New generation rebuilding community spirit of Park Hill flats

Park Hill resident Sarah Hughes
Park Hill resident Sarah Hughes
0
Have your say

They were the ‘streets in the sky’, the post-war Sheffield flats scheme hailed as the most ambitious inner-city development of its time.

But after the dream turned sour with an estate that became notorious for drug and crime problems – followed by years of often frustratingly slow progress in transforming the area – a new generation is beginning to recreate the original community spirit of the Park Hill flats.

Parkhill flats in Shneffield

Parkhill flats in Shneffield

Around 600 people now live and work on the partly-redeveloped site and it was announced last week the full development should finally be completed by 2022, with the next phases of the project involving 330 student housing units as well as 210 residential units to add to the 260 homes already in place.

The new Grace Owen Nursery School – which has been based at Park Hill since 1963 – relocated to one of the new units at the development earlier this year.

And those now living in Park Hill say the new development is beginning to feel like a true community once again.

Steve and Claire Hunting have been living at Park Hill for around a year.

Park Hill residents Steve and Claire Hunting

Park Hill residents Steve and Claire Hunting

The couple, originally from Essex, loved Sheffield so much when their daughter Charlotte came to university at Sheffield Hallam, they decided to buy a place in the city.

They now split their time between Upminster and Sheffield, while their daughter works in Leeds but lives with them in Park Hill.

The pair, both aged 59, have recently set up a residents’ association group for Park Hill tenants and say there is a growing sense of community.

Steve said: “We loved coming up here so much and Claire’s parents used to live and work in Sheffield.

Aerial view of Park Hill flats

Aerial view of Park Hill flats

“We came up here and didn’t really want to leave.

“We saw these up for sale and researched the history but didn’t quite appreciate how iconic it was.

“When we saw what it had and the fantastic views over the city, we fell in love with it.”

Claire said the pair love the ‘village’ feel of Sheffield and the friendly nature of the people.

Hugh Gaitskell Opens Sheffield's Park Hill Flats

Hugh Gaitskell Opens Sheffield's Park Hill Flats

She said the community aspect of the city is a parallel to what is now happening in Park Hill.

Claire said: “When we first came up here it was very remote but we have noticed now it is nearly full.

“We have set up a residents’ association.

“It is starting to come together and we are trying to do community-based things.”

Steve said: “The majority of people who live here are very mindful of the community spirit that existed in the original Park Hill and are very keen to recreate that. We are trying to create a true community again - the essence of the building in the first place.

“It is often talked about on social media as being a yuppie place but the population is a mix of social housing, downsizing people and professional people who work in Sheffield.”

Hugh Gaitskell meets Park Hill residents

Peter Tuffrey collection

Hugh Gaitskell meets Park Hill residents Peter Tuffrey collection

Simon Gawthorpe, managing director of Urban Splash, said the new plan to finish off the flats by 2022 is ‘great news for Sheffield’.

He said: “Our aim is to create a new quarter for the city of Sheffield where people want to live, work, play and visit.”

It has been a long road to transforming Park Hill into a place for Sheffield to be proud of again.

Park Hill was the first completed post-war slum clearance scheme of an entire community in Britain. It was built between 1957 and 1961, with architects attempting to recreate the strong sense of community in the old Park area with neighbours rehoused alongside each other in the new development.

Each flat opened out on to a 10ft wide walkway – providing access for milk floats and communal areas that promoted the ‘streets in the sky’ concept.

A landmark BBC documentary filmed in 1965 captured the optimism of families who had moved out of slum housing into the new flats.

But the concrete block was condemned as an eyesore by the 1980s and became associated with drug problems and crime.

Despite this, Park Hill became a Grade II listed building in 1998, identified by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport as a ‘building of outstanding interest’.

The controversial decision was criticised at the time due to the estate’s reputation and the look of the flats.

The Royal Town Planning Institute said listed modern buildings should not include ‘failures’ such as Park Hill.

In 2003, Sheffield Council and national regeneration agency English Partnerships began to put together a vision of a more positive future for Park Hill, with existing tenants asked to leave from December that year.

They selected Urban Splash as a development partner the follow year, with Great Places Housing Group chosen as a registered social landlord.

In 2006 Park Hill Junior School was closed, as the numbers of pupils was falling. The building, along with the shops and area housing office were all demolished in 2007.

An outline planning application was submitted in 2006 for the creation of 580 flats and new retail and leisure facilities, with more detailed plans following a year later.

Building work on the redevelopment started in 2007 but was delayed by the impact of the global financial crisis.

The first properties in the first phase were eventually released for sale in 2011-12 but the completion of the 260 homes and 10 ‘creative workspaces’ for digital and creative businesses was only finally completed in 2014-15.

Student nurse Rachel Hughes is one of the new arrivals at Park Hill flats, after moving in around a month ago.

The 24-year-old said she is already settling in well.

“I love it so much. The neighbours are really friendly and everyone seems to really care about the place,” she said.

“We all help each other out.”

She said the proximity to the city centre was her main reason for moving in but she has started to get inspired by the place’s history.

“When I started looking at the old videos, the idea was to be a community.

“It is built that way. It is just easy to have a chat with people and I hoped it would be like that.”

Simon Gawthorpe of Urban Splash outside Park Hill Flats, Sheffield. See Molly Lynch story

Simon Gawthorpe of Urban Splash outside Park Hill Flats, Sheffield. See Molly Lynch story

Park Infants School, Sheffield 19 September 1972

In the background the Park Hill Flats

Park Infants School, Sheffield 19 September 1972 In the background the Park Hill Flats

FRONT DOOR WALKWAYS ON THE PARK HILL FLATS COMPLEX, 21st January 1986

FRONT DOOR WALKWAYS ON THE PARK HILL FLATS COMPLEX, 21st January 1986

Park Hill Flats, Sheffield - Yvonne Czerwinski and her grandaughter Natalie Czerwinski outside Yvonne's front door 26 March 1996

Park Hill Flats, Sheffield - Yvonne Czerwinski and her grandaughter Natalie Czerwinski outside Yvonne's front door 26 March 1996