“Hope springs eternal.” Or does it? The optimist inside us would like to think so, but with high street shopping rapidly becoming a thing of yesteryear and shops closing down at a rate of knots, is more retail therapy what we need? Maybe we can redeem ourselves and look for alternatives to commercial slavery. Top-down planning decisions that pander to the interests of big business and not the people mean our futures are becoming unstable and unsustainable. This month we take a look at a building that has served a broad cross-section of people for over 100 years as a place of salvation, a place for meeting and sharing, and ask why another great space is set to be taken from us.

The Salvation Army or Sally Army was founded in London by Reverend William Booth and his wife Catherine. In 1878 the Reverend instructed three ladies – Mary Goddard, Miss Dunage and Gypsy Smith – to come to Sheffield to found a new corps. Massive crowds gathered at regular meetings and hoards were converted, although it wasn’t all plain sailing. Riots brewed and angry publican mobs attacked the groups, mainly because of their anti-alcohol stance, but it wasn’t long before the city’s attitudes towards the Army swayed.

The group had various meeting places, the most notable being Albert Hall in Barker’s Pool. As the corps became more established and the prior premises, the ‘Glory Hut’, became too small, new plans were put together in 1892 for the purchase of land on Burgess Street and erection of a building to accommodate all. The land was bought for £7,812 and the cost of construction was set at £25,000. Part of this was for the Citadel and the rest was for the shops that run along Pinstone Street. If you look carefully you can see the carved letters ‘SA’ above the shops. The Citadel was completed in 1892, designed by William Gilbee Scott in the usual castle style with crenellated parapets and machicolations, and became the Sally Army’s largest meeting space in town.

The Salvation Army moved premises in 1999 and the building stood empty until the end of 2011, when Occupy Sheffield took hold and secured it on a temporary basis. This movement towards a reuse that reflected the soul of the Citadel was named Citadel of Hope. The group created a place where people met, discussed and enjoyed a varied selection of events.

The Citadel is a terrific site in a prime location that enjoys a high volume of footfall. Its beautifully designed facade and roof tower features should be a cause for celebration, especially as the city centre’s identity is slowly being eroded, with one in ten retail units in the area closed down or boarded up.

Of course we are all still eagerly waiting for the shiny new retail quarter, or Sevenstone Project as it is now known, aren’t we? The latest reports claim that the development will now be completed in late 2016. Is it fair for this architectural and historical treasure to be left to drift further into a state of neglect, while the completion date for the retail quarter gets repeatedly pushed back?

The current planning proposals for the building show the Citadel being converted into a two-storey open-plan retail space complete with escalators! But we can’t help wishing for it to be put to good use now, perhaps for the benefit of the city’s emerging creative industries community or other innovative art-based applications. The Citadel was created to be a beacon in the city and it could, in these times of financial uncertainty, once again be a place of sanctuary and contribute to the improvement of the city centre’s short-term economic future.

The dead space in the building could be revived and used as an attractive venue for something special that you can’t get in the heart of the city today. There is a growing collection of Sheffield-bred ventures, like Common People or the Magic Lantern Film Club pop-up cinema, which could make use of the building in the interim on a temporary basis to provide regular, authentic local artisan markets and original entertainment events. The building already has two separate entrances and a decent auditorium space, so this could be feasible. The empty premises further down Pinstone Street have artwork up in the shop fronts so the concept is already out there. It would be great to see the Citadel included in the parade.

This type of initiative is necessary because as long as the Sevenstone Project stalls, the Citadel and the city centre will continue to suffer from uncertainty and mediocrity. Sheffield deserves better. If you have anything to say, please get in touch

Photo by Chard Remains Photographical

Geoff Mackay & Max Everett.