Chimney sculpture in Sheffield to replace landmark Tinsley Towers 'will happen' - 'We are continuing to work hard behind the scenes'

The creation of a large-scale public artwork to replace two demolished landmark cooling towers in Sheffield is still happening, the city council has insisted, despite missing the original goal of putting up a sculpture by summer 2019.

Wednesday, 31st July 2019, 3:14 pm
How the 'cracked' tower would look.
How the 'cracked' tower would look.

In autumn 2017 sculptor Alex Chinneck revealed his designs for Onwards & Upwards - a series of four 100ft red-brick chimney stacks along the Sheffield and Tinsley Canal, starting close to the M1 flyover near Meadowhall where the Tinsley Towers once stood.

Alex was commissioned by the council, which had secured £1m including £450,000 in sponsorship from Eon, the energy company that owned the towers and runs the nearby Blackburn Meadows Power Station, and funding from Meadowhall’s owner British Land.

But the Sheffield City Region lodged a further bid for a share of the Government’s £15m Northern Cultural Regeneration Fund, to fast-track the sculptures’ arrival in 2019, coinciding with the canal’s bicentenary.

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Alex Chinneck on the Sheffield and Tinsley Canal. Picture: Scott Merrylees

Up to £4 million was potentially available - in Sheffield, the money would also have paid for additions such as a café and visitor centre. But in March 2018 the region lost out to Blackpool, Bradford and the Lake District. In response, the council said it was going back to the drawing board with the aim of launching one sculpture this summer.

Since then little has been said publicly about the project. The Onwards & Upwards website is no longer operating, and there have been no posts on the official Twitter feed since 2018.

But the council has reaffirmed its commitment to the venture. It is understood discussions have focused on which of the sculptures will be chosen to spend the money on – initial artists’ impressions suggested the trail would begin near the M1 bridge with a cracked chimney broken into 250 pieces, illuminated from the inside.

The remaining sculptures comprised a ‘hovering’ chimney with an upper section that appeared to float, two leaning chimneys standing 45 metres apart that bridged the canal and a curving chimney tied into a knot.

The Tinsley Towers.

Alex – whose previous projects have included an upside-down, 35-metre electricity pylon, balanced on its tip, and a melting house made of 7,500 wax bricks – visited Sheffield in recent weeks as preliminary work continues.

Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Sheffield University’s director of city and culture, helped with the project in its early stages and is a member of the Sheffield Culture Consortium, one of Onwards & Upwards’ key supporters. She said the artwork ‘will happen’ and the chosen sculpture will be ‘absolutely amazing’.

“Alex is an incredibly world-leading talent and we are fantastically proud to have any of his work in Sheffield,” said Prof Toulmin. “I think it was just unfortunate that the timing for that kind of money wasn’t there – it’s gone to other things.”

She added: “You can never be ambitious enough.”

Coun Mary Lea, the council's cabinet member for culture, parks and leisure, said: “We are continuing to work hard behind the scenes on this exciting project for Tinsley and the whole of Sheffield. We are still working with Alex and his team and are hoping to make further announcements soon on a project which has such huge potential for our city.”

The Tinsley Towers came down more than a decade ago, in August 2008.