Streets in the sky

Published September 15, 2009

If you have access to the BBC, and particularly iPlayer, I want to recommend the Saving Britain’s Past series. I have seen the first couple, and was very struck by the second episode in the series, all about the Park Hill Estate in Sheffield.

The programme tracks the attempts to save some of the more iconic developments in Britain’s history, with other episodes focusing on country houses and the iconic buildings in Bath. The episode about Sheffield really captured my imagination though.

The Park Hill estate was built at the end of the 50s, in an attempt to house many of the families displaced by the war. It’s a massive sprawling estate, that made the best use of concrete and attempted to create it’s own community.

Park Hill

The design included parks, a school, shops, a pub, the balconies were large enough for a milk float to drive along - hence the name of the show Streets in the Sky. In the post-war era, people still had that pull-together community ethic, and it really worked. Everything that you could need was within the estate, and for many, it was a step up to luxury apartments. It sounds like heaven!

Of course, since then, the families moved out, the estate has became run down and a great place for squatters and characters of an unsavoury nature. Many of the flats were boarded up, and when the area was listed (apparently Europe’s largest listed building), that made it harder for the place to be maintained. It’s no longer a thing of impressive beauty, but an out of fashion reminder of the past.

There is hope, though, developers Urban Splash are intent on renovating the flats, modernising them, and encouraging that community spirit once more. It won’t be the same, and I love this TV programme for capturing the moment when it actually worked.

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