Old mansion at heart of £17m social project in Sheffield

How Mount Pleasant could look after a �17m transformation.
How Mount Pleasant could look after a �17m transformation.
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This could be the £17m future of Mount Pleasant, a disused 18th century mansion in Sheffield.

Entrepreneurs Pennie Raven and Jonny Douglas have formed social enterprise Avenues to Zero and put together a bid for a huge redevelopment of the listed building on Sharrow Lane, Highfield.

Mount Pleasant would be a new Heart of Sharrow.

Mount Pleasant would be a new Heart of Sharrow.

It could include 200 flats, shops, offices and a community skills club. The building is owned by Sheffield City Council, and the pair want to take on a 250-year lease to ensure maximum community benefit.

When built in 1777, Mount Pleasant stood in the country but within sight of the centre of Sheffield, surrounded by farmland and overlooking the River Sheaf on a two-acre plot with stables and coach house.

Requisitioned by the Government in World War Two and listed in 1952, the main building is today owned by Sheffield City Council and has not been used for more than 10 years.

But Jonny Douglas and Pennie Raven – who are among eight ‘guardians’ who live there today – have a plan.

They want it to form the centre of a hub featuring 200 flats, shops, offices and a community skills club, all with a strong social conscience.

Their project, called Avenues to Zero, is competing against five organisations to take control of the building and give it a new lease of life.

They are asking for a 250-year lease to ensure maximum benefit for the community and, if successful, will seek £17m funding from socially-minded investors to make it reality.

Jonny said: “Everyone we speak to including local initiatives, businesses and councillors is enthusiastic but we are very much in the hands of the council.

“We want to preserve and regenerate this incredible community asset for local people to enjoy.

“People need places to work, learn and play. We will create a vibrant heart in the neighbourhood with something for everyone.

“We will create jobs and opportunities for local people. We will help local people set up business, projects, clubs and try out ideas. We will help provide our young people and youth things to do and places to go.

“We will make housing and independence accessible by rethinking the way we live and providing a range of housing and accommodation to meet all pockets, that by the very fact they live on site they help create the vibrant heart of the community we wish to create.”

The omens could be good.

Jonny and Pennie first discussed their vision with Sheffield City Council chief executive John Mothersole in 2012.

He instructed the property department to work with them to find a suitable location. Initially they were shown a number of buildings, but none of them quite worked until they settled on Mount Pleasant.

Their vision is for six overlapping ‘avenues’, each focused on issues: food, housing, health, environment, skills and energy.

They will be the catalysts for projects that bring people together to tackle ‘common challenges’.

Pennie said they had had “amazing” help from organisations that believed in them including Sheffield architects Bond Bryan who had helped with designs, produced images and drawn up financial and planning advice.