“IT was Park Hill, basically,” says Paul Bedwell, chairman of Sheffield Civic Trust. “As soon as we offered the delegates tours, it seemed like it was a shoo-in.
“Our bid was based on showing off the Town Hall, Portland Works, the Cathedral, all these jewels. But one mention of Park Hill in the proposal, and that was it.”
It was thus Sheffield was chosen to host the third annual conference of the Civic Voice, national governing body of England’s civic societies.
It means this weekend nearly 200 delegates from across England will descend on the city for two days of architectural tours, debates, discussions and – because these are town planners and designers, after all – probably a fair amount of chin stroking.
Oh, and they’ll also be spending their money here. When Peterborough hosted the same event last year it’s estimated it was worth about £25,000 to the city. Perhaps even more excitingly, it’s hoped tourism will receive a shot in the arm as delegates go home and tell their local civic trusts about the merits of a weekend in the Steel City.
And all, it seems, because of the monstrosity on the hill.
“The tour was certainly the main selling point for Sheffield’s proposal,” says Ian Harvey, co-ordinator of England’s Civic Voice. “It’s a fascinating building and giving our delegates the chance to see it first-hand while the current redevelopment is taking place was an opportunity we couldn’t turn down.
“We were looking for a large metropolitan city with a relatively new civic group, which Sheffield is, but there’s no doubt Park Hill was one of the main deciding factor. I think there are about 100 places on the tour and they’ve all been booked already. It’s the flagship event of the conference.”
Flagship maybe, but there’s plenty more besides the 1960s housing estate which will keep delegates entertained.
A series of other tours – taking in Portland Works and the Botanical Gardens, for example – will show off some of the city’s jewels on Friday afternoon, before a drinks reception, hosted by Nick Clegg at Sheffield Town Hall in the evening.
On Saturday, the main business of the conference, including the group’s annual general meeting, will take place at The Workstation, before the evening is left free for delegates to explore the city independently.
“It’s exciting for the Civic Trust and I think it’s exciting for the city,” says Paul, a town planner of Crosspool. “There are a lot of things going on in here at the moment worth shouting about, and this is a great opportunity.
“Economy wise, you’ve got all these people coming here spending money on hotels, meals, drinks and transport, and that’s before you even factor in hiring out conference space and meeting rooms. That can only be a good thing. But I think even more exciting is the opportunity it offers for the city to show itself off to people who will go home and recommend us to others. It’s a great way of selling ourselves.”
Landmark proves a big attraction
Big opportunity for the city: Paul Bedwell outside Sheffield Town Hall and Park Hill flats
THE TOURS THEY ARE DOING...
A handful of guided walks will show delegates places of interest including: Park Hill, Portland Works, Botanical Gardens, The Crucible, the Winter Garden, the Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul and the Town Hall.
AND THE TOURS THEY AREN’T...
Sheffield University Quarters: includes some stunning buildings - the Sound Box and Jessop West, for example - but at this time of year? Filled with far too many youngsters talking like the posh one from Fresh Meat.
Kelham Island Quarter: beautiful old mills and sympathetic regeneration - but all those real ale pubs would surely be a distraction too much for your average architect.
The Towers: St Paul’s and Velocity - the less said the better.