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Dead Space

One for All and All for One - The Birth of Furnace Park.

The scorching Sheffield summer has been rolling along smoothly with more bright days than we can remember, and Dead Space returns just in time for sunny August with a review on Furnace Park, another interesting location that we should all take notice of. It’s a call for community cooperation, a case of ‘come one, come all’. Furnace Park, the name given to the site by the team behind the scheme, is at the epicentre of a neighbourhood that has major significance in terms of the city’s industrial heritage. The park is a new urban space which has been created in the Furnace Hill conservation area on the dead space of one of Sheffield’s former metal works buildings, located between Scotland Street and Matthew Street in Shalesmoor. The arrival of the metallurgy industry dramatically transformed an area which was covered with farming crofts in the 17th century into clusters of diverse metal trades. This corner of Sheffield existed as a hive of vibrant activity during its industrial revolution. The Furnace Hill industrial zone quickly expanded around the pre-existing housing, which would soon become overpopulated and sullied by the pollution and sanitation issues that typified the era. Despite the conditions this nook of the city had a lot going for it. It was a prime site that boasted successful cutlers, steelworks, grinders, foundry casters and handle makers. By the end of the 19th century the area had achieved industrial slum status and inevitably it was lined up for clearance. A large cleanup operation took place in the 1930s and most of the housing was demolished, leaving only a few select buildings as examples of the early commercial propagation of the quarter. The new park is located on the site of a foundry works that belonged to Doncasters, a successful crucible steel company which made its name in the tool making industry. But progress is not sentimental and Doncasters relocated, leaving the site derelict for several years. The only obvious sign they were ever there is the large conical brick furnace that still exists in close proximity to Furnace Park. Nothing changed until about ten years ago, when Sheffield City Council purchased the land as part of the Inner Relief road construction initiative. The site lay overgrown until three years ago, when the local group named Occurus, meaning ‘to meet’, came across the site on one of the many walks/talks in and around the area. The group had sprouted in 2011 from groups of writers, researchers and artists opening up dialogue on philosophy, art, politics and literature across the city. This multiple, morphing cache of interests flowed between groups and individuals, causing questions to be asked about research and art. Tt was at this point that SKINN (Shalesmoor Kelham Island & Neepsend Network) got involved. Along with support from Plastic Cities, a research group at Sheffield University, SKINN started to look at a framework for low-cost, flexible uses of Furnace Park and other disused urban spaces. Holding open workshops and design sessions, a 1:200 model was created as a tool for exploring ideas and possible layouts. Designs stemmed out of the re-use of pallets and reclaimed timber for various items, from slouchers (laid back seating), workhorses (sturdy multi-use tables) and mules (wheelbarrow-type stalls). There is also an interesting neurone canopy idea that lights up when speakers stand below. We managed to catch up with SKINN and ask them: What would be your message for the public to engage with the scheme? Please come down! Bring on board your project ideas. We welcome anyone for help, contribution, dialogue and experimentation. Do you think this could be a catalyst for unused council space across the city? Yes, we think this sets a good precedent for other sites in the city. The Council have been supportive of the idea. They are letting us have the land for three years on a pepper-corn rate and they also welcomed the idea of repeating the project elsewhere. What are the long-term plans? An office development is possible. If there is no commercial interest in the site after three years or if there is high local interest in the scheme, then the site could be transformed into a long-term community asset for creative use. )

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