"It needs to be for all the people of Sheffield" - city leaders debate ideas for future of John Lewis

Sheffield should be bold – and how it re-develops after the closure of John Lewis on Barkers Pool could attract international interest.

Wednesday, 8th December 2021, 3:50 pm
Updated Wednesday, 8th December 2021, 7:48 pm

That is one of the views of the future of the iconic city centre building, raised at the Sheffield Telegraph’s lively round table on the John Lewis building, which brought together civic leaders, community organisations and the public to discuss it at Sheffield City Hall.

Museums, shops, and arts spaces were all among suggestions, with all options still on the table.

Tom Hunt, the deputy director of Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute, said his overwhelming feeling was excitement, with a new city centre taking shape.

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John Lews in Sheffield City Centre is set to close. Picture: Chris Etchells

He said the future of the site was in the city’s control and was an opportunity.

He said: “We in Sheffield aren’t waiting for a remote landlord or a building owner to come forward with their ideas. We can shape this.

"This could be about attracting high quality retail, using the site for high quality housing, or putting arts and culture centre stage. “But it could be all of those things and more because the site lends itself well to multiple uses.

“It could also put out to a developer led design competition for prime location in the heart of the city centre, I can well imagine that proposals would come in from local, national, international architects and developers.

Sheffield Telegraph roundtable participants outside the old John Lewis building in Barkers pool

"So I say let's be bold and see the site as a demonstrative sign, where we show the world what is possible, what a new city centre can be. So thinking about outcomes, could we establish a new centre for arts and culture? Could the building provide a new accessible home for Graves Gallery to expand allowing more people to see its collection?”

He said they could make a statement about the town centre.

Telegraph reader Joseph Flynn, aged 26, said the regeneration of Sheffield was something he was passionate about. He said the thing that was missing was Sheffield’s identity.

He liked the idea of a football museum, as it was ‘experiential’ – something that could not be done online. He thought the football museum proposals developed the city’s ‘outdoor city’ reputation, and it could be taken even further as a sports museum.

The Sheffield Telegraph's round table on John Lewis's. Queensberry's Paul Sargent makes a point

He added: “We have the largest theatre complex outside London. Who knows that outside Sheffield? The theatre music and dance museum that was part of the V&A in London is now without a home. Can we have that here in Sheffield and build on that and define ourselves as the city of theatre, dance and culture?”

He also suggested building a visitor attraction based on the city’s tradition of sanctuary, with a social issues museum, which he thought would look at LGBT issues, black history and the feminist movement, or a digital museum like those in Japan which have huge rooms of digital art installations that people could interact with.

He said it was too important a site for housing. “Ambition is key,” he said. “It’s about making something you can’t do online, about something you can’t just go to Manchester or Leeds for because we’ve done it first.”

Telegraph reader Joan Davis added: “I’ve been in Sheffield many years. I’ve seen lots of changes. What I really want is another John Lewis. I want a retail shop where you can go in look around and choose things, gifts, perfume, make up.

Jo Towler makes a point during the discussion

"The top floor could be a penthouse suite.”

Jo Towler, chair of the Sheffield Cultural Consortium, agreed it had to be something based on experience, suggesting moving elements of the library there to a more accessible location – a community space that people could come into the city centre for during the day.

Dr Christina Cerulli, Professor of Ethical Practice in Architecture and Urban Design at Sheffield Hallam University, said it was important there was a route to community involvement. She said retrofitting was imperative and it could be a flagship project to reinvent an existing building.

"It should be a truly public space, it should be inclusive,” she said. “What can I do if I can’t afford a ticket for the football museum? Having a ticketed experience I think is problematic. It could be part of the offer but not the whole thing.”

Others suggested creating shopping arcades inside the building.

Coun Mazher Iqbal said the council had been looking to run consultation for the building in the context of the whole of the city centre, with changes to the city centre planned including Castlegate, Fargate and the Moor.

Robert Scott of Sheffield Visual Arts Group talks to the round table

Consultation on the building would be made public in the new year and people’s views would help shape a development brief for the site to go out to the market and test the options.

Dan Anderson, of Fourth Street Placemaking, an organisation brought in by the council to look at how the city centre is developed, agreed it must be inclusive.

“It needs to be for all the people of Sheffield. It sounds very simplistic but it’s actually a very important idea,” he said.

He said all options were open for the site.

He said people treated the building as an indoor public space – welcoming and not intimidating.

"You could not privatise that space with predominantly residential or office use,” he said. It’s worth keeping all options on the table going into the new year.”

“There’s a lot of building there.

Present were Tom Hunt, SPERI; Nalin Seneviratne, Sheffield Council director for city centre development; Coun Mazher Iqbal, Sheffield Council executive member for business; Dan Anderson, Fourth Street Placemaking; Dom Stokes, head of live events and venues, Sheffield City Trust; Paul Sargent and James Coulsey, Queensberry; Simon Nevill and Andy Sheppard, Arup; Amanda Phillips, Sheffield BID; Robin Hughes, Joined Up Heritage and Hallamshire Historic Buildings; Dr Christina Cerulli, Professor of Ethical Practice in Architecture and Urban Design, Sheffield Hallam University; Telegraph readers Joan Davis and Joseph Flynn; Chris Harvey, Museums Sheffield; Jo Towler, chair, Sheffield Cultural Consortium; Robert Scott, Sheffield Visual Arts Group, Ellen Beardmore, Sheffield Telegraph editor.