Urban explorers

Decay: Inside the derelict Crookes Valley Methodist Church
Decay: Inside the derelict Crookes Valley Methodist Church
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NIC Stewart is fully aware his hobby is not, strictly speaking, legal.

He is also fully aware of its dangers.

“There was one time I almost fell three storeys through a crumbling floor,” he says. “I always take a first aid kit but bandages and pain killers probably wouldn’t have been much help there.”

Yet Nic Stewart’s is a hobby that is becoming something of a trend.

For this 21-year-old photography student is one of several young Sheffielders who spend their spare time going into abandoned buildings to capture their crumbling glory on film.

They enter; they shoot; they upload the pictures on to the plethora of increasingly popular websites dedicated to the activity.

Incredible images of once-stunnng-now-suffering Sheffield buildings such as the eight storey Hallam Tower Hotel in Broomhill, the former Crookes Valley Methodist Church and the city centre’s General Post Office have all appeared online.

“Well,” says Nic, “it’s more interesting than taking pictures of girls, isn’t it?”

Trespassing, it may be, but these self-proclaimed urbexers – that’s urban explorers to you and me – say they are adventurers with a social conscience, drawing attention to how the city’s heritage is being allowed to crumble.

“These places are going to ruin,” says Nic of Warwick Terrace, Crookes. “That’s the real crime.

“This is our city and we’re documenting it. We’re capturing a side of urban life most people never see. Like with the Hallam Tower Hotel. The place is so grand. there are still glasses in the bar and trouser presses in the bedrooms – but then you go into another room and there’ll be a hole in the floor that goes down four storeys. It’s heart-breaking.”

It was something which dawned on Nic at a rave two years ago.

“It was in an abandoned factory in Shalesmoor,” he recalls. “I couldn’t get my head round how this great place had been left to vandals. I went home, got my camera and went back, and I’ve been taking pictures ever since.”

Because of the twilight nature of what they do few urbexers are willing to go public but Nic, a former Notre Dame High School pupil, reckons there are as many as 40 operating in South Yorkshire. They tend to be young, male and well educated.

“Why have I gone public?” he considers. “Because if you believe in what you do you should shout about it.”

Shane Rounce agrees. He’s a web designer of Addison Square, Dinnington, and he’s another urbexer.

“We do no damage at all,” says the 23-year-old who first started shooting two years ago after a friend took him along. “We never break in and we take nothing from the buildings. The police have moved us on a couple of times but that’s it. I’m exploring my own town.”

And Nic again: “I’d like an exhibition of my photos but one day I’d also like to see something done with the Hallam Tower.”

View Nic and Shane’s pictures at www.nicstewart.com and www.shanerounce.com

Urbexed Sheffield buildings

Hallam Tower Hotel, Fulwood Road, Broomhill: This eight storey, 138-room tower was one of the city’s most opulent hotels when it opened in 1965 ahead of the 1966 World Cup. It closed in 2004. A planning application to turn it into residential apartments was passed in 2009 but no work has been done.

Crookes Valley Methodist Church, Crookesmoor Road, Crookes: Built in 1881, this is a Grade II listed building. It has been out of use since around 2002 – but an application to turn it into student flats is to be decided this week.

General Post Office, Fitzalan Square, city centre: One of Sheffield’s best-loved buildings, it was constructed in 1910 and served as the city’s main post office until 1999. Despite being sold in 2006, it has remained empty for 13 years.