IT sounds too good to be true: paying less than £50 a week – all bills and council tax included – to live in a mansion-sized Grade Two listed building in a Sheffield suburb.
But for this trio of Sheffielders such a dream arrangement has just become a reality.
Johnny Douglas, Dan Koseoglu and Craig Birch are three of the city’s first ever ‘property guardians’.
And that means they get to live low-cost at Highfield’s currently-empty Mount Pleasant Community Centre in return for simply maintaining the property and preventing it becoming victim to vandals or squatters.
“It’s unbelievable,” says Johnny, a 30-year-old design consultant. “You can barely get a bedsit for £180 but, here, we all have our own vast warehouse apartments.”
If it sounds unusual, it’s fast becoming quite the norm.
Similar guardian schemes have long been used to protect old buildings on the continent and are increasingly fashionable in London where office blocks marked for demolition and disused churches have been leased out.
But Mount Pleasant – built as a mansion in 1777 and since then used as an asylum, school and community centre before being closed in 2010 – is the first such scheme in South Yorkshire.
Nine tenants – the other six unnamed but all professionals aged between 22 and 36 – have been moved in since November. The scheme is run by Dutch property company Ad Hoc on behalf of owners Sheffield City Council.
“It’s a win-win situation,” says Johnny, who arrived in January. “We get this amazing place to live and the owners reduce maintenance and security costs.”
Amazing is right. There are huge windows, green gardens and period beams all over the place – but it’s perhaps not for everyone.
Each tenant had to spend the best part of a fortnight moving abandoned office equipment – desks, filing cabinets, computer monitors and at least one 1950s jar of Bovril – before they could even start bleaching and cleaning their individual ‘flats’.
Dan, the 26-year-old managing director of catering firm The Tiffin Company, had to remove some 4,000 tacks holding down decaying floor boards. For Craig, a 36-year-old marketing manager, the job was so large he spent the first fortnight kipping in his camper van.
Most of the flats, meanwhile, are just one (albeit, huge) room and, because this was once a school, the communal showers resemble the things you tried to avoid after PE. The toilets aren’t much better.
“You definitely need to be of a certain mindset,” says Johnny. “But I liked that idea of having a blank canvas to do what I wanted. It’s not easy but it’s been fun.”
Dan, who arrived earlier this month, agrees.
“I’ve just come out of a long relationship and it’s been good throwing myself into a project,” he says. “I’m not a DIY person but I’ve loved every minute of this. And I don’t think you can fail to impress someone if you bring them back here.”
He pauses for a second.
“Except my parents,” he notes. “They were a bit sceptical.”
And for Craig, the newest resident, it’s the community feeling that makes the place special.
“Everyone here is in the same boat,” he says. “So you help each other out. If I have a DIY problem I knock on someone’s door and ask for help. There’s a neighbourly feel you don’t get with modern apartments. It’s great. The hard work is absolutely worth it.”
Master cutlers and the mental deficient
DESCRIBED by the Pevsner Architectural Guide as “one of the best 18th century houses in Sheffield”, Mount Pleasant, in Sharrow Lane, Highfield, has been everything from the home of the city’s super-wealthy to an asylum for the so-called mentally deficient.
It was built in 1777 for Francis Hurt Sitwell, a Derbyshire landowner who ran an ironworks at Eckington, and it remained a private residence – including at one time being owned by Master Cutler Samuel Broomhead Ward – until the 1860s.
It briefly became an asylum before the Sheffield Girls Charity School, later Mount Pleasant School For Girls, was set up in 1874
The Government commandeered the building during World War Two and it stayed in official hands afterwards with the Ministry of Transport having offices there.
It was regenerated as a community centre in the 1970s but was left empty in 2010. It is currently owned by Sheffield City Council.