Retro: When Sheffield flats played host to world

World Student Games'Hyde Park Block B with Jack McBane Senior projects manager  for the World Student Games Village - 8th February 1990
World Student Games'Hyde Park Block B with Jack McBane Senior projects manager for the World Student Games Village - 8th February 1990
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During the late 1980s, amidst the heated furore about whether Sheffield should or should not be staging the World Student Games, it was announced that student athletes would be accommodated in the notorious Block B of Hyde Park flats – once dubbed the city’s worst eye-sore.

So, what about the residents in all four of the Hyde Park blocks of flats – A, B, C and D? How would the plans impact on them?

World Student Games - Games village 4 July 1991

World Student Games - Games village 4 July 1991

Incredibly, by January 1990 a mammoth plan was developing and it was announced that the final residents had abandoned Hyde Park. At the same time details were outlined for the four blocks.

Block A, with an £18 million Housing Corporation grant, was being turned into flats and maisonettes by the Northern Counties Housing Association.

Block B, the largest in the complex, was undergoing a £2m refurbishment, paid for by games company Universiade GB. Perhaps surprisingly, it was also revealed the building would be demolished immediately afterwards and replaced with low-rise properties.

Block C would house council flats after a £7.36m facelift.

World Student Games - Guides Prepare Flats at Games Village 20 June 1991

World Student Games - Guides Prepare Flats at Games Village 20 June 1991

Block D was being privately developed and would be converted into homes to be put up for sale to the general public.

The former tenants had been scattered around the city.

A little later in January 1990 detailed plans emerged of the Hyde Park WSG village, centred around block B. Jack Mc Bane, due to become ‘mayor’ of the complex when it opened on 6 July 1991, was getting ready to put out the welcome mat for 7,000 visitors.

Canadian-born Mr Mc McBane had been planning every detail of the village since Sheffield won the games in 1987. A senior project manager for games company Universiade GB Ltd (established to run the WSG), he had to make sure the village was ready to meet the needs of athletes and officials from 130 countries.

“The catering facilities will be open 24 hours a day,” said Mr McBane. “We’ll be serving 21,000 meals daily and will have a full international menu.”

A mini hospital manned by volunteer doctors and nurses was to be set up and Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders would be establishing centres for religious worship.

Shops, a bureau de change, newsagents and hairdressers were also to be installed in the village.

As events gathered apace at the end of May 1990, Sheffield prepared for an ‘emulsional’ experience. A bid to paint the many rooms in the Block B would raise £5,000 for Telethon – and was the biggest DIY stunt in the world.

About 30,000 litres of magnolia-coloured paint were donated by Crown Berger. DIY giant B&Q had donated cash prizes of £3,000 and £2,000 for an 18-hour marathon.

More than 500 people turned up for the event and created a new entry in the Guinness Book of World Records. Telethon called it a huge success with more than 1,000 rooms in 230 flats given a fresh lick of paint.

But the event nearly turned to tragedy when a tray of paint fell from the ninth floor, gashing a three-year-old boy’s leg. He was covered from head to toe with white emulsion and two parked cars were also showered.

By July, Sheffield Council had taken over the running of the Games from former organising company Universiade GB Ltd and Peter Warrington was in control of 1,800 volunteer workers.

On July 8, 1991 The Star said that Sheffield’s global village at Hyde Park had welcomed its first residents. First advance parties to check in included groups from Canada, Australia, Korea, USSR, USA, Malawi and Japan.

Once through the perimeter fence and airport-style security checks, the athletes and officials found a self-contained community with a full range of services.

“Baking under the July sun, the former Hyde Park Council estate now seems like a Benidorm-style hotel mixed with a health farm and student campus,” said The Star.

Each athlete was charged an accommodation fee of £17 per night – bringing in an estimated £1.3m. There was an average of six to a flat, with meals served in a temporary catering hall the size of Hillsborough stadium.

Each flat was equipped with beds, a kitchen table, curtains and an electric kettle. There were no soft furnishings or other luxuries.

Many of the fixtures and fittings, installed with the help of local scouts and guides, were to be sold off after the Games. The student athletes relaxed in communal areas such as the youth club or a specially-designated quiet room.

The main entrance to the village, ringed by a three-metre-high fence, was at Manor Oaks Road. It was strictly controlled with closed circuit TV and body and baggage scanners.

The nearby St John’s School closed for the summer about a week early and was used as a reception area for athletes to meet family or friends who came to the village. Pupils were bussed out to other schools so they didn’t miss out on lessons.

Workmen converted the former Target pub into a reception office which also offered information and booking facilities for cinemas and theatres. Opposite the reception office was the catering hall installed by a Dutch firm.

The hall, which had a canvas roof, rigid plastic sides and a suspended floor, opened from 5.30am to midnight. The mountain of food needed to be served up was provided by catering firm Gardner Merchant, which had an office in Sheffield.

Block B’s main courtyard was turned into an international area with seats for relaxation outdoors. Shops and other services were sited there and the old Sheffield area housing office was turned into a ‘one-call’ problem-solving stop for athletes to report repairs or difficulties with village life.

The Crow’s Nest pub was re-opened and the former Park Gardeners Social Club was used as a coffee and board games area during the day and in the evening became a night spot.

A coin-operated laundry was expanded to cope with the huge amount of kit that was needed to be washed by every team. The disco was in the old Long’s factory.

After the games Block B was demolished over a two-year period until the final section crashed to the ground on June 2, 1993. The towering stump was reduced to a pile of rubble by 10kg of nitro glycerine.

More than 100 people, many of them former tenants, watched as the concrete structure was flattened in a matter of seconds. The council’s housing chair, Coun Sandra Robinson, said: “I hope we have learnt our lesson from the past.

“We have tried to listen to people and their needs and hopefully the new development [to be built on the site] will be much better for people and their families.”