Park Hill – Sheffield

Park Hill is a housing estate in Sheffield.  It was built between 1957 and 1961, and in 1998 was given Grade II listed building status, it’s  the largest listed building in Europe.

The concept of the flats was described as ‘Streets in the Sky’ as this was the inspiration for the architects, Jack Lynn and Ivor Smith and Sheffield Council’s City architect John Lewis Womersley.  French architect Le Corbusier’s Unite d’habitation – “streets in the sky” were the current fad in France. The idea was to replace the slums with ultra-modern flats to create communities.  Built on the hills above the train station, the flats were designed so that the roof line remains level despite the steeply sloping site with four storeys at the Talbot Street end and thirteen at the Anson Street end.

 Photo: http://www.wretch.cc/blog/lazysylvie/25058305

Park Hill consisted of over 1000 flats as well as four pubs, plenty of shops, nursery, primary school, community centre, garages, doctor’s surgery, pharmacy and dentist’s.

According to the people of Sheffield who lived on Park Hill, from its opening till the early eighties it was a nice place to live.  You can see old photographs and read comments from ‘Parkhillians’ on the BBC Sheffield site – such as Loren Millward’s comment –
“I remember feeling very safe and happy there as a child in the 1960s and the place was full of friends to play with on the many open spaces, climbing frames and parks. The flats were warm and full of light and had a very real sense of community.”

Photo: Google Maps

By the 1980s Park Hill had become run down and was no longer considered a popular place to live, there were constant stories of drugs, crime and gangs.  Though residents and Park Hill’s most famous caretaker, Grenville Squires say that it was victim to bad press.  “It was an easy scapegoat”, said Grenville. “People can see it from town and so attribute all that bad stuff to Park Hill.”

Local artist Gary Hindley is Park Hill’s artist in residence and has immortalised Grenville in a painting that now adorns the flats along with others of local faces.  You can find out more about his work on the Concrete Generation site.

Photo: Concrete Generation – Gary Hindley

During the 80’s and 90’s I lived in the area around Park Hill, I had friends who lived there and though it had a bad reputation I never thought of it as a ‘ghetto’ or any of the other negative words thrown about.  I remember running up and down the wide ‘streets in the sky’ with friends, playing on the park and the views from the living rooms of the flats, feeling like you were on the top of the world and seeing what felt like the whole of Sheffield.  Perhaps my memories are rose tinted, or perhaps it is the strong sense of belonging to Sheffield that make me want to stay loyal.

But I also remember that drugs were readily available, that as a teenager I was ‘taxed’ by a gang of teenagers in those dark alleys, I remember the smell of piss in the lifts and stair wells and I remember the first time I saw needles littered on the ground and drug users huddled on the benches.

Past and Present – Park Hill Sheffield – Photo: Urban Splash

The iconic Sheffield landmark is being massively redeveloped by Urban Splash. In total, 874 apartments are being created, 200 will be social housing, 40 will be shared ownership, but the vast majority will be private ownership.  It’s all about high-end apartment living with one and two-bedroomed homes, office space, retail and leisure.

Photos: Urban Splash

On a bridge over Park Hill flats, the graffiti “I Love You Will U Marry Me”, has been visible for miles for the last ten years, this has been used by Urban Splash as an art piece and an “invitation to the city”. 

BBC Radio 4 investigated the origins of the graffiti in a piece called The I Love You Bridge, in this they tell of a man called Jason who had been dating a woman called Clare for over a year, before made a public show of proposing to her.  Though she said yes, they later split up and never married.  Jason said the graffiti was visible from the Odeon in Sheffield town centre –  “I took her there, she thought she was going to see a film and I said ‘I’ve got something to show you’ and I told her to look up and she read it.”  

Though this all sounds so positive, taking an iconic but run down building and spending hundreds of millions to update it and create new community based architecture there is also an argument that what is taking place here is class cleansing.  The many families who were moved out of Park Hill for this regeneration will not have the opportunity to live in the new apartments.  Reducing 1000 council flats to only 200 means that the Parkhillian families are missing out.

The privately owned flats are being touted as affordable housing at £90,000 per flat – affordable perhaps for a young professional, but unobtainable for the low income and unemployed families who used to reside there.  Sheffield has at least 60,000 on the council waiting list so is it right to for extremely limited council housing stock to be sold off and privatised?  Two quarters of Park Hill are derelict, the areas boarded up to prevent squatters.

Perhaps the idea to improve Park Hill was to remove the people who lived there who may have seemed to be the problem.  Now looking at a the vast expanses of boarded up properties into a soulless skeleton of a building I wonder if in removing the Parkhillians, they have removed the heart of Park Hill?

Id love to hear your thoughts on Park Hill, please leave a comment.

Love Samxx

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5 thoughts on “Park Hill – Sheffield

  1. That is really amazing. The only things I knew about Sheffield was that it was in England, it had been known for high quality steel, and the movie “The Full Monty” was set there. Now I’ve learned about this huge building which really challenges the imagination. It’s a hard call about the renovations and the loss of council housing because I can see arguments for both sides. Renovation upgrades will bring in more money for the area, but the poor need a place to live as well. With global economies they way they are, I’d say most of the homeless aren’t that way by choice (there are always some who like the homeless style which is why I can’t make a total blanket statement there). Is there some reason why they should be forced to live in hovels? I would think that that would just encourage a down spiral – “Here,this is all we think of you.You don’t deserve to live in decent housing”.

    Thank you for the post. It was educational, eye-opening and brings out a common condition that urgently needs to be addressed.

  2. Thanks for your comment. There is so much more to Sheffield than the Full Monty, we really are an awesome city!

    Park Hill is synonymous with Sheffield as its the first thing you see from the train station and its a huge landmark. Though I agree that it needed renovating and taking care of I do worry that it will lose its soul and become just another generic city centre apartment and that would be so sad for the city.

  3. Touching piece. The architecture, and with it, the childhood associations of an entire generation is being demolished before our eyes and too few seem to care. Your memories of those ‘streets in the sky’ and sunlit living rooms are vividly recalled. My own memories of Trinity Square Car Park and Derwent Tower in Gateshead are diminished by the disappearance of these iconic constructions. The seemingly inevitable descent into squalor of such optimistically concieved projects and the subsequent falling out of public favour is not a problem of the architects’ making; it’s not the buildings, but the human beings who turn ugly.

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