Imposing Mount Pleasant in Sheffield’s Highfield district has been many things to many people in its chequered history dating back 238 years.
The 18th century mansion has been used as a grand family home, a girls’ school, by the Government during World War Two – and even as an asylum.
Today it is still a home or offices to a small group of people who act as custodians for owner Sheffield Council.
But now there is a new vision for the future of a Grade II listed building that is just one year younger than the country of America and is passed by many people using busy Sharrow Lane every day without realising its significance.
The plan would see it provide even more functions for the whole community, as a creative hub with the aim of finding solutions for sustainable living.
Micro-farming and food growing, research into sustainable solutions for world problems, events such as art exhibitions, music gigs and even a café are all ideas on the table. And the aim would also be for people to learn in ‘living laboratories’ from local experts rather than formal consultants.
“Most people fall in love with the place the moment they walk up the drive, let alone when they cross the threshold,” said Jonny Douglas, a designer who works from and lives in Mount Pleasant.
“If you want to provide a place for the community and support people and build their confidence that relationship is with the building itself, not just with the people running the activities there. People are under pressure in their lives these days and we want to create somewhere where people can get away from that and look at solutions to help.
“We want to look at how you can grow your own food and how we can help tackle homelessness.
“The aim is to show people that they can have the good life without leaving everything in their lives behind – we want to find ways that people can drop in and out of the centre and then take ideas home with them.
“People would learn from someone who has done what they are talking about, there are people in this area of Sheffield alone who have expertise you could only dream of.”
Jonny, along with business partner Pennie Raven, have already tested demand for such a facility.
Their original plan was to turn another site on Cemetery Road into a creative hub, with a local band and independent organisations keen to get on board, but they decided the building was too small.
That is not a problem at Mount Pleasant.
The site has vast abandoned room after room spare, many still with original fireplaces and other features, as well as a listed stable block, land outside and a former school building.
From the top floor there are panoramic views stretching from Heeley to Norton and the city centre.
The pair are also hopeful of securing funding and say they would plan to develop their scheme piece by piece and hope to involve both the city’s universities as well as young college students.
Jonny added: “The school building would be where we would like to do the research side of things.
“One thing that is of concern is sustainable fishing so we would be keen to look at aquaponics where there are fish feeding the vegetable and the vegetables also feed the fish.
“Instead of this being a thing you would read about MIT scientists researching, it could be something that will be happening in our community.”
But the fight for this version of Mount Pleasant’s future has not been simple.
It had already been marketed for redevelopment when Jonny approached the council for talks in October 2014 and was told that there was an exclusivity contract in place with a developer so discussing other ideas would be difficult.
Details, even those of alternative sites, were not forthcoming from the council, making the preparation of any business case tough.
Eventually Jonny submitted a Freedom of Information request to the authority which confirmed there had not been an exclusivity contract in place since June 2014 but that a proposed scheme from Seven Hills Estates for a retirement village on the site had been ‘accepted’.
Since then he has posed questions at council meetings to raise concerns about the way the council dealt with the situation – and says it goes against principles in the council’s own Fairness Commission.
The council has now agreed to put a hold on any deal over the building’s future until after a meeting with custodians takes place in November.
This gives campaigners time for a business case to be prepared so that Mount Pleasant could be listed as an asset of community value and proposals under the community right to buy scheme then drawn up.
Jonny, aged 34, added: “The retirement village scheme is not for the benefit of the whole community or of benefit to the building. They want an S11 postcode to make money and with this building they can do that.
“We aren’t insisting that the council looks on our scheme more favourably but we do want a fair shot at it.”
Sheffield Council did not want to comment until after the November meeting.
Seven Hills Estates did not comment but on its website it says its proposals will ‘preserve the character of this much-admired building and grounds, breathing new life into it, and delivering value as an asset for the local community’.
It says proposals include one and two-bedroom apartments which are ‘purpose build and period conversion’.
The main mansion building would be converted into apartments, and the listed stables into a restaurant and offices, while the former school building will be demolished to make way for apartments and facilities, according to the website.