Monday, 17 June 2013

Sheffield – One week in…

It has been a week in Sheffield and I’m a little bit disappointed that we’re already half way through. The city itself has exceeded all expectations that I had, and those were already set pretty high, I wasn’t really expecting a city left in ruins after the downfall of the steel industry, as I think a couple of others were. Other than a very quick tour of the campus, enrolment and breakfast, the first thing I learnt about Sheffield was its nightlife. The welcome sign was right, it was a great night out, and Tony Taylor (SHU) was also right, people from the north are really friendly, even the drunks.

Martin and Co. Publishing in Sheffield’s Kelham Island, once a large mill, now an office building.

Brightside Lane near the Meadowhall Shopping Centre shows what’s now a common scene in Sheffield, the contrast between the old and dilapidated and the new.
On the second day my eyes opened a bit more to the history of Sheffield when we went to the Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet and Kelham Island. The steel industry in Sheffield was vague to me; I didn’t really understand the scale of it and its importance to the city. Walking around for two days, then seeing Kelham Island it became clear what the loss meant for the city. I learnt that 74,000 jobs were lost when factories closed down; however, what has emerged a few decades later is arguably a better Sheffield, proving itself resilient unlike some other comparative cities, Detroit, for example. Yes, there are derelict, abandoned buildings all through the city just like we expected, but they co-exist well with the place. Buildings can be renovated to serve new purposes, an old six storey mill in Kelham Island is one of the best examples I’ve found all week, and the building now contains offices for a publishing company. Not all buildings get a new life though, many sit there abandoned, but they nestle themselves in with the surrounding modernising landscape, serving as a reminder of Sheffield’s unique past.

Discovering that Sheffield’s old slums were cleared about 50-60 years ago was a letdown, ignoring their age, I honestly thought it would be like Melbourne’s inner north, where old slum areas like Collingwood and Fitzroy mainly physically exist to this day, just look a bit nicer. I was also surprised to see the state of the Park Hill estate; I guess I should’ve done my research on what I was interested the most about. From the university, Park Hill was exactly what I imagined, typical ugly 1960s units. But when I saw the state of the buildings up close it was a shock. On one hand, there were these disgusting flats suffering from ‘concrete cancer’, derelict and falling to pieces, most of them were ‘tinned up’ to keep squatters out. I was genuinely amazed to learn that 40 families still lived in Park Hill, which is practically now a ghost town, I’d be too scared to walk down one of its eerie hallways. But on the other hand, the Western wing of the site looks incredible in contrast and the interior of these apartments are even better. Urban Splash is a company renovating the estate to try and make it a favourable place to live. I think it could work, especially since the site is in one of the most favourable places in Sheffield (apart from the name, Park Hill), great proximity to the city, tram stops, the train station, Sheffield Hallam Uni and with a great view over the city centre.

Park Hill estate viewed from Sheffield Hallam University

Dr Nicola Verdon (SHU) reaffirmed what I imagined England to be from when I was young. Rolling green hills and cute little cottages scattered through the landscape. I guess this imagining was because my family had friends who lived on a farm near Exeter combined with the English depictions of what I was taking in from various types of media. I learnt why I got this picture in my head from a young age, the English idolise their country-side even though most of them don’t live there or can’t even associate with it. I immediately related this to Australia though… What would a foreign child picture Australia to be? Most likely kangaroos in the outback (or Sydney Harbour). This is because Australians also idolise their rural areas, especially the outback or the bush even when the majority of us are spread between five major cities. Leaving the cynical perspective of this behind, seeing the country side that we all hoped for was awesome. Villages dating back hundreds of years showed me the history in a sense; I was able to paint a picture of what life was like in the 1700s (I think). Visiting Chatsworth Manor was a mix between Thursday’s and Friday’s themes, the English country side and the old upper class that we rarely get to see on display.

Overall, the first week has been fun, yet tiresome and full on. Sheffield is a much more complex city than I thought, but in a good way. It’s vibrant and friendly, a pleasant surprise having some unsure expectations at first. The highlight of the week was on Tuesday night when we were looking for a Chippy (Fish n Chip shop), we asked a bouncer at a nightclub who directed us to a Chippy next to a great park surrounded by student accommodation near West Street. On the way back we said thanks, and that’s when he picked up on our accent and after finding out it was our second day in the country he invited us into the club for free. We got to see British-Indian comedian/celebrity chef, Hardeep Singh Kohli perform his show ‘Indian Takeaway’ for free. The lesson is, always talk to strangers.
- Brendan Aikman (Bachelor of Urban, Rural and Environmental Planning)










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