Campaigner ‘optimistic’ over historic Sheffield Castlegate project after £20 million funding bid

A campaigner who has been fighting to take Sheffield's Castlegate scheme forward today spoke of his optimism that the project will move forward soon.

Martin Gorman, the chairman of the Friends of Sheffield Castle group, has been part of a group pushing for proposals to develop the former Castle Market site with a project focusing on the historic castle, demolished during the English Civil War, leaving only its footings.

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Sheffield Council is looking to submit a bid to the Government’s Levelling Up Fund for three projects that plan to transform areas including Castlegate.

Feature pics on the. site of Sheffield Castle. Martin Gorman (Chair Friends of Sheffield Castle). Picture Scott Merrylees

If successful, the £20m funding would be used to redevelop Castlegate and unlock potential for future investment, as well as supporting two new arts destinations, Park Hill Art Space and Harmony Works.

Castlegate would be revived as a focal point of the city by de-culverting the River Sheaf and introducing new greenery and dedicated public spaces to make the area more attractive, as well as preparing the land around the site for future uses that focus on education, employment and encouraging healthy lifestyles.

The site would be sensitively developed in accordance with its important historic past as a once thriving commercial hub and the site of Sheffield Castle, with the preservation of archaeology a priority for the project.

Mr Gorman is pleased with the latest progress for a scheme delayed by lockdown.

Feature pics on the. site of Sheffield Castle. Martin Gorman (Chair Friends of Sheffield Castle). Picture Scott Merrylees

He said: "In 2018, Friends of Sheffield Castle brought out our blueprint of what we think should be done. The council are the landowners and need to put together their own proposals.

"Simon Ogden, who we had been working with, retired at the end of last year and Nalin Seneviratne, director of city centre development, has become involved, who is very senior in the council. He has come in and has some ideas and a lot of experience in working with funding packages, and has been putting a business case together, looking at what we can do to take it forward.

"First and foremost it’s a huge site. The castle defined Sheffield in history and was where it started.” The original Sheaf Field which gave the city its name was close by.

He said his main interest in the project is the castle, and his group was set up to protect the remains of the castle, and were keen to make the most of what was there.

Feature pics on the. site of Sheffield Castle. Picture Scott Merrylees

The castle has history going back to Anglo-Saxo times. Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned there.

Its heritage and history was the focus of the blueprint created by the Friends of Sheffield Castle, proposing creating a landmark attraction on the empty land combining reconstructed, illuminated ruins with bars, restaurants, a hotel, a riverside park and a large outdoor arts venue.

The blueprint suggests the castle's gatehouse could be rebuilt, forming a focal point for an area displaying the best of the fortress' remains.

Offices and homes were proposed along the site's boundaries, as well as cafés and craft shops, all with the aim of attracting more people.

Mr Gorman is confident something will happen.

He said: “I can only trust in what’s been said, and at the end of the day, the council is the land owner who has to get the best return on the land through development, and bring people into the area.

He said he believed elements of the scheme could happen relatively quickly, such as de-culverting the Sheaf, making it visible in the area, although schemes like putting in bars and restaurants could take longer.

"There is certainly a desire to move forward quickly now, having been talking about it for seven or eight years.”

He also praised the University of Sheffield for its archaeological work on the site. The university is currently talking about closing its archaeology department.

A two-month archaeological dig in 2018 uncovered evidence of around 1,000 years of constant activity in the city centre by focusing on the ruins of Sheffield Castle.

Many finds, including medieval pottery, tiles and even an ancient 'ear scoop', were recovered from 11 deep trenches, while boreholes were created to take samples from the earth.

Sheffield Council has previously said it wants to revive the wider Castlegate area by making it more attractive, modern and vibrant, incorporating what is left of the city's medieval past, much of which was lost to industry in the 19th and 20th centuries.

"I think Covid and the change of lead mean there was a natural pause in the project, but I think it has picked up. Something needs to happen. It is a big site and the council will be keen to get on with it.”

He said there were parts of the site which had still not been excavated.

The castle was built over in the 1960s when the Castle Market was constructed on the site

But the market closed in November 2013 when the new Moor Market opened.

Councillor Terry Fox, leader of Sheffield City Council, said of funding application: “Castlegate is a hidden gem in the city centre with huge potential which we hope to unlock through the Levelling Up Fund. The area is already home to a lot of great businesses and it’s important to us that we put the groundwork in place to encourage further investment to the area, as well as linking the site up with the rest of the city centre through our award-winning Grey to Green schemes and active travel routes.

The outcomes of the Levelling Up Fund bids are due to be released in Autumn 2021.

Friends of Sheffield Castle are due to re-start tours of what is left of the castle’s ruins in September.

The other elements of the funding application would see Park Hill Art Space formed on the Park Hill estate, as a contemporary art gallery with a six-acre sculpture park connecting it to Castlegate

The Harmony Works would be a collaboration between Sheffield Music Academy and Sheffield Music Hub, based at Canada House.