Pinstone Street, the home of Sheffield’s independent fast food

The one good thing to come out of the Sevenstone delay?

Fanoush Falafel and the Street Food Chef

Fanoush Falafel and the Street Food Chef

As we wait to find out what the latest talks between the council and Hammerson mean for Sheffield’s Sevenstone retail quarter, an independent food revolution is quietly happening in town.

Pinstone Street is one of the key roads on the edge of the proposed development. In anticipation of demolition and construction work beginning many of the old shops closed down or moved to alternative locations, leaving a depressing row of empty units.

Not for long though. The good news is that a growing number of tasty food outlets have moved in and are breathing life into the vacant shops on Pinstone Street.

The award-winning Street Food Chef arrived first, serving up Mexican street food from tacos, burritos to empanadas. Their breakfast burritos are delicious.

Flurt frozen yoghurt in Sheffield

Flurt frozen yoghurt on PInstone Street

Then Flurt opened a few doors up, offering fat-free frozen yoghurt. A perfect pudding if you’ve got room after your lunchtime burrito.

And this morning Claire from Feast and Glory revealed that Fanoush Falafel is opening next door to the Street Food Chef. Fanoush already have a shop on London Road so it is great to see them opening in town.

What all three of these outlets have in common is that they are independent businesses, offering an alternative to the food chains that you can find in any city. The food is fast, tasty and relatively healthy. They’re definitely worth supporting.

It’s ironic that without Sevenstone these great food outlets may not have opened at all on Pinstone Street. Perhaps the growth of these businesses points to the approach we should take for a city centre retail quarter: if you create favourable terms for people to take on shops in good locations then local, independent businesses can flourish, even alongside the big chains. The city centre needs both.

Make the most of these foodie gems while you can, as a green light for Sevenstone could mean the end of these independent food outlets in prime city centre locations.

What I liked about Tramlines 2011

Some of my festival highlights

So it is all over for another year. In terms of numbers, Tramlines is now around the size of Glastonbury, attracting an estimated 150,000 people over the weekend. The crowds were treated to the usual mix of musical genres, with most tastes catered for in some shape or form. I’ve picked out a few aspects of the festival that I really liked this year…

Friday night

Kill your darlings Kid acne exhibition

Kill your darlings Kid acne exhibition

It was an inspired idea to schedule the free launch of Kid acne’s new exhibition on the Friday night of Tramlines. If you don’t think you know who Kid acne is then you will have certainly seen his work around town. The launch was the perfect warm up to the festival, with live music, drinks, a look round his exhibition and loads of familiar Sheffield faces. Then there was plenty of time after to go and see more music, including Heaven 17’s homecoming performance in Barkers pool.

The Folk forest

The Folk forest in Endcliffe park

The Folk forest in Endcliffe park

A haven away from the city centre and well worth a visit even if you weren’t a folk fan. What’s not to like about lying back under the trees with the sun shining, listening to live music while enjoying a local beer? The heaving centre of town over Tramlines weekend isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and the enchanting Folk forest in Endcliffe park did a good job of widening the appeal of the festival to an older – and younger – audience.

The Busker bus

The busker bus

The busker bus

A handy way to get around and also a venue in itself. Watching someone perform against the backdrop of a vibrant Sheffield through the window was a brilliant combination. Half the fun was just turning up and seeing who hopped on to perform: it could have been anything from big local names to great new music or even an X Factor boy band fresh from the main stage.

More people and more venues

This year there were even more venues involved across a wider area of the city, including some of the more suburban pubs and cafes. And seeking sanctuary in the cathedral for some lovely acoustic music was a magical experience (plus having a drink in the pews was also quite good fun). More venues over a wider area meant more people, although this didn’t stop Tramlines still being a good place to bump into random friends.

Great weather

The sun over West one

The sun over West one

There’s no denying that a weekend of sunshine makes all the difference and this year the weather was possibly the best yet. After a very light shower on the Friday night, the sun shone on both the main days which would have no doubt encouraged even more people out.

The Tramlines brand

This year the visual identity of Tramlines was given an overhaul and it was a big improvement. Sheffield agency Peter and Paul designed a new font specifically for the festival, which was used on all the promotional material and also picked up by other outlets. The poster campaign featuring familiar and unfamiliar Sheffield faces shot by photographer Sean Bloodworth also looked great around town. It all made for quite a distinctive campaign that communicated one of the main selling points of Tramlines; that it was free for everyone.

A boost for the city centre

A busy Soyo

A busy Soyo

The experience of a trip to Sheffield city centre is a bit patchy to say the least. Many of the shop units stand empty due to the recession or in anticipation of Sevenstone construction starting, which has left it all a bit in limbo. Tramlines resulted in the streets being packed with people and local businesses doing well out of what would otherwise have been a quiet summer weekend. Anecdotal evidence suggests that trade was busy – there were reports of one bar running out or beer and another making more over Tramlines weekend than they make in a month.

Good beer

With an official festival brew in the shape of Tramlines ale, other local breweries like Thornbridge taking part and many of Sheffield’s real ale pubs on the circuit, there was no reason not to steer clear of the keg lager, even in the main stage areas.

Same again next year?

Overall it seems like Tramlines 2011 was another success. Some people were wary of the impact of a big sponsor coming on board, although this didn’t seem to make a discernible negative difference. Others are still expecting to see a lot more bigger names playing, even though this would be hard to manage at a ticketless, free festival.

For me Tramlines isn’t just about seeing big bands, or even being regimental about the music you do try and see. The friends I know who enjoyed it the most are the ones who got out and about and threw themselves into what and wherever their weekend took them, whether it was a rammed and sweaty pub or the tranquility of the Folk forest.

How do you think it compared to previous years? And what would you suggest for 2012 – is there anything they should keep, ditch or should be doing?

The Radical departures What I learned from Tramlines 2011 blog post is a good read and has some useful tips for if and when the festival returns in 2012.

The main stage on Devonshire green

The main stage on Devonshire green

Made in Sheffield shop

Another idea for empty retail spaces in town

Many people are rightly proud of what a creative city Sheffield is. It is certainly home to plenty of creative people: 7.2% of the workforce is employed in the creative and digital industries* and an uncited claim on Wikipedia says that outside of London, Sheffield has the largest population of amateur, working and professional visual artists in the UK.

Could we do more help promote our creative excellence? The bigger manufacturers pay to use the Made in Sheffield mark to help sell and authenticate their products, but this is less useful for smaller artists trying to sell their wares.

As the recession has hit, shops have gone bust and retail units in towns up and down the country have been left empty. Sheffield city centre hasn’t escaped this, with the delay of Sevenstone resulting in many of our retail spaces being caught in a black hole between compulsory purchase orders and postponed building work.

We’ve already seen some other ideas for ways to make use of these spaces in Sheffield and some bars and shops are even reopening in the empty units.

At least three other cities have now come up with another use for them which is helping local artists and creative people. In the last few months, ‘Made in…’ or ‘Created in…’ shops have opened in Newcastle and Birmingham. It looks like Nottingham is also home to a similar type of  shop.

The concept is simple, although it has varied from city to city. Broadly, they are pop-up shops occupying empty retail units that showcase and sell locally-made products. They can also incorporate meeting places, small workshop spaces and exhibition areas. A group of volunteers run the shops, sometimes with a committee or main organiser heading things up.

Could this work in Sheffield? We already have a pool of creative artists, plenty of empty units in town and and regular craft fairs run by the Sheffield craft mafia.

Running the shops is hard work, as the Created in Birmingham people discovered, so it isn’t something to take on lightly. And I think some thought would need to be given as to how such a project would work alongside existing rent-paying outlets like the Famous Sheffield Shop and Sheffield Scene, and also existing art-selling galleries.

On the whole, it sounds like these pop-up shops have been very well received. After a successful three-month trial, the Birmingham shop closed due to their prestigious unit in the Bullring shopping centre being let to paying tenants, but it is expected to return for Christmas.

Has this idea had been considered for Sheffield? If not, is anyone interested in seeing whether there is an appetite to get a Made in Sheffield shop up and running in time for the Christmas shopping season?

*I’ve no idea how an occupation is classed as creative or otherwise

New Made in Newcastle shop front by championmonkeyface

New Made in Newcastle shop front by championmonkeyface, used with permission

Creative uses of spaces in Sheffield city centre

Filling the Sevenstone void

With the Sevenstone retail quarter on hold for at least the next 2-3 years, there are empty buildings and patches of land in town earmarked for development but currently not being used to their potential.

The latest scheme to try and address this is the proposed Red square retail area which is featured in the latest issue of Exposed magazine.

This idea would see vacant land on Trafalgar street (see the map below) turned into a hub of 35 small units and workspaces for artists, makers and creative independent new retailers. The shipping container units (‘ship shops’) would be cheap to rent and let on easy-in/easy-out terms. The focal point is a small, central square with a cafe and gallery.

The people behind the idea are looking for feedback on the proposal and also would like to hear from any potential occupiers. At the time of writing, it doesn’t look like the www.red-square.org website is live, but if you are interested or just want more information then email info@red-square.org.

There are also other schemes trying to find creative and worthwhile uses for the available spaces in the city centre.

The excellent Sheffield Swap shop project aims to take on a vacant shop in Sheffield and turn it into a community swap shop managed by volunteers. People will be able to turn up to exchange skills, services and use it for other community-related activities. It looks like Sunwin house is a venue that Swap shop is considering. If you want to get involved, contact Helen Milner.

University architecture students and the council have got together to work on the Empty quarter action project. They will be publishing a report full of creative ideas for the vacant shops, buildings and streets in the city and need your input for the public consultation that will feed into this. If you are interested in contributing to this then read more and email the project.

In addition, the council has also given the empty shop fronts behind Pinstone street a cosmetic makeover and there is ongoing discussion regarding what to do with the empty fire station on Wellington street.

Walking around some parts of town is a bit depressing at the moment so it is encouraging that people are trying to do something about it. It is good to have a mix of grassroots community schemes to get involved with like Swap shop and also ideas such as Red square that could also give a commercial boost and spawn new, independent businesses in the city centre.

What do people think to these schemes? Are there any more going on that I have missed?

The location earmarked for Red square

Architectural tour of Sheffield

‘Sheffield just doesn’t seem to know how good it actually is’

People reading this blog who aren’t on Twitter may have missed the link posted at the end of last week to a great article on the Building Design website.

The author, Owen Hatherly, took a walk around the city for the magazine’s Urban trawl feature and the resulting article and follow-up blog post are well worth a read.

Eyebrows have been raised in the past in response to some of Sheffield’s planning decisions and buildings, however Owen recognises that our examples of post-war, modernist architecture are actually mostly better than what London has to offer.

Of course not everyone loves this style of building design, but reading his feature does make you look again at some of the city’s well-known landmark structures with a new appreciation.

Castle market is described as ‘a shopping centre with a weirdness and individuality that puts all the Arndales to shame’; the Manpower services building at Moorfoot and Jefferson Sheard’s electricity substation are ‘thrillingly paranoid Cold War megastructures’; and Park hill is labelled as ‘one of the great buildings of the century, anywhere – a truly astonishing architectural achievement’.

He also picks up on one of the reasons why local people have such affection for Sheffield: whichever way you look, the charming haphazard sprawl of the city is nearly always neatly framed by the beautiful surrounding countryside, which is only minutes away.

And his advice for ensuring that Sheffield remains such a unique place? We need to concentrate less on trying to be like everywhere else and spend more time celebrating the individuality of the city and its distinctive collection of buildings. With Sevenstone in the pipeline and Urban splash attempting a delicate balancing act with Park hill, this will no doubt prove quite a challenge.

Caption by Paolo Màrgari - paolomargari.it, used under the Creative Commons licence

Park hill: 'one of the great buildings of the century, anywhere - a truly astonishing architectural achievement'. Photo by Paolo Màrgari - paolomargari.it, used under the Creative Commons licence

New Sheffield city centre shopping website

Town battles on as it awaits the arrival of Sevenstone

It is a difficult time for the city centre at the moment. While the promise of the new retail quarter has raised hopes that town will once again become a significant northern shopping destination, walking past the empty shops on the Moor and Pinstone Street is presently quite depressing.

Although it was reported last week that footfall in town has increased by 17,000 people a month, for me the city centre still needs all the help it can get to encourage shoppers.

Seemingly, the council has recognised this and is making some effort to give town its best chance of success before the arrival of Sevenstone, with hoardings displaying images of Sheffield being erected around derelict buildings marked for demolition.

And according to this council email, a new website promoting shopping in the city is in the pipeline:

A new website will be launched in April that shows just what’s on offer for shopping in the city centre. It will show potential shoppers what shops are here, where they are, and what they sell. Retailers will be able to update special offers and events, and talk to other retailers through the site. The aim of the site is to promote Sheffield as a competitive retail destination. It’s a joint initiative between the council, Creative Sheffield and the Chamber of Commerce.

So if these initiatives work, what will people think when they arrive in the town? Some visitors from London commented to me that as an urban environment, parts of the city centre look great (I did take them on a selective route of the city). But some areas look very run-down and we know that for shopping, it still has a long way to go.

With current economic conditions causing more retailers to fold and further shop units to stand empty, I can’t help but feel that it will get worse before it gets better. However, I am also sure that in due course we will once again have a shopping destination of which to be proud.

Another city centre shop to close

Are the shops in town feeling the pinch?

You have probably already read that Racquets on Division Street is to close next week as owners John and Sue Howard are retiring and there are no interested buyers for the store. I only popped to Racquets occasionally, but I will miss it and it was another reason to go to town.

I’m a bit fed up of shops in town closing. Losing Fopp a couple of years ago was a massive blow (although it won’t have done the excellent Record Collector in Broomhill any harm), and with Gap being replaced by a bank, shopping trips to town are looking less and less compelling. I know those two were both chain stores, but I think a mix of independent and well-known outlets is a happy medium when it comes to shopping.

One reassuring fact is that the three examples here didn’t necessarily close because of Sheffield city centre’s ability to sustain the stores. However, the difficult economic conditions won’t have helped and the sooner the new retail quarter Sevenstone is built, the better. Fingers crossed that project won’t be delayed.