Roughly 2 years ago I went to Sheffield for the first time and fell head over heels in love with the place. I was briefly back there last year as 40 gigs drew to a close, but had no real time to explore. I was determined to experience a little more of this slice of Yorkshire heaven. It still wasn’t enough and I must go back again. I wrote about that first visit here
I dragged Tom on a whistle-stop tour of my favourite bits of Sheffield and enthused with passion about how much I loved the place. The significance of the Crucible Theatre as the home of Snooker was lost in translation, but it still sent a shiver through me.
On my first visit I had climbed up to Park Hill and had been able to wander reasonably freely among its decaying structure. I cursed not having my camera with me and was only able to photograph it on my phone, which you can see here . I promised I would return one day. And I keep promises. So after leaving Tom in a pub I raced across the train and tram tracks to once again climb the steep hill and take in the view from the top. When I got there a different beast awaited. No longer could I access the site of Park Hill, it was all fenced and locked away by the developers. I cried frustrated tears, as I had my camera with me, ready to document the place for myself before it changed. I felt and still feel a lot of emotions stood in Park Hill. That first visit has stayed with me. I wanted to explore and roam around it some more, finding the hidden corners and parts long neglected and forgotten. I remain an outsider, that I know. But I know that the people who lived, loved, died and simply were in Park Hill deserve to be remembered and documented. Their stories matter.
I am glad that the site is being redeveloped and is once again going to be filled with life. The juxtaposition between the old and the new was more marked this time. Last time I had started at the old and discovered the new, by chance, at the end. Now, I knew the redevelopment existed and has even featured as a location in Doctor Who. It still stirred things deep in my soul.
I grew up on a concrete, post war estate, not entirely dissimilar to Park Hill. I remember the community it fostered and endangered in equal measure. I remember playing outside, gangs of kids freely able to roam through car free streets. The sound of children’s laughter seemed to be ever-present then. It was the only time I’ve ever felt I belonged, or that I had a home. Perhaps that is why Park Hill resonates with me so much. For reasons I cannot explain, I feel at home in Sheffield in a way I only do otherwise in the Highlands of Scotland or stood on London’s Brick Lane, and I have lived in none of those places. Given that I have spent 3/4 of my years feeling rootless, homeless and without a family, feeling comfortable anywhere is a feeling I chase and embrace.
I feel terrifically mixed about Park Hill, as I do about the Estate where I was born. They were created in the heat of post war optimism and gave many working class people inside plumbing and heat for the first time. They were modern, forward-looking and designed by eager young architects with the aim of making lives better. And they did, for a time. Before economic and industrial decline changed things forever. Poverty trapped many. Those who could, left. Like we did. I was just 10 when we moved away and I lost every connection to my early life. I have never felt settled since. I have also never forgotten the people we left behind.
Park Hill is undergoing huge redevelopment and will again be a large urban housing complex. With a nursery and other facilities. It was seeing the abandoned and moss covered children’s playground the first time that made me weep. It was just the saddest of sights. That and the derelict pub – the heart of the community – stopped, frozen in time. It will be joyful to see the new Park Hill finished only, and this is an enormous only, if it once again is populated by working class people. If it becomes a gentrified haven of ‘creatives’ then the tears I shed won’t be of frustration, they will be of anger. The only way Sheffield can honour it’s past, the only way Park Hill can pay homage to its former residents, is if ordinary working people live in it again. The estate I grew up in is being partly destroyed (it has no listing or preservation order as Park Hill does to protect it) and redeveloped too. I went back last year, as part of grieving for my Mum. The place was a shithole and I felt no more I belonged there than I would on the Moon.
Sheffield is a special place. It welcomes you with open arms and tries to make the best of itself. It isn’t a fancy place, but it has heart and humour. It has the most diverse architecture, in the smallest space, of any City I’ve wandered about in and I love it for that. It has buses that go to Halfway! It has a functioning public transport system, that is integrated (as a Bristolian this is such a dream). There is not a single Tory on Sheffield’s council. It gave the world stainless steel, Henderson’s Relish and Richard Hawley. For reasons I perhaps will never understand or be able to explain, Sheffield makes me feel at home. I hope this City has as bright a future as it has had past, its people deserve that.
Sheffield, like me, wears its heart on its sleeve and that is why I love it.