Straight From The Flats - The Most Official Park Hill Blog

From the Author of A Poet, On Park Hill?, And Continuing Long Term Resident- An Ongoing Documentation of Life on Park Hill Flats, Sheffield UK

Sheffield in the Sun - A Poem

By Rowan Blair Colver

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And as the radiative rays of reflected light bounce
From the asphalt and hardcore huddled neath track
Ringing rumbling trams trundle carrying the crowd
Sweltering slow in time to the radio playing pop

Shoppers in market lanes inspecting spoiling meats
Flys with the fish on ice and fillets drying grey
Fruits their ripe aroma plunges meadows on the mind
Bothered faces of biddies as summer creeps at dawn

Roadside cat sitting still as the light catches eye
Creaking cars of metalic hue like stones absorbing heat
Whisper drain with swollen grid releases stentched steam
A tepid breeze licks packet and the trees in reprieve

Red skin of heated debate drowned in sweat and toil
Cups of tea on window sill forgotten and now cold
Tomorrow shall be brighter though growing are the clouds
Sleepy city swaggers and buildings glow like gold

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Open Park Hill

By Rowan Blair Colver

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It has been about one month since Urban Splash opened the gates to the newly refurbished Park Hill estate in Sheffield, UK. Their long awaited grand opening was attended by leagues of yuppies, generally interested and the quietly curious for a stretch of several days.

A few publications consisting of nothing but photos and occasional state the obvious quotations in large print were handed out, serving only to advertise the flats to anyone who noticed an individual carrying an oversized red pamphlet under arm, spelling out the words ‘Park Hill’ in trendy and modern style.

The run down and decrepit estate famous for crime, drugs and ‘down and out’ness has never had it so good. Well, not since the 1960s when new tenants would queue round the block in the pouring rain for a key to a shiny new flat. Those were the days, when running water and separate bedrooms were luxury.

The new owners would have to come up with something a bit fancier than that to encourage the swarms of takers in today’s day and age. With the already over saturated market of private city centre apartments, what would make this place any more appealing?

I’m sad to say that nothing has been done to make these flats any more modern. On the inside the bare concrete is said to be a ‘designer interior’, but we all know it to be ‘lazy’. The huge glass sheet that runs down the stair well of the maisonette style flat is just dangerous and a nightmare to keep clean. There is still no room for a washing machine, something that could be forgiven when designed in the 1950s but in the 21st century? That is just plain sloppy.

There are nearly 1000 properties on Park Hill. The lowest asking price for a space is £90,000. Now if we assume that each property goes for that (although seeing as it is the lowest price many would be a lot more) the forecasted money made on sales would be just short of a billion pounds! This is capitalist greed at its most blatant. In a city that is severely lacking in social housing why is this goldmine of tenancies being sold out for all this money? It just won’t work! If each property was rented out the money would be made back in a decade and within two a lot of profit would be there. I think it is a prime example of how out of touch and blind these company directors are.

All this publicity has been a help to us living here still though. Because the image of Park Hill has had a scrub, and it is almost trendy these days, a lot more people use the main road below the estate to enter the city centre than before. The main fence has been removed and South Street is now totally accessible once more. It is a relief to have that big steel fence removed. And as predicted, the pebbled path is losing its decorative scattering of stone to the tram lines down the hill, and there is still no footpath to walk safely away from cars vans and lorries approaching the new flats.

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· 2011/11/08 23:24 · Rowan Colver

Another Day In Sheffield On Park Hill Flats

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Just another day on Park Hill Flats….

As I was putting some rubbish that I had collected from around my home into the back of one of the caretakers trucks (with permission, of course), I noticed two middle aged women wandering around, looking a little lost. I asked if all was well, and with a sturdy Birmingham accent, one replied “Yes, we’re fine, thank you”. Another case of the shy tourist, I presumed, as those who visit here from elsewhere usually have an unsettled anxiety about the residents here.

However, on my return up the stairs, one stopped me and asked if I lived here. The obvious answer was “Yes, I live there”, and I pointed to my blue spring loaded door. The spring load makes the door feel extremely heavy, an illusion, as really inside it is just a hollow rectangle with plywood fascias. A series of questions ensued, about life here, the people, and complements on the surrounding green space and cleanliness. I slipped in reference to my book, ‘A Poet? On Park Hill’ a number of times, as any good author would, and then answered more questions.

The one I am always asked is “So, are you going to move in at the bottom, where the new flats are?” And as always, I said “No, I want a house with a garden”. Like the rest of us, a concrete box in a lattice of many concrete boxes does not seem appealing for a long term family home. Kudos to those who can live in one, I have a large appreciation for life here, I really like it, but I am prepared to give it up to have more room to live. The new flats on the North flank are looking really smart, and I can quite imagine young professionals wanting to get their hands on a city pad rich with all the modern style fittings. The city views are amazing, and there is something indescribable about the way it feels to live so high up, watching over the valley where the city centre trundles on day and night.

I do have a bone to pick with the design however, some bright spark has decided to lay gravel on the road which leads to the trams, and it’s called South Street. This road is a steep hill so the gravel has only one fate- to be washed away into the many crevices and back roads that can be found as you pass from the road and onto the tram bridge. This is not only an utter waste, but also it means when pushing chairs up the hill, such as buggies and wheelchairs, the effort is extreme. It is so much hard work to push wheels through a layer of stones. The is no pavement, they hadn’t thought of that, and when you come to the end of the 200m length of gravel you are met with a fence and a sharp turn to the old side-walk, cracked and unlevel. Once again it seems that no consideration has been taken for us who live here still.

I know I always mention this but it has been six years since we were told we would be moved off “really soon” . It has been 18 months for years now. The new build flats are finally going on sale in October 2011, which is in two weeks. Maybe this is what we have been waiting for? Or will there be another excuse to keep us waiting a little longer as to not find the housing solutions for the 90 of us still living here. Will they miss the rent money paid once a week? I have seen a lot of empty houses as I wander around the Sheffield districts, and I’m positive there are enough to re-house us all. The money used to compensate the resident comes from a European body, so I am told, and a vast majority of us are fed up waiting.

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Sheaf Valley Park - Open for Culture

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On September 17th 2011 Park Hill flats saw an injection of much needed culture. The stale and dated landscape scarred with fencing and signs of heavy duty building work saw the official opening of South Street Park, part of the continuing Sheaf Valley Park Network Project.

The plan is to make use of all the unused and overlooked green spaces that run along or nearby to the banks of the River Sheaf which flows through South East Sheffield. South Street is the minor road which runs along the front of the infamous estate. At the furthest point up the hill from the ongoing work by Urban Splash to regenerate these iconic flats the council have ploughed finances into cutting out an amphitheatre complete with giant step like seats with a flat ground area half way up a steep railway embankment. The Super Tram runs at the bottom of the hill which is mirrored with a large brick wall concealing the innards of the Sheffield train station.

The first time the amphitheatre was used for the arts had a whole bunch of local performers and musicians. A music bill dominated by country and western bands was followed by what I consider to be the highlight. A dance group, consisting of local children, took to the stage branding their newly adopted name – “Unique”. The two or three dozen youngsters, each wearing a t-shirt showing their name in graffiti style lettering, treated the healthy turn out to a set of complex and energetic dances. Some of the more experienced dancers took lead roles and showed off their tricks and moves while bigger groups repeated well timed patterns behind.

For those who didn’t want to watch the music events that ran throughout the day, there were stalls selling plants and gifts, and one in particular caught my eye. On the far side of the open space, towards the spinney of hawthorn and rowan trees, was a stall run by a group calling themselves ‘Friends of Sheaf Valley Park’. They had on display a large collection of panoramic views of the local area, depicted at various stages in history. Some were from hundreds of years ago, and some were more modern. There were quite a few old photographs of Park Hill flats throughout the ages it has stood, an observing giant, waiting for a new lease of life.

At first, when I saw the workers cutting down trees and driving huge machinery into the woods, I was angry. I knew that birds and animals of all kinds dwelled in there and I didn’t want my inner city home to be further spoiled by development. Areas of wildlife in these parts of town are to be treasured. But, now the work is done, most of the habitat remains and I’m sure that the ecosystem can recover, if it hasn’t already. I saw a kestrel sitting in a horse chestnut tree, which served as a reminder that nature carries on regardless of what we do.

I am pleased and excited about this new park, the potential for culture and art is exciting! I hope it gets used regularly, I hope it doesn’t become a haunt for drunks and druggies and I hope the council do their bit in maintaining its cleanliness and neatness. I, like many, am looking forward to when the next show is on.

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On The I Love You Bridge

Originally written in April 2011. The Radio 4 Broadcast went out on Sunday 7th August at 1.20pm GMT(BST).

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I recently agreed to an interview regarding the first edition of ‘A Poet, On Park Hill?’ and it finally took place yesterday. It was a bright and early morning, wide open blue skies framed the setting as I and the two women took a stroll around the grounds of my home. The tranquility was disturbed by the council care takers who had decided that the lawns needed mowing at that very moment. The chuntering of motors seemed inescapable but we managed to find our way to a small secluded spot amongst the disused section of the flats. As tall concrete walls loomed over all four sides of our position I began to discuss with them the ups and downs of what it was like to live here. Along with information about day to day living I was asked to describe some of the wildlife I notice around. This was a well known setting for me, I often take my children to this little hidden field to sit in the peace and quiet. I tried to really open up about how I feel and what I remember. The things that leapt to mind were, to me, so basic and everyday things, but by looking at the facial expressions of the intent listeners I knew I could just carry on this path. By simply describing I detail the ins and outs of my life at home on Park Hill I managed to capture the imagination of the interviewers.

Then I was asked to take them to the bridge with the “I Love U” graffiti on it. As a resident I am used to seeing this landmark from behind the metal fencing that is surrounding the building site. It has been around six or seven years since I last ventured into that part of the estate, when the giant fences went up. This time however, we had permission to go onto the site. I continued to chat about life here as we walked past varying things on the way. I mentioned my song “Dandelion Hill” as we walked past the very hill and I described to cacophony the song bird chatter that often swirls around it.

We approached the tall steel fencing, the margin between my home and the domain of the heavy booted workman. My heart twisted slightly as adrenaline crept around my circulatory system as we crossed the border. I, and my two companions marched onward towards the looming and gutted shell of the highest tower. A tall and official looking yellow coated man approached. He held a clip board. Offering us a biro he asked us to sign in to the site and we complied. Once officially accepted onto the building site we were asked to report at the site office and put on some safety gear. It looked like we were going up. After getting sorted out with the right size boots, a hat and a fetching yellow waistcoat we trooped toward the old rickety steel stair. Nostalgia swept over me as I realised I was about to walk up a stairwell I hadn’t seen in years.

Although now disused, the block of flats the stairs were connected to seemed different but their echoes of life could still be felt. As we walked closer saw that they were totally empty, the hollowness of them was eerie. A few brave souls carrying buckets and things trundled up and down in an orderly fashion. We joined the stair and began to climb. Very quickly, the height began to become apparent. The ground shrank beneath us as each flight of steps was conquered, only to reveal another identical one. Each story had been gutted totally and the bare flats inside reminded me of years gone by. I had once lived in this particular block, the one that was now empty. I was struck at how uniform they all were; concrete boxes all in a row. The stair cases were clinging on to bare white concrete floors. As we counted the flights of stairs, we reached twelve and thirteen, and finally we reached the bridge with the graffiti. I was not the only one to feel an element of nausea and uneasiness by being high up on this spot. The wind was slightly stronger and the ground looked far too far way. The entirety of Sheffield spanned out in all directions and from side to side the concrete monstrosity carried on this way and that. I continued to reminisce about my life and the things I remember and I also discussed with them the graffiti that famously proclaims love for someone. I also read out loud the two poems about the bridge that I had written, “The I Love You Bridge” and “The Mystery of Claire Middleton”. They were both enjoyed and I received some beaming smiles in return for my work.

I felt important then, as I walked around a building site, as an expert on its history. My yellow hat felt like a crown of succession. I had no idea that I would be doing this, being up there once again after so long. I had walked past this bridge day after day since the giant fences went up and now, because of my hard work, I was accepted to not only walk on the other side of the fence, but also go up and experience the bridge one more time. I am very fortunate.

So once the conversation had become exhausted I decided to take them back down stairs and show them some interesting graffiti on Gilbert Road, the short cobbled track which leads from South Street to the tram lines. I read out some of the lines people had scrawled and a particular poster that someone had pasted up. I read something like, “This is protected as an area of specific urban interest, anyone caught tampering with this graffiti is liable for a fine”. Brilliant.

So that was it, my interview was shortly over by this point; I had spent around 2 hours talking and describing. I felt satisfied that by now I had said my piece. We said our goodbyes and agreed to stay in touch, and then I wandered back indoors while my two new friends continued with their research.

I’m looking forward to when the results come through, and to listen back to my words on the show that is produced at the end of this. It has been thoroughly enjoying and I hope that our work goes down in history as a great opus! Park Hill needs to be remembered and I want to be remembered with it. I am very proud to be part of the end of the estates former self, and I am indeed looking forward to leaving and starting a new (hopefully better) life in a lovely home with my own garden and driveway. Something most of us take for granted.

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