Why a heritage strategy for Sheffield is getting closer – ‘We’ve got a lot of work to do, but it’s an exciting time’

An overarching plan governing how Sheffield looks after its most historic places is on the way – and a launch date of next spring has been set to put the blueprint in motion.

Tuesday, 22nd October 2019, 8:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 22nd October 2019, 9:00 am
The Friends of Birley Spa link arms around the former bathhouse. Picture: Marie Caley

Two years ago Joined Up Heritage Sheffield – a charitable organisation that brings together Friends groups, campaigners and experts, among others – published a 'framework’ laying out the principles of its proposed heritage strategy, following consultation with the community as well as major bodies like the council and both city universities.

The strategy would be the first document of its kind in Sheffield. But Jon Bradley, chairman of JUHS, said even the framework was unlike anything else nationally.

“This was a unique piece of work,” Jon said. “There are plenty of places in the UK with heritage strategies, but we don’t know of another that has its roots in the community as the Sheffield work has, rather than being developed by a local authority.”

Sheffield's Old Town Hall.

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Workshops are happening tomorrow and next week where anyone with an interest in Sheffield’s heritage – from its fine buildings to important aspects of its industrial past – can contribute ideas.

“We encourage anyone with an interest in heritage to come along and have their say," Jon said.

“We really need the widest possible range of heritage interests and views on what goes into the city’s strategy and also into the action plan we’ll be drawing up to make sure the strategy is delivered.”

The fresh activity follows high-profile appeals to save sites such as Sheffield’s Old Town Hall and Birley Spa, a Grade II-listed Victorian bathhouse which, unusually, still stands in its original grounds.

The Cholera Monument, Sheffield. Picture: Chris Etchells

There is also renewed enthusiasm about repurposing characterful old buildings like Eye Witness Works, a former cutlery factory that is undergoing a £21 million revamp to become apartments.

In the Royal Society of Arts’ most recent Heritage Index, Sheffield scored in the bottom three per cent of local authority areas for the way it conserved its historic built environment, and also lagged behind with its industrial heritage, parks and open space, and its museums, archives and artefacts.

But the city was ranked in the top 44 per cent for 'culture and memories’, and the top eight per cent for its landscape and natural heritage.

“The positive score for landscape reflects the city’s superlative access to the Peak District, green spaces and trees,” the 2017 framework said.

The frontage of Eye Witness Works, Sheffield.

“Middling ranks for culture and memories and museums are actually poor when compared to similar-sized city areas, and poor to very poor scores for built heritage illustrate a sub-standard approach to identifying and conserving heritage assets and managing change.”

The results should be used to inform the strategy, the paper continued.

“By working together to set a positive vision for heritage, we can inspire better projects, and by celebrating and raising the profile of these local achievements we can create an atmosphere which is conducive to nurturing more volunteerism, which will uplift the heritage offer of the city and increase the city’s appeal to business and tourism.”

Five themes will underpin the strategy – the first being ‘quality historic environment’.

Jon Bradley at Manor Lodge. Picture: Dean Atkins

“The city must have strong policies for protecting and enhancing its irreplaceable heritage assets,” the framework said. “This involves programmes for conservation, regeneration, and planning for future development in a way that preserves and builds upon the distinctive inherited character of historic places.”

Economic vitality and tourism, health and wellbeing, and cohesion and community pride will be the second, third and fourth themes.

“Everyone deserves to see themselves reflected in their city and feel that their personal heritage contributes to what it means to be a Sheffielder,” the framework explained.

“The strategy will reflect diversity, champion cohesion, and promote a sense of pride of place in the city by seeking to explore all kinds of stories and identities, from local neighbourhoods to religious and immigrant communities.”

The fifth theme will be 'children and young people’. “Heritage is what we pass to our children. Engaging the next generation in heritage can help them grow up with an understanding of the place they live and its past, a sense of belonging and civic pride in where they live, and an understanding of diversity among their friends and neighbours.”

The strategy will have a 10-year life cycle, and has a target launch date of March 2020. After this month's workshops there will be a consultation during winter on a draft version before the text is finalised. The action plan will be updated annually, determining short-term goals and priorities.

Joined Up Heritage has expressed an ambition for its plan to be ‘bottom-up, not top-down – a strategy for the whole city’, potentially setting a template for the rest of the UK to follow.

“That way people can be genuinely invested in what’s been created,” he said.

“And let’s make no mistake, heritage is hugely important: whether as an economic driver, underpinning both tourism and business interest in investing here, or as a critical element in community and social cohesion, and health and wellbeing.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do, but it’s an exciting time.”

The half-day workshops are free to attend and will take place at the Friends Meeting House on St James Street tomorrow and next Tuesday, October 29, at 1.15pm. Visit www.eventbrite.co.uk to book a place.