FIRST LOOK inside £27 million student flats at Sheffield’s Park Hill estate
When Liz Swan got the chance to see how her new neighbours would be living, she couldn’t resist taking a look.
The retired architectural practice manager swapped her home in the Shropshire Hills for one of the first refurbished apartments at Sheffield’s Park Hill estate three years ago – and, with work well under way to turn another block of the Grade II* listed, Brutalist building into student accommodation, she was among the earliest people to take a tour of a completed show flat.
“These days it costs a lot of money to go to university,” Liz says, gazing at the exposed concrete, Corbusier-inspired palette of primary colours and fashionably minimalist furniture that characterises the interior of Béton House, the section of Park Hill that will welcome 356 undergraduates and postgraduates from September 2020.
“I think the students will be pretty good. They could have a rave here and I wouldn't know about it, probably. If they've been soundproofed then they should be OK. It isn't like they're halls of residence... where a certain type of behaviour is traditional.”
Seven hundred people already live at Park Hill in the first finished phase of the estate’s ongoing revamp, led by Urban Splash. Phase two will deliver more apartments, phase four promises a new gallery for S1 Artspace, while the student flats represent phase three, a venture overseen by specialist developer Alumno, which bought Park Hill’s southern block from Sheffield Council and is spending £27 million on the conversion.
Around 150 people from construction firm Kier are working on-site, realising designs drawn up by Whittam Cox Architects. There will also be space for shops, a gym and a café or pub.
“When we got the opportunity to do this we had to do it,” says David Campbell, Alumno’s managing director. “This is legacy stuff. If you do a good job it's what you get remembered for. We're being entrusted by the people of Sheffield to look after this, and hopefully we've reinvented it in a sensitive way.”
Groups of four and eight bedrooms are being created with shared living space, spread across a three-storey 'townhouse' layout, in keeping with the estate's original design. En-suite bedrooms are upstairs and downstairs, with the kitchen and lounge in the middle.
The outside will be clad in panels in shades of teal and gold, reflecting the colours of a mosaic on the old Parkway Tavern, one of four pubs that once served residents on the estate famous for its 'streets in the sky'.
“It's the first time I've seen it in a semi-finished state,” says David. “We spent a long time poring over the colourway and the detail, and I'm really pleased it's working the way I'd hoped. It was never going to be a magnolia scheme. I'm really pleased the rawness of it is working so well, there's a warmth to it I think.”
Several existing Park Hill residents joined the tour, giving the show flat their seal of approval.
“Now this is comfortable,” one said, settling herself down on a bespoke wooden settee, carved with the words ‘Made In Sheffield’.
The stylish standard of living would be unrecognisable to anyone who survived in a down-at-heel student terrace in the days before accommodation became big business, and Alumno aren’t taking any risks with their latest investment – the balcony windows will be locked shut to prevent any high jinks.
Another resident poses a pertinent question: “If the student housing goes pear-shaped, can they be converted into ordinary flats?”
The answer is yes – the townhouses could be partitioned and turned into standard apartments if need be, not that David Campbell is anticipating such a turn of events.
“They've got the potential to be Sheffield’s best student flats,” he says. “Why not? The model has never been done before. It's the verticality of it - it's a house.”
Alumno previously overhauled a women’s college in Durham, and revived an old Town Hall in London. Public art is an important element of its projects – at Park Hill, a poem called We Were Never Derelict by Sheffield’s poet laureate Otis Mensah will go on permanent display, presented in a new Park Hill typeface that is available to all in two versions, ‘regular’ and ‘hardcore’, the latter a nod to Pulp’s 1998 album This Is Hardcore.
David is well aware of Park Hill’s origins in the 1960s as a grand experiment in social housing. By the 1980s, the complex had declined and became a magnet for crime and vandalism – English Heritage’s decision to list the place in 1998 saved it from demolition.
Students, David says, will help to resurrect the idea of a ‘mixed community’.
“Students are as much a viable part of that as social housing tenants were 50 years ago. There'll be people here 24/7 – young people, and activity. They'll be inquisitive. And it gives the existing residents here an opportunity to gel with another community – that's going to be a good thing. Who knows, they might go on to buy a proper flat here.”
Rents will start at £100 per week, with the most expensive studio rooms costing around £170 per week.
“Someone on a budget could get a room here,” David says.
Those arriving next September can expect a warm reception from Liz.
“It's calming on the soul, I think, Park Hill,” she says. “I love the streets, you really do feel like you're walking down the promenade in Cheltenham or somewhere in London. You see people come and go... and I always say hello.”