Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Portishead Marina (Port Marine); Somerset

Original Harbour Wall: Marina Development to Left

Having grown up in North Somerset our nearest seaside town was Weston Super Mare which was about 20 miles away. We would go there several times each summer and occasionally would drive a little further south or north to take in Brean Sands, Burnham-on-Sea, Clevedon and Portishead.

The Marina from the Land Ward End

I can’t remember much about Portishead, except that it was dull in relation to the other destinations especially in comparison to the bright lights and the buzz of the pier to be found at Weston.

It was dull for good reason: It was effectively a small industrial port slowly coming to the end of an era as such; only really hanging on because of the two nearby coal fired power stations (now demolished). I never thought that I would bother to go back until I got talking to a few local Bristolians who made mention of the rejuvenation of the place over the past few years. So wanting an excuse to make the most of the wonderful weather we are currently having I set off with my son (the architectural undergraduate) in tow.

The "Deep-Sea" Lock

I have to say that I really enjoyed our couple of hours ambling around the new marina development (Named Port Marine). My son was wearing his usual “young man’s architectural critic” hat and took some time to warm towards it: Mainly stuff about cheap, poorly finished façades and cladding. However he finally agreed that it was an overall well planned and not too "shabbily" implemented project.

It’s ironic to think that had it not been an imperative to keep coal flowing from the South Wales mines across the Severn estuary into Portishead harbour for onward transport to the power stations, today’s marina redevelopment would not exist. It’s due to the massive sea lock that consistently connects the deep water marina to the sea that allows 365 day access in and out.

A Marina Side Bar/Restaurant

As for the architecture of the development I’ll let you judge for yourself via the pictures here and the larger number over on my website. What I will say is that it has something of a Southern France feel about it, which is no bad thing. It also has several contemporary bars/eateries (with retail space being made available for more to come) and is well serviced by shops: Waitrose and Lidl at the land end and a soon to be opened Morrisons at the sea end.

We were also surprised to find quite a few pieces of commissioned sculpture dotted around the place and were particularly impressed by the “forest” of granite pillars on a hillock overlooking the sea. Random pillars had several words engraved into their vertical edges; words that symbolise the history of the place.

Typical Water Front Apartments

In conclusion: Would I live here? Well not permanently perhaps (until they sort out the road access from Bristol/M5. When we left in the opposite direction around 6 pm cars were queued all the way back from the motorway junction to the town centre. However the idea of a small 1 or 2 bed apartment and a 6m speed boat in the Marina for weekends away in the summer: Not that I can afford that....

All images and text copyright Andrew Hill 2013

More and larger Images may be found on the Revealing Light website.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Swindon: World Heritage Site?

"Swindon in Wiltshire": What’s the first thing that comes into your mind? A whole host of jokes perhaps…particularly those assuming a complete lack of culture? Maybe, however without wanting to make remarks about how this city sized town has morphed itself into a vibrant and productive community, with excellent communications over the past 25 years, I'm going to talk about it’s innovative past.

I'm not a native of this town, but have indeed lived here for the past quarter of a century, and there is one thing that still puzzles me: Why is the Great Western Railway (GWR) works, associated Railway Village and it’s infrastructural buildings not a World Heritage site? Yes I did say, "World Heritage Site"!
The Works Water Tower Dwarfs The Village
The area is currently designated as a conservation area and the buildings are only grade 2 listed, but believe it or not here lies the cradle of the British modern social, medical and educational systems….a structure that has been more or less adopted across many modern nations. It is even arguable that this was the model for politically orientated “Socialist” living.

From humble beginnings as an early Anglo-Saxon defensive settlement on a lone hill overlooking the surrounding area, Swindon gradually developed as a market town, until between 1841 and 1842 Isambard Kingdom Brunel established his production and maintenance facilities for his rolling stock on the GWR. The works were to go on to employ some 14,500 people at its peak before it’s final closure in 1986.

Not only did Brunel build what would become one of the largest manufacturing operations in the world, but he had the social vision to understand that cared for workers, who are fit and happy make for loyal, hard working employees. Brunel consequently built not only a number of houses just outside the walls of the works, but established a thriving village community by investing in supporting infrastructure. The employees not only had a short distance to travel to work but were also provided with; faith, medical, educational, retail and entertainment services on their doorsteps.
A Row of Workers Cottages

The houses themselves are laid out in neat ranks and consist of several different sizes of property which were generally apportioned in terms of size according to the rank of the workers; the more senior management being entitled to slightly grander surroundings.  There are several rows of back to back houses with convenient arched walkthroughs which benefit from lawn frontages. There are also more traditional terraces that enjoy small discrete walled rear gardens separated at the backs by relatively wide service lanes.
Service Lanes at the House Backs 
At the ends of the terraces, towards the central area, surrounding the “Mechanics Institute" were a small number of corner shops and public houses, two of the pubs still survive today.

The Mechanics Institute, now sadly derelict and shored up, stands at the centre of the village having been on this site since 1855, previously having been established in 1844 in the close by “Chapel” building. It provided a covered market and meeting and function rooms, often used for educational purposes. Indeed it is probably fair to say that due to various educational initiatives the workforce were among the best educated manual workers in Britain at the time.  The Institute was also the centre for the promotion of local democracy and pioneering trade union activities.
The Mechanics Institute
From 1871 the workers paid a small weekly deduction from their wages that entitled them to medical care (and later other well-being facilities) that were provided via the GWR medical fund clinic and its hospital located at the edges of the campus.
The Medical Fund Hospital
Later in 1892, across the road from the hospital, a health centre; now called the “health hydro” was opened. It provided swimming pools, a dance hall, Turkish baths, laundries, a pharmacy and clinics. It also housed Britain’s first lending library.

Under the medical fund workers received not only medical care and free medicines but also prosthetic limbs and later dental surgery.  It was this integrated approach to social and medical care that became the blueprint for the modern National Health Service (NHS).

The Health Centre (Hydro)

So next time you are heading either way past Swindon on the M4 why not turn off and spend an hour or two exploring this architectural and historic gem, built out of cutting edge concern for the care and prosperity of the underpinning manual working classes?

All images and text copyright Andrew Hill 2013

More and larger Images may be found on the Revealing Light website.

Monday, 17 June 2013

The “VENUE” Package – Show Casing YOUR Business

"We are delighted with the photos thank you and will be using you again for sure. We will also recommend you to all our business contacts."Phil & Lauren Davison: Owners of The Fox at Peasmore, West Berks

Are you running a restaurant, pub, hotel, conference facility or quality retail food operation?
Do you want to showcase your business at its best?
If so you’ll appreciate the value of having a complete library of high quality images for use in all your marketing applications, produced by a specialist in your business arena.
A specialist in:
  • Food & drink: Your creations
  • Architecture: Your building, inside and out
  • Business portraiture: Your staff
Someone who is also able to project manage the shoot from planning to deliverables. A professional with top notch people and problem solving skills that just gets on with the job in hand whether working with the kitchen, front of house staff or management; at an all inclusive price with no surprises on the final invoice?
If so the “Venue” package is right for you. I come to you; bringing appropriate professional lighting and backdrops (where required) to either capture a single aspect of Your Venue or everything that it’s about.
Venue - Petite
Up to 2 hours onsite typically 10-20 finished images Cost circa £275
The right package if you have a few choice dishes that you wish to promote, a small team you want to picture or capture the ambience of a room or two.
Venue - Moyen
Up to 4 hours onsite typically 30-40 finished images Cost circa £475
The right package if you want a wider selection of your menu pictured, a larger team photographed, or want to capture more of the essence of your surroundings.
Venue – Grand
Up to 8 hours onsite typically 60-80 finished images Cost circa £850
The right package to do your menu proud, portrait a large team at work or do justice to the environment that you have created.
Venue - Flexibility: Most clients want to image a combination of the aspects of their business and Venue is designed to accommodate these requirements. Simply contact me today to discuss your needs and for me to advise the right Venue package for you.
All Venue packages are inclusive of:
  • Pre-shoot briefing & printed guidelines to help you maximise the value of your shoot.
  • Post processing: All images are initially captured in RAW format and processed within a 16 bit colour space. Processing includes appropriate cropping, general sharpening, colour balance, exposure, saturation, brightness/contrast and some simple artefact removal.
  • Delivery of images in JPEG format at 300 dpi, Adobe RGB colour space on DVD (other image formats and direct download also available by request).
  • Royalty free licence included: Perpetual use across multiple media types including; web, social networks, brochures, flyers, menus and posters.
  • The reassurance that your photographer holds; public liability and business indemnity insurance.
Tel (Office): 01793 871825   Tel (Mobile): 07903 896746
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Office hours are Mon – Fri, 9 am – 5.30 pm
If I’m out onsite, leave me a message, I’ll get back to you within 24 working hours.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

In the Pursuit of the Real Food of Yesteryear

I grew up in a typical suburban semi on the edge of town with a very long garden backing onto open fields with cows and horses and a large orchard.

My dad was a very keen gardener. He grew all his own flowering bedding plants, huge beautiful Dahlias (which, to her annoyance, he’d never let my mum cut to bring indoors) and all the traditional veg you can imagine: Broad beans, French beans, peas, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbages, onions, beetroots, radishes, lettuce…..and more.
Fresh “local” food was an everyday occurrence for us, especially when we got our first freezer and it could be stored all year around. I can remember many sunny evenings sat with my dad and sister on the back step shelling peas and broad beans and trimming French beans for the pot or freezer.

The cows over the wall were a mixed herd of milking cows and young steers raised for the table. You could watch the matronly cows on silent cue shuffle off in gentle, unhurried order to the milking parlour and see the young cattle grow each day to be found missing several months later.

We were close to our food. We even had a local family run butcher deliver three times a week, a baker and milkman everyday: We knew their names and they knew ours and they would always have something good hearted and cheeky to say.

So what happened? For us it was Tesco’s opening a supermarket in a bigger town 12 miles away. It became a weekly ritual on a Thursday early evening: We would pick up the maternal grandparents and do a “weekly” shop. Back then petrol was “cheap” and it was a bit of an adventure; especially as there was a toy shop a few doors down and the grandparents were along! I can also remember the adults commenting on the wide variety of products available (they had all experienced wartime austerity) and how much the prices were so much lower than in the smaller specialist shops back home.

I guess we traded quality, food safety, and the value of those who brought produce to our table for convenience, saving a few quid and the dream of having the culinary world laid out at our feet.

Yes I do still shop in supermarkets; they are a hard habit to kick. However I’m thrilled at the rise and rise of the passionate food artisans that are now to be found increasingly holding weekly markets, helping to resurrect the high street and contribute positive pressure on the major retailers. I believe that a balance is to be found; a visit across the channel to any French provincial town will demonstrate this.

I’m not a food snob: I can be found eating a McDonald’s occasionally and I'm also able to appreciate the finest cuisine. I love food not pretence. However if I’m about to part with a large wedge of my hard earned for a top notch meal, I don’t want the Chef to rely on a supermarket or national catering company for his ingredients. I want him to also love food: To know the local producers, to support their enterprises, to work with them to improve quality, to know what is and what is not locally in season and to cook with subsequent authenticity.

The pictures in this blog come from the grounds at Fallowfields in Oxfordshire. The owner; Anthony Lloyd has been the instigator of producing very local food for the tables in Chef Matt Weedons restaurant. Matt is now the farm manager and he gets to be hands on throughout the whole process. The garden and animals also add interest for guests and you can clearly see how well cared for the animals are.

It’s interesting that as our children have grown up and flown the nest we too have found the time over the last three years to dig up part of the lawn and grow some of our own veg. I’m glad that we have. Shame we haven’t got enough room for a few pigs.

So take this as a call out to all of us who are genuinely passionate about food; grow and rear some of your own if you have the room, and if you don’t consider it an adventure to seek out quality local produce for your own table, or a restaurant with a passion for real food: Enjoy.

All images and text copyright Andrew Hill 2013

More and larger Images may be found on the Revealing Light website.

Monday, 20 May 2013

BOISHAKI MELA – Victoria Park Sunday 12th May 2013

It’s popularity saw this colourful event moving to Victoria Park from it’s previous 14 year Weavers Field venue, near Brick Lane in 2013. There were an estimated 275,000 visitors coming together to sample all that is Bangladeshi at this New Year (Boishaki) celebration. Indeed it’s the biggest event of it’s kind outside of Bangladesh and only Notting Hill Carnival attracts more people in London.

I’ll be honest and say that I don’t truly understand and therefore appreciate Asian signing and dancing although a large very enthusiastic crowd certainly seemed to do so in front of the main event stage. What brought me here was the energy, vibrancy, colour and large choice of food available: If there was one food stall there was a hundred!

The food varied from the usual suspects to immature coconuts, know as Jelly nuts that you simply lop part the top off, insert a straw and drink. Apparently the “milk” is far more refreshing when they are young.

Jelly Nuts
I passed on the coconuts and settled on a more obvious choice; a chicken and a lamb samosa made and cooked on the stall by the vendor’s mother and a biryani. The samosas were hot, crisp and well spiced and the biryani filling if not a little mysterious. I went for the vaguely titled “meat” version as a contrast to the chicken one that my son chose. I say mysterious as I could clearly ascertain beef and lamb but couldn't identify the third meat present. I’d take a guess that it was goat? Either way if you don’t like your meat cooked on the bone this would not be the choice for you. It was however well cooked. It was a weekend for exotic meats having sampled both a kangaroo and a springbok burger on Saturday at the much loved Borough Food Market that has grown significantly since my last visit a few months ago. Kangaroo is certainly interesting and a little gamey, however my palate was hard pushed to detect much difference to beef when it came to the springbok.

Apart from the food there were many stalls full of bling; beautiful bright women’s clothing finished with a myriad of sequins and beads and an astounding choice of big, brash costume jewellery. We didn't buy anything but each of us came away with a selection of sweets, 2 cans of Rubicon and a kg of Tolly Boy Rice…all free. What’s not to like about this event?

On the subject of Mela’s don’t miss the local Swindon Mela on Saturday 24th August 2013. No doubt I’ll also be blogging about it here.

Further images may be found on the Revealing Light website.

All images and text copyright Andrew Hill 2013

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

The Fox at Peasemore, Berks

Thursday 2nd May and what a fabulous day for a drive out into the countryside to the picturesque West Berkshire village of Peasemore: Perhaps spring is finally here?
The Fox at Peasemore
I arrive at “The Fox at Peasemore” late morning greeted by the site of a gleaming white building basking beneath a deep blue almost cloudless sky. I’m a few minutes early so park up and choose to use the time to do a quick recon of the exterior. As I walk around the pub I guess I must have looked lost as the tradesman putting a few finishing touches to the rear of the building asks if he can help me. I explain who I am and in that age old tradition of banter between photographer and bystander get the line “if I’d have known you would have been here today I’d have smarted up”.

The Fox, or as it was; “The Fox and Hounds” had been shut down for sometime even before the new owners: Philip and Lauren Davison began their renovation resulting in its reopening back in mid March of this year. I enter and meet Angie at the bar who has followed Phil and Lauren from their last business; The Sun in the Wood near Newbury. My first impression of the team is warm, friendly and professional.

Angie fetches Phil. He is welcoming and unassuming yet you get the notion that he is a highly focused entrepreneur who knows what he is about, where he is going and how to get there. Indeed the accolades that he has picked up in his past 28 years of running his own businesses would bear witness: Wine pub of the year, customer service pub of the year, marketing pub of the year (3 times) and Phil’s appointment as BII national licensee of the year in 2009.

Lauren & Phil
Phil gives me the official tour and introduces me to his delightful wife; Lauren and the kitchen staff; Thierry and Sean. We have a chat about the shoot and agree on what Phil wants me to cover and it’s then time to set up the lighting for the food shots.

Sean & Thierry
We are going to image a mix of starters, mains and desserts from Thierry’s kitchen. Thierry has been with the team for 18 months having also been at The Sun. He is a quiet thoughtful man and you can always tell if a chef is good to work alongside by the enthusiasm of his number two: Sean. Indeed Sean is the ying to Thierry’s yang; young and chatty and clearly seems to enjoy his role in the team.

Steak & Double Fried Chips
Thierry’s food is not what you would expect from a country pub. Although it is relatively simple and unassuming the ingredients are top notch and the preparation and presentation are more often to be found in a fine dining restaurant. Definitely worth the drive out into the countryside for.

Food shots completed I shoot the team next as Angie has to be off to pick up her children from school. Then it’s a solo effort to capture the ambiance of the tastefully restored interior and exterior. Indeed changing the outside from yellow to white was an excellent call and the interior retains the feel of a traditional pub while utilising modern soft furnishings. I wonder if Lauren has been at work here as she tells me that she has a passion for design, exemplified through flower arranging. There are always fresh flowers to be found on the bar.

Chocolate Heaven

Phil’s experience and expertise is in demand elsewhere amongst publicans who understand the power of marketing as a tool to keep in touch with customers and increase their sales and bottom line. Indeed Phil’s approach increased the turnover at his previous venture fivefold. He consequently runs a consultancy: 

I am sure that The Fox at Peasemore will be a great success for all concerned, including the local villagers who now have a pub back in the village. After just 7 weeks of opening the evenings, especially weekends, in the restaurant are largely booked out.

The Fox at Peasemore
Hillgreen Lane
Nr Newbury
RG20 7JN

Tel: 01635 248480

All images and text copyright Andrew Hill 2013

More and larger Images may be found on the Revealing Light website.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The Magic That is Borough Market: London

For those of you that don’t already know Borough Market but who, like me, love food and the hustle and bustle of everyday life around you; this is a jewel of a place not to be missed!

Situated on the south Bank of the Thames; London Bridge right next to Southwark Cathedral “lives” a market that has been at the heart of London for likely over 1,000 years and on the current site since 1755. The existing market buildings are however relatively modern having been erected in 1851 and appended to in 1860 in the Victorian Gothic revival tradition. An Art Deco entrance was later added in 1932. Indeed a Blue Plaque marks it as “London’s Oldest Fruit & Veg Market”.

It’s a place where people from all walks of life and social classes rub shoulders among over 100 stalls selling a vast array of foods from traditional fruit & veg and butchery through to artisan produces; cheeses, breads, sweetmeats and charcuterie to name but a few.

The place is alive with the heady mixed smells of street food cooking, the chatter of the crowds and the vibrant colours of the displays that play out before your eyes.

Many of the traders here make, grow or rear their own produce and the quality to be found here, in my book, is up there with Harrods’s Food Hall but a lot more accessible and down to earth. After saying that; it’s not a cheap place to shop for your dinner but as a place to come and forage for occasional treats and items to impress your guests, it’s a goldmine. Apparently the market association is so proud of what it has to offer that there is an elected food panel that constantly ensures the authenticity and sheer scrumminess of the food on offer here.

During the week it attracts many local office workers who come to seek out a quick and delicious midday repast and they are not to be disappointed as there is a host of quick meals on offer: Gourmet burgers, paellas, oriental foods and if you are a fan and feeling a little flush; fresh oysters.

If you fancy a sit down meal there are several good restaurants integrated into the external fabric of the building including a fish one and a steak one. The market is also well served by a number of good pubs, the closest and most vibrant being the “Market Porter”, which sports a glorious display of hanging baskets during the warmer months providing a colourful vista for the customers who pour out into the street to be closer to the buzz of the market immediately adjacent. However as a “West Country Lad” I'm usually well happy with a pint of dry cider from the New ForestCider Co. within the market itself.

So as summer slowly creeps up on us why not take yourself down to Borough Market on a lazy Saturday afternoon; soak up the atmosphere, grab a spot of lunch on the hoof and take a prize find home to be relished for supper? ENJOY!

All images and text copyright Andrew Hill 2013

More and larger Images may be found on the Revealing Light website.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Matt Weedon at Fallowfields - Shoot: April 2013

By watching too many TV food programmes you could easily be fooled into thinking that all great chefs may be a little in love with themselves, and at an extreme a touch “rude”…

Well having worked with Matt Weedon last week at Fallowfields, Kingston Bagpuize, Oxfordshire I can assure you that there are certainly very talented cooks about who are humble and very pleasant to be around.

Matt won his first Michelin star at Scotland’s Glenapp Castle and in 2008 became head chef at Lords of the Manor, Upper Slaughter, Gloucestershire winning it it’s first Michelin star in early 2009.

Now, along with his wife; Rachel who runs front of house, he is the hope of Fallowfields owner; Anthony Lloyd to do exactly the same here.


Anthony told me that when Matt arrived back in mid March that he had asked Matt if he wanted his name above the restaurant entrance. Apparently Matt looked at him a little quizzically, responding with “I’ll let my food do the talking”. He also told me at our first meeting that the reason he is so passionate about what he does is that he likes to put a smile on the faces of his diners; delivering them excellence in exchange for their hard earned cash.

"Very Local" Pork

Matt is under played, softly spoken yet is clearly a thinker with compassion and a good sense of humour. I could tell from the enthusiasm that his assistant chef: Matt (yes Matt!) had that he is clearly inspirational to work alongside.

Sea Bass

It would seem that Matt coming to Fallowfields is the fulfilment of some kind of prophecy: Once when asked what his earliest memory of food was he responded with: "Grandma's Sunday Roast" - real tender beef with all the trimmings. I can still remember the great smell that came out of her kitchen”. He also commented that he would like his final meal to be “Rib-eye steak with Chips and Sauce Bearnaise”. Well at Fallowfields he now has his own small herd of Dexter cattle; as farm manager to rear and chef to serve up. Not only does he have excellent rare breed beef cattle to hand but Tamworth and Gloucester Old Spot pigs too.

"Very Local" Beef

If that wasn’t enough of the fulfilment of a prophecy Matt talked to me about his love of birds of prey and his fondness for photographing them…yes you’ve guessed it Fallowfields has it’s own falconry centre with over 60 birds and 30 species!

"Rhubarb & Custard"

The food that Matt prepared and I photographed on the day is perhaps best described as classically British but with inspiration taken from modern French food, making use of light reductions and foams that accentuate the food rather than drown it out. In fact Matt offered me the gravy to add to the pictured pork dish and we both ended up agreeing that it photographed better without it!
While Matt doesn't like, or attempt, to over complicate his dishes he certainly produces colourful works of art that beg to be eaten for the wonderful mix of textures that he brings to each plate: The eyes are captivated and the flavours do the talking.

Hand Made Macaroons & Chocolates

We didn't get all the dishes we had intended to photograph done during the shoot so I'm looking forward to going back shortly and capturing his wonderful sweet soufflé and chocolate dessert. I’ll also get some shots of the livestock, quails and the kitchen garden as it blooms during the warmer months. Watch this space.

All images and text copyright Andrew Hill 2013

More and larger Images may be found on the Revealing Light website.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Brutalist Sheffield: The Rebirth of Park Hill – Now & Beyond

Brutalist Sheffield: The Rebirth of Park Hill – Now & Beyond

Without doubt; modern Sheffield is lively and vibrant…a great place to both work and live. It has a steely determination about it; a city that has, like the proverbial phoenix, risen from out of the ashes of it’s heavily industrial past to be a beacon of optimism in the North of England.

Having gone to Leeds Uni, married a “Yorkshire lass” and had our first child born in Leeds, we have an affinity for this part of the world, and after experiencing the hope that is the new “Park Hill” first hand I can say that if I had the money to buy a “pied a terre” in the City I wouldn't hesitate to buy an apartment here.

Starting at just £90,000 with options also available to part-buy and rent, to someone that lives on the M4 corridor, they are an absolute bargain. I dare not think what such an apartment would cost in the South East! Indeed if this development was transported south it would no doubt be gobbled up by an army of property investors looking for a better return than money on deposit and a safe haven from the Euro.

You get the feeling that if you moved in here tomorrow you’d once again be living a part of history that the original development also was. You’d also be taking a bit of a gamble; that planning and maintenance lessons really have been learned and that Urban Splash, the developer, can remain solvent to see their vision through. Even with a small boost to the economy and the successful habitation of all the apartments, only a small part of the overall project will have been realised by the end of 2014.

Urban Splash has gone on record as saying: “we want to create a world class landscape, inside and outside its walls”. “The team are working to bring love; life and pride back to this iconic project and make it a genuinely vibrant and sustainable community for the 21st Century.” I personally have no doubt that they, SCC and their partners (Transform South Yorkshire, Homes and Communities Agency, English Heritage and Great Places) believe in what they are doing and are committed to seeing it through.

They have ambitious plans for the landscaping of the development and as in the original intention to bring “a real mix in the ingredients of a proper place for residents and visitors alike: a 'high street' of local services - butchers, newsagents, greengrocers, chippy- a doctor's and dentist's, a new home for the fantastic Grace Owen children's nursery, some great bars, pubs and cafes”. Their intention seems to be able to finally realise the notion of a “village” with a village hall and a village green complete with oak tree, plus new workspace for businesses, artists or students, as well as dedicated secure provision for car parking”.

If (and I genuinely hope…When), they pull this off the first buyers will be sitting pretty in an investment that will have risen in value as the dream unfolds. No doubt the final single bedroom apartment sold will proportionately cost considerably more than the first £90,000 one!

The apartments themselves are described as “spacious one and two bedroom, duplex, dual aspect apartments with floor to ceiling glazing”. The original “box” concept has been maintained while certain inner curtain walls have been removed to give a feeling of greater light and space. The use of the term “spacious” doesn’t really stack up on paper; a typical entry level one bed is just 547 sq ft and a two bed 767 sq ft. However with floor to ceiling glass running the full length of either aspect of the apartment, minimalist detailing, copious wooden flooring, white kitchen fittings and paint the “feeling” certainly has however been achieved.

There are nice touches; such as the inner lobby connecting doors which fold back flush into the walls, and with the doors in such an orientation the apartment “opens up” stretching from one wall of glass in the living area, through the lobby to the wall of glass in the adjacent bedroom. Much use has been made of bare concrete (which was fully plastered over in the original dwellings) which has been so well treated and sealed that it is impossible to rub your hand over any exposed surface and create even the smallest particle of dust.

The inner stairwells are given the steel and glass treatment with copious under stairs storage space. On the issue of storage space there is very little built in and free standing units would eat into the small rooms. That being said if you’re a hoarder; this really isn't a building for you. It demands a lifestyle to complement it. People who themselves are minimalist in all that they do: People who want to live out in the surrounding City, who want to be engaged in the community, not sat at home stuffing more and more needless “stuff” into ever decreasing spaces. It’s an environment for those who wish to be free of consumerism, for those who want to be people again.

One severe criticism of the “Streets in the sky” was that people didn't keep their front doors open as they had done in the terraces while the children played outside and the locals nattered and kept an eye on their community. Consequently crime and antisocial behaviour took a foothold, because the façades of the flats were flat, so that it wasn't possible to look out of the window and see up and down the street. The architects have rectified this elegantly by building an oriole window into the fabric of the façade to the side of the entrance to each apartment. It’s easy from the safety provided by a very substantial external door to peer through it in all directions out and along “the street”.

So Park Hill: I believe that you are a success in the making. However economic times are generally tough and Urban Splash struggle for profit so there are risks. That said; anything worth having is going to take some risk to achieve. My main concern isn't the development itself but the integration with the rest of the City and it’s acceptance as an alternative lifestyle venue as cafes, restaurants and shops open. Here the responsibility must rest with SCC.

There has already been friction with Network Rail, who wanted to close the public rail line crossing from its city entrance side over the rails to the Park Hill side as part of the stations “upgrade”. Luckily there was mass protest and the link looks safe. The tram way infrastructure provides a foot link over the bypass and it’s Goliath of a roundabout across to Park Hill, but there is not yet a Park Hill tram stop. This needs to happen not only as a practical measure but also as a way of clearly demonstrating the Corporation's commitment to its intentions and commercial partners.

I look forward to going back over the next few years and watching the story unfold further.

All images and text copyright Andrew Hill 2013

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Brutalist Sheffield: The Rebirth of Park Hill – Hope

1998 and Sheffield City Council (SCC) now has Europe’s largest listed building as its responsibility. English Heritage listed it Grade2* on the basis of:

·          Its shear scale
·          Use of “streets in the sky”
·          Overall architectural importance

The council was left with little choice but to be able to establish a redevelopment plan and by the end of 2003 people were being moved out of north block Park Hill, the part overlooking the city.

SCC wanted to maintain a “social housing” element within any redevelopment so, while realising the reality of the requirement for private sector investment, it eventually selected a partnership in 2004 to take things forward. The partnership consisted of A Registered Social Landlord: Parkway Housing (a subsidiary of The Manchester Methodist Housing Group) and the residential “redeveloper”: Urban Splash.

By 2006 Urban Splash made an application for outline planning permission to redevelop the site to offer a mix of apartments for; sale (approx. 580), rent and low cost ownership. The site to also have a mix of leisure and retail facilitates; a nursery, doctor’s surgery and landscaped open spaces.

Urban Splash appointed architects: Studio EgretWest, HawkinsBrown and GrantAssociates, in June 2007. Their detailed planning application for Phase 1 was subsequently approved in October 2007.

At this time approval was granted for 257 flats for sale, 56 flats for rent & 12 flats for shared ownership with the inclusion of the  GPs’ surgery, a nursery, retail and leisure facilities and “high quality public realm”.

The majority of the funding was to come from Urban Splash, with the remainder coming from a conglomerate of government and private housing agencies including the original partner: Parkway Housing (Manchester Methodist Housing Group). English Heritage made a grant towards specialist concrete repairs.

Preparation work on the site began in November 2007: Stripping out the flats, removing windows and brick infill panels, eventually taking the building right back to its core “H” frame structure. In 2010 the bright coloured anodised aluminium infill panels, that now make the new development “stand out”, were starting to be installed, their colours chosen to mimic the brick they had replaced.

All images and text copyright Andrew Hill 2013

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