, creating wistful community web pages where former neighbours connect and reminisce. 14

Holding onto people, developing micro-initiatives within neighbourhoods, restoring, beautifying and upgrading  areas is a greener and more realistic alternative than the large-scale disruption of past and often current urban regeneration programmes.

Across the industrial Midlands and the North there is a push to show  modern forward thinking cities and developers are encouraged to build large shiny towers to give that image.  However research has shown that modern companies often prefer an old building as it gives a sense of longevity and security, and people like the character the older buildings give to an area whether in rural or urban districts. Even in rural areas the push for more housing can put ancient areas at risk.  Bad planning decisions are not only economically damaging but also damaging to health and wellbeing of a community.  Heritage is part of the anchorage of a community when the upheavals of factory, pit, quarry  or farm closures have left communities with a feeling of loss.

A review of population-based research on mortality risk over the last 20 years indicates that people who are isolated are at increased mortality risk from a number of causes. More recent studies indicate that social support is particularly related to survival postmyocardial infarction. The pathways that lead from such socioenvironmental exposures to poor health outcomes are likely to be multiple and include behavioural mechanisms and more direct physiologic pathways related to neuroendocrine or immunologic function. For social support to be health promoting, it must provide both a sense of belonging and intimacy and must help people to be more competent and self-efficacious. Acknowledging that health promotion rests on the shoulders not only of individuals but also of their families and communities means that we must commit resources over the next decade to designing, testing, and implementing interventions in this area36

According to research carried out by English Heritage for their annual Heritage Counts 37 report, visiting  heritage sites has a significant and positive impact on life satisfaction and visits to historic  towns and buildings were found to have the greatest impact on wellbeing.  The report also calculates the value of these visits in financial terms and estimates the impact as being worth some £1646 per person per year, meaning visiting heritage is better for your wellbeing and life satisfaction than similar participation in sport. How much is heritage on the doorstep worth to the local community in health and wellbeing? Or to put it another way how much more demand is there on healthcare and other services when local heritage has been sold off?

There would seem to be a disjoint between those who are looking for finance to improve health in the community and cut crime and those who think finance from the sale of community assets especially heritage assets is a good way of bringing in finance for these preventive health schemes without looking at the hidden costs of removing these buildings from use.

One problem is there has been no clear value placed on such heritage assets from a health and crime reduction point of view so it is hard  to compare the monetary value with the community value. Too often community protests against demolition or change of use of a community asset is seen as nimbyism or backward looking by local authorities. There is need for more research in this field.

Cultural Elitism

There must be an urgency, now, to help disenfranchised communities of all different types express their identity, to celebrate their history, to see themselves as belonging to part of a bigger picture, and this must include a refocusing on the working classes: their art, their stories, their being able to progress through the artistic professions as easily as their privileged counterparts. The idea that the working class might have their own cultural identity too often gets dismissed, and that creates a void. And that’s the void that’s currently being filled by the far right across western democracies.” 38

 Article 27 of the Universal declaration of Human Rights states “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.39

Despite many acknowledging that the heritage and culture of the North is distinctive yet there seems to be very little effort to preserve that culture either locally or nationally.  Funding for culture and heritage from central government and funding bodies has never been high in comparison to elsewhere in the United Kingdom.  Is this because of the geography or because a lot of northern heritage in need of funding is about works and workers?

Sheffield’s Core Strategy 40states the objective of preserving and enhancing buildings and areas that are attractive, distinctive or of heritage value. But what is of heritage value? Historic England 41talking of listing buildings cites that for a building to be listed it has to be of a specific architectural,  historic interest of national importance. This has meant that much of the industrial areas found themselves battling without national support for their prominent industrial buildings. Industrial archaeology was and still is very much the poor relation, even in Sheffield where modern Industrial archaeology was born in 1918 with the Sheffield Technical Societies 42at Sheffield University. Recently the Government granted £7.6m to Wentworth Woodhouse whereas most grants through the Heritage Lottery fund rarely reach the £1m level in South Yorkshire.43

Volunteering in Heritage Lottery funded  projects44 would appear to be mainly a white elderly middle income activity though there are exceptions.   Is that because many of the applications for funding are made by the same groups or because their application is more likely to succeed?

Sarah Hughes 45drew attention in her paper  to the problems of definition of what culture means in the national press.  They define good arts provision to mean how much choice there is in theatre, cinema, concert halls and museums in the immediate vicinity failing  to look at culture in a local context.  The orchestral tuba player and the brass band tuba player  as musicians even if of equal ability are regarded differently,  but one is regarded as playing in high cultural events, the other as a hobbyist.  Ballet is regarded as culture, whereas Morris dancing is often regarded by many as a joke.

Civil War mix Manor Lodge

Manor Lodge, after decades of struggle now a popular destination.

The ‘official’ model of participation remains a top-down affair, operationalised as a demarcated set of activities and practices, defined largely by what government has traditionally funded, and informed by middle class norms and understandings of what counts as ‘legitimate’ culture.’ He suggests, ‘from this perspective, the ‘nonusers’ of culture can, in turn, be construed as a social problem: a passive, isolated and inadequate group morally adrift from the mainstream and therefore in need of mobilisation.’45

Areas like Castleford have to legitimize their cultural heritage from mining by emphasizing their Roman Heritage and Barnsley adding  stately homes such as Wentworth Castle to legitimate their heritage. This  comes from a mixture of local perception that an industrial heritage is inferior and what national funders will financially back. It has led perhaps to many cash strapped councils discounting any heritage that cannot bring in funding.

National survey data 46 for England shows that even in 2010, before the main impact of austerity, community organisations in the coalfields were more likely to report that they had insufficient overall income to meet their objectives. Cuts in local authority funding in England have hit deprived areas disproportionately hard. Across the country as a whole, the density of voluntary organisations in deprived areas is anyway far lower than in more prosperous areas.

Central Government spending per head on culture in London was nearly fifteen times greater than in the rest of England,  and successive governments and Arts Council England 47 continually  fail to redress the balance between London and the regions. In 2013  51% of ACE’s £322m public funding budget was spent on London, and of the further £450m used by the DCMS to direct-fund 16 major cultural organisations, an estimated 90% went to London.48  As a result, Londoners benefited from £69 of cultural spending per head, compared with just £4.50 in the rest of England. In addition, ACE committed 45% of its £317m arts lottery funding to London, meaning  arts funding in London was  £17.41 per person in London, but only £3.90 in the rest of England.49 In 2018 it was found that for the north to get the same Arts Council England funding per head as the capital it would need £691m more in the 2018-22 funding round.

And the same shortfall is within the Heritage Lottery funding50 .   Since the lottery began, the cumulative loss of funding to Britain’s industrial communities has probably been around £3bn, or £200m a year. In the last five years, communities in industrial Britain received only around 60 per cent of the national average per head. This has been made even worse by the HLF’s bias towards North Yorkshire and its rural communities and churches51.  

Sheffield is composed of distinct neighbourhoods with their own cultural identity. This cultural identity has been one of Sheffield’s great strengths helping people to feel part of a community.  With the closure of the pits, many works and  dairy farms, communities are left feeling disenfranchised .

Power to the People

In England  85%  of councils were making cuts to public health budgets in 2018/19. In Sheffield the Council cut its budget by £880,000.52  In  January 2018 Sheffield Council predicted an overspend of £20m in their social care budget.53 All the community properties put together and sold would make only a small dent in the health and social care budgets.

A look at what is happening in present and past publicly owned properties would suggest that community asset transfer could not only save the council money on running costs and repairs but that community involvement would also bring about community cohesion, improved mental health, reduction in loneliness, amongst other things.  It is obvious however that extra funding to repair and restore a building so communities are able to concentrate on making the building pay is not easy to find. Despite the problems community run assets do well. A sample of properties previously or currently owned by the council  show an amazing breadth of activities that add to the local community and that did not happen while under council control.  Here are a few examples.

Friends of Meersbrook Park 54 have calculated that a potential community asset transfer of Meersbrook Hall by the Council, the council would make an annual revenue savings of more than £65m from removing their need to maintain and heat the building, and further savings in staff time, administration and unforeseen costs such as damage repair. After repairs and restoration is carried out the building will also go up significantly in value. Add to that its present use working with local schools, Workers Education classes, and IT classes plus a number of public events it is already doing and a wide range of suggested activities when restored including commercial and community use. In fact they save considerably more money by the transfer than the original projected sale price.

De Hood

At Manor Top, 55 an old school, has been taken over as a community gym and has  in six years gone from a boxing gym to also running a cafe and various keep fit activities such as dancing and football, as well as a recovery drop in centre for addicts and a drugs and rehabilitation centre. The crime rate is down 60%,  arson has halved and has a membership of 500 people of all ages who are now healthier and happier. The savings to emergency services, social services and health services must be quite phenomenal in an area that was previously an area known for criminal and anti-social behaviour. Yet the site is to be sold to create a new shopping centre. There is a suggestion that a new place could be found for them but that would cost money and it is doubtful the sale of the old school will provide the finance for a new club as well as the old school being in the centre of the community that anywhere else would not be. There is also an obvious strong community link that will not be there in a bright shiny building if they do actually get one.

Grenoside Reading Room 56

Built around 1790 as an endowed school the building had fallen into disrepair and in 2006 the ownership of the building passed from the parish council to the residents of Grenoside. It took 6 years to get HLF funding to fully repair and restore the building. It became Grenoside’s first listed building and though small is very much in the heart of the community with a wide range of activities and community events including a rehearsal room for the Grenoside Sword dancers, and a lunchtime cafe once a week.

Heeley Development Trust 57

In 1997, having raised funding, the Trust took ownership of 3.5 hectares of land on a 125-year lease from Sheffield City Council. HDT have been delivering youth, community, environmental and economic development projects in the Heeley area since then including: – Heeley People’s Park,  Sum Studios  (a grade II listed Victorian school) redeveloped as a managed work space with 46 creative business tenants  Recycle Bikes – a social enterprise supporting disengaged young people to gain training, confidence, work experience and jobs.  The Trust is also working in partnership with the Friends of Meersbrook Hall to revitalise the hall and reopen it to the public  and providing within the hall an Online Centre  which offers free drop-in computer and internet access, as well as formal training in ‘Computers for Beginners’, digital imaging, spreadsheets, etc. HDT employs 32 staff across the above projects.

Burton Street Foundation 58

Burton Street Foundation began in 1998 in an historic board  school like Sum Studio but unlike HDT the community was no longer centred there but nevertheless the foundations contribution to the community especially those with disabilities is phenomenal. Around 2500 people use the site every week, for work and for play. They host countless events each year and  employ around 140 people. Their  disability services have around 250 clients. 14 local businesses are based there, and around 35 charities and community groups use their facilities each week. They now  run and maintain 5 buildings across 3 sites as well as a getaway in Wales too. They have a bistro, a cafe, a recording studio, a gym, conference facilities and offices for hire.

Heeley City Farm 59

Heeley City Farm took over land that the council owned after a failed bypass had left them with cleared land and no money to do anything with it. The Farm grew organically over the years from its early days with a shed and £25 in the bank, and soon became a well-loved part of the Heeley landscape providing beautiful green spaces and education, employment and training opportunities.

Heeley City Farm is now a well established community, not- for- profit charity and visitor attraction based on a working farm a mile from Sheffield City centre. Staff and volunteers from Heeley City Farm work with young people, adults with learning disabilities and with local communities across Sheffield to promote regeneration, environmental education, energy efficiency and health and well-being. Horticulture trainees, staff and volunteers also manage several  organic vegetable gardens across the city.  The  last remaining terraced house on the Farm site has been eco –refurbished and now houses South Yorkshire Energy Centre, an interactive visitor and advice centre open to the public.  Their Community Heritage Department has been delivering high quality community heritage, archaeology and history projects across the city since 2008.

Gillfield Wood60

The land is mostly owned by the council but in 2011 a Friends Group took over the maintenance and now has up to 100 volunteers. Besides conservation they have recorded1,600 species. The Friends group hosts a conservation morning once a month coppicing trees, relaying paths and mending dry stone walling. They created a pond, a wildflower meadow and opened up a glade to let sunlight in for butterflies and insects and there are 60 nesting boxes. There are several walks about a mile long and they run events for the community and for families during the year including bird walks, a history walk, one about flowers and fungi in the autumn and a mammal survey.

Within many communities across the UK there are historic buildings that the community wants to keep. Those they get to keep have a head start re community enthusiasm and possibly because they aren’t the local authority running it they come up with a wide range of ideas to keep the buildings running at capacity.

97% of the community organisations Locality 61 surveyed said that the community asset transfer had strengthened their relationship with the local community. 52%also highlighted a strengthened relationship with other public agencies as a key benefit. 58% of community organisations we surveyed reported that their relationship with the local authority had been strengthened by the process of community ownership. 70% of local authorities either agreed or strongly agreed that the process had enhanced partnership working with local voluntary and community sector groups. 75% reported an increase in more effective community engagement.

What is also clear from the examples given that community assets can help create jobs, training opportunities and give support to some of the most vulnerable and marginalised sections of the community. Despite the obvious lack of funding  some have been running for over 20 years.

Many councils now are looking at setting up community anchors or hubs to  tackle the root causes of inequality and to  create a  highly-localised service.  At the same time councils are selling off the community buildings already there and often displacing the community organisations they say they want to work with. It’s hard to tackle loneliness in an area where there is no place to meet. Or set up training for people where it involves expensive buses to get to the training place.

A recent YouGov poll commissioned by Locality found that 71% of people felt they had not much or no control over the important decisions that affected their neighbourhoods and local communities. With more community buildings being sold off that percentage is going to rise.


  1. Klinenberg Eric (2018) Palaces for the People: How to Build a More Equal and United Society, Siddique Haroon (2018) Thousands of public buildings and spaces in England sold off a year, The Guardian
  2. BBC Wales (2017) 110 Anglican churches closed in 10 years.
  3. Burn Chris (2016) One quarter of south Yorkshire’s working men’s clubs lost in last decade Sheffield Star
  4. BBC News (2018) Pubs closing at rate of 18 a week as people stay at home
  5. Crown Publishing Group
  6. Price David (2008)Sheffield Troublemakers, Phillimore & Co. Ltd
  7. Brabin Tracy (2018) More than 500 children’s centres have closed in England since 2010
  8. Presser Lizzie (2016) Disadvantaged teenagers left isolated as clubs and holiday camps are closed
  9. O’Hara Mary (2018) young people’s mental health is a ‘worsening crisis’ Action is needed
  10. BBC (2018) School exclusions: Are more children being expelled? Reality Check Team
  11. Booth Roberts (2018) unsustainable villages risk being frozen in time say landowners
  12. Vesty Helena (2018) Unreliable public transport ‘stops poor families finding work’
  13. Sheffield City Partnership Board (2018) State of Sheffield 2018
  14. Power Ann, Wilson Julius (2000) Social Exclusion and the Future of Cities, CASE paper 35 Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, London School of Economics, Houghton Street London wc2A 2AE
  15. Joseph Rowntree Trust (2007) Experiences of poverty and educational disadvantage
  16. McMurtry Roy, Curling Alvin (2008)  The review of the roots of youth violence Vol 1 Ontario Service Ontario Publications 777 Bay Street, Market Level Toronto, Ontario M5G 2C8
  17. Klinenberg Eric (2002) Heat Wave; A Social autopsy of disaster in Chicago, The University of Chicago Press
  18. Ashton Lucy (2018) Latest ideas on developing Sheffield Estate
  19. Elliott, I. (June 2016) Poverty and Mental Health: A review to inform the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Anti-Poverty Strategy. London: Mental Health Foundation
  20. TME (2018) Culture and Community Cohesion Partnership Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council
  21. Gorman, C. (2007) Final Reflections from the Action for Neighbourhood Change Research Project The Caledon Institute of Social Policy, Toronto
  22. Hosie Rachel (2018) Young people feel lonelier than any other age group, largest study into loneliness reveals
  23. HM Government (2018) A connected society, A strategy for tackling loneliness-laying the foundations for change, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 100 Parliament Street London SW1A 2BQ
  24. Morrison Janet (2018) Social Isolation should be a public health priority.
  25. Eyre David (2016) Poor Mental Health, the links between child poverty and mental problems The Childrens Society
  26. Donovan Francesca (2018) The loneliness epidemic among young people need to be tackled by government
  27. Ashton Lucy (2018) Community Cohesion: Sheffielders living in poverty and isolation have a tougher life.
  28. Syal Rajeev (2017) More than 600,000 pupils in England taught by unqualified teachers
  29. Cooper Sam (2018) Staggering number of school exclusions across Sheffield revealed.
  30. Halliday Josh (2018) Police in Sheffield grapple with surge in violent crime.
  31. Cain Sean (2018) Nearly 130 public libraries closed across Britain in the last year
  32. Volunteer Libraries in Sheffield
  33. Luciana Olivia (2017) Preserving People’s Cultural Heritage is a Crucial Part of Development Blog Post CIEL Centre for International Environmental Law
  34. Power A, Smith K (2016) Heritage, health and place: the legacies of local community-based heritage conservation University of Southampton, SO17 1BJ, UK
  35. Collier Hatty (2014) Sheffield residents fight plans to bulldoze independent shops.
  36. Fisher Brian, Neve Hilary, Heritage Zoe, (1999)  Community development, user involvement and primary health care BMJ Medical Publishing Company
  37. Historic England (2014) Heritage Counts 2014: The Value and Impact of Heritage
  38. McMillan Andrew (2017) The Working class has its own cultural identity
  39. Silverman Helaine, Fairchild D Ruggles (2007) Cultural Heritage and Human Rights, University of Illinois
  40. Sheffield City Council (2013) Sheffield Plan Consultation, pre submission
  41. Historic Englands (2018) Listed buildings, listing what is designation definition of a listed building
  42. South Yorkshire Industrial History Society (formerly Sheffield Trades Historical Society
  43. Doughty Eleanor (2018) Wentworth Woodhouse reveals its £130m renovation masterplan
  44. HLF (2008) Social Impact of Heritage Lottery Funded Projects, Heritage Lottery Fund
  45. Hughes Sarah (2018) Understanding Cultural Participation in Barnsley, Phd thesis, University of Leicester
  46. Foden Mike, Fothergill Steve, Gore Tony (2014) The state of the coalfield’s economics in the former mining communities of England, Scotland and Wales, Centre for Regional and Social Research Sheffield Hallam University
  1. Marsh Sarah (2017) Arts funding: £700m needed to bridge north-south divide, study finds,
  2. Arts Council (2013) Expenditure data for Arts Council, Arts Council
  3. Romer Marcus (2013) How Arts Funding works on the ground
  4. Industrial Communities Alliance (2011) The Postcode Lottery, How the National Lottery short-changes Britain’s industrial communities, Alliance National Secretariat 9 Regents Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2E
  5. Heritage Lottery Fund (2018) Figures taken from Project Search
  6. Torr George (2018) Social Care in growing ’financial crisis’ as Sheffield Council bosses reveal massive £20m overspend
  7. Yorkshire Post (2018) Leeds hit hardest as council health budgets in Yorkshire and Humber ’cut by £8m’
  8. Friends of Meersbrook Hall
  9. De Hood
  10. Grenoside Reading Room
  11. HDT (2018) Heeley Development Trust Case Study, Power to Change, Business in Community hands. Heritage Lottery Fund
  12. Burton Street Foundation
  13. Heeley City Farm

61. Plummer John (2018) Locality urges councils to transfer assets to communities, not flog them off. Third Sector


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.