What next for John Lewis? Sheffield academic reveals how historic store could be transformed

Social housing, rooftop gardens, an arts and concert venue and a new home for the Graves Gallery - a Sheffield academic has wasted no time in coming up with new uses for the John Lewis department store after it was earmarked for closure.

By David Walsh
Thursday, 25th March 2021, 12:32 pm

Tom Hunt said plans not to reopen the six-storey building after lockdown were bad news - but also a chance to rethink a key part of the city centre.

The chain yesterday dropped the bombshell annoucement that eight unprofitable stores were facing the chop including at Barker’s Pool, Sheffield, which employs 299.

Mr Hunt, deputy director of the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Sheffield, said the building should not be demolished because ‘the greenest building is the one that already exists’.

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John Lewis is set to remain closed after lockdown putting 299 jobs at risk.

He added: “The John Lewis news is clearly bad for Sheffield, most of all for the staff.

“If the store does close it's a chance to re-think a key part of the city centre - but this is a fine building and should stay. Re-use, don't demolish. Some early ideas on why and what could come next.

“The greenest building is the one that already exists. So if we're serious about net zero we must stop always seeing demolition as the answer. Moreover, this is a high quality building that could lend itself to multiple creative new uses: retail, arts, hospitality and residential.

“Sheffield City Council has control of the building with a 20-year lease signed in 2020 with John Lewis so lets use this opportunity and run a big public debate about future use and hold an international architectural design competition to realise a new vision.

John Lewis agreed a new 20-year lease with John Lewis last summer. Coun Mazher Iqbal, store manager Patrick Duffy, and Mike Norris from Queensberry.

“City centres are changing and there is a lot that could be done.

“So, some ideas...The ground floor spaces facing Barker’s Pool could be opened up for cafes and restaurants with large outdoor seating space in front. Barker’s Pool could become an even better, busier public square.”

John Lewis has unveiled plans to build rental homes at 20 sites above or beside Waitrose supermarkets around the UK.

Mr Hunt added: “John Lewis says they want to become a landlord so let's hold them to it. Convert the top floors into high quality social housing at the heart of the city with rooftop gardens. This would be true to its cooperative values and sense of purpose.

The interior could be come a gallery or concert hall under Tom Hunt's plans.

“There's long been talk about how Sheffield needs a new arts and concert venue to house a new Sheffield Symphony Orchestra. Could the lower ground floor be converted into a new performance and rehearsal space?

“Or how about relocating Graves Gallery from it's current tired location to convert John Lewis' high-ceiling spaces into big new, accessible public galleries? Move the public library too? Create our very own House of Culture like Stockholm's Kulturhuset.

“Whatever happens - let the light in! Open up the full-storey panels on the front and sides. Who wouldn't want to have live, work, sit in front of such large windows?!

“So, yes it's a bad day and let's hope John Lewis do right by the staff and help them into new roles. But lets also use it to spark discussion and new ideas about the city centre we all want to see.”

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Thank you. Nancy Fielder, editor.