Stories from a self-managed suburb

Note: “Stories from a self-managed suburb” is a narrative based on the scenario and brief I’ve established so far through research of the site and precedence. It is an account of a fictional “actor” who engages in this scenario with the groups CADS (who have recently started running the Abbeydale Picture house), Climbing Works, Robert Sorby, Sheffield Antiques Quarter and other fictional actors based around the site of the Centenary Works. Through this narrative, I hoped to explore how a resident may be politicised by space, and tried to demonstrate a manifestation of the ideas of my research piece “Curating a resilient City”.

A couple of years ago we had a load of students down from one of the unis, who hung around the area for a while. One day they set up this, like, “pay-as-feel café”, or something hipster like that on that bit of land over there between Athol and Smithy Wood. It seemed a bit of a weird idea, but they had a barbeque going in the summer and I noticed my neighbour Gary was there. Gary owed me sixty quid and had been ducking my calls for weeks, so I popped in to check it out, and remind him to cough up, of course. Turns out it was a veggie barbeque though, so that was a bit crap, the halloumi was alright though. Anyways, I got talking to some of the students and they told me about this architecture project they were doing in the area and about how they wanted to turn this strip of unused land into a kind a public space for the community, like a community garden or something. I gave them my email and telt them I’d stop in a few weeks. Gary gave me back thirty quid and his new number too, promised I’d get the rest on Monday, so a canny decent day all in all. Nipped down to the shop afterwards and picked up a crate of Kronenbourg, enjoy it while I could before Brexit and all that, much better than that Carling stuff.

I gotta be honest, I left it about a month before I felt guilty and went back to check out what they were up to over there. It was a Sunday, so I had Josh with me, I have him for the weekends, I only stopped in because he noticed something going on and started asking questions. Josh is my son, he was eight at the time, so you know what they’re like, he constantly just wanted to be outdoors doing stuff. Yeah, so these students were there again, they’d started digging up this old bit of land, Carol from number thirty-two was there too. Josh loves Carol, she has a pug and he thinks it’s hilarious. Personally, I think they’re pretty ugly, weird things for dogs, but I’ve learned better than to argue with an eight-year-old about which animals are best, so I just roll with that and agree. I remember Carol telling me about this bit of land, it’d been empty and overgrown for years, some housing developer had gone bust after the brexit vote, so it’d been sat there empty, and these students had just decided to use it. She went on a bit about politics and these rules they were gunna use to make it a community asset or something, but I’m not really a political man, they’re all the same and they’re all useless if you ask me. Not that anyone does of course, but no one knows more about the blades, we’ve all got a thing right. Josh was pretty keen though, they gave him a shovel and we spent the morning there planting some carrots, just as well to be honest because I’d nothing planned and my gardens well too small to be doing anything in.

Josh, was really excited about the whole thing though, he’d get up early on the Sunday morning and jump on the bed ‘til he could go check his carrots, we ended planting a load of sweet pea too, a girl in Josh’s class had just grown some and he wanted to too. What he didn’t realise of course is that I was actually keeping them alive watering and weeding them on a Wednesday night after work, but hey, you gotta do, what you gotta do. I’d only ever grown cress before so I couldn’t believe it when it all came through, it was strangely satisfying, but I told myself I was doing it just for Josh. Laura picked up josh that weekend and he was showing off his carrots, even she looked impressed for a minute. For that moment, it was like the good old days, it’s pretty hard to argue about growing vegetables, even with your ex-wife. Those students were finishing up at this point, and they threw an architecture show event thing in a courtyard of one of the works buildings, they invited all us lot from the houses down too and suggested we set up a little market. Carol from number thirty two was well keen and I stopped in for an hour to help, I owed her one because she’d looked after Josh for a few hours the weekend before. To be honest the actual market was a bit of car crash, it poured it down, but it was a funny day and the students had brought down a load of beers. I met this guy called Sam, who it turned out ran the climbing centre. I’d never been in before but he offered to show me and Josh the ropes sometime, we added each other on Facebook and told me to message him when I was stopping by.

We kept on growing a few little bits here and there, Carol from number thirty two had drummed up a bit of support with our other neighbours so there were a few more plots going now, Sam from the climbing centre had one too, he popped over on his lunch. It’s funny, I’d never actually met half of the people on the street ‘til we started this, you take for granted that that’s normal, but when you think about it, it’s pretty weird really, why don’t you talk to your neighbours? Sam heard about how the thing got started and called the students back, it had just gone autumn so they were back at uni now, but some of them had graduated and were working in local architecture firms and stuff. He reckoned they’d never really had the space for a decent caf in the climbing place so they re-set up this pay as you feel thing again and it became an unofficial caf for the climbing works on our little garden. It was, like, a social enterprise or something and they put a certain amount of money per month into a bucket for us to use on the garden as a group. We ended up spending the first bit on a load of coloured paints and Josh and a few of the other kids painted us a big sign along the wall.

Carol, set us up a facebook group, and knocked on all the doors in the area getting emails and stuff, she set up some kind of residents association type group and kept the market going. Laura reckons it was only because she got turned down as councillor. She applied for labour I think, or the liberal thingys maybe, but they picked someone else instead, because she didn’t like the leader of that party, or she liked him too much? I can never remember. But that doesn’t matter because she did a good job setting us up this group and she was voted in as the first chair, not that many people voted or anyone else stood. She doesn’t run the market now though, John from up on Chesterfield Road does that. He’s retired and seems to know what he’s doing so that’s good, he used to be head over at Meersbrook.

The old cinema on Abbeydale, which has a great bar below it, got bought a while back too, or taken over or something, an artist group from around Kelham Island. They knew some of the students who were running this caf and came down to check it out too. Carol met up with them and they were talking about setting up an urban hackspace, so Carol convinced them to open up in the area. I was a bit concerned that I was gunna end up in trouble with MI5 or something so I stayed well out of that at first, until one of them showed me the page Ikea Hacks and explained it was a different kind of hacking. Apparently, this thing was funded by the old Sorby timber factory and a load of art places from the antique quarter, most of us from the gardens ended up buying shares too and Sam from the climbing centre bought loads and encouraged visitors to one of the competitions at his climbing centre chip in. We got it built though and so, that’s what you see here.

It wasn’t like this when they opened it though. We keep adding on and changing it, it must be about five times the size and at least half as ugly now. It’s always busy though, Newfield school had their funding cut for DT so, John went over all the paperwork and set up an after-school thing here, Sorby help out too, they’ve managed to lure a couple of the GCSE kids in for work experience and apprenticeship things too according to John, bette rpay than a paper-round and if they’re any good they get offered a job afterwards.

I built my first real thing a few weeks ago at the hackspace. I mean I’d done little bits here and there. But josh kicked a football at the TV stand and broke a leg a a few weeks ago, and I managed to build a respectable(ish) new one. It’s just like a cheap mdf thing that we put on the laser cutter, but its probably still better than the old one. I got it off freecycle and always hated it. John built a little shed thing for his patch of the garden too, now that was impressive, but he did have a fair bit of help from the architecture students.

Because we all bought a load of shares in the hackspace, we got a little pay out at Christmas and managed to pool the money for the residents group, they’d made some money selling stuff on to businesses in the antiques quarter. The council also awarded us a grant from a local innovation fund or something, I’m not sure how much we got though. So we’re looking at moving the caf into the old working mens club as a pop up because the garden space is pretty much full now. The council own it at the minute and noone wants to buy it so they’re doing us an offer. We’re going to run the residents association meetings from there too, because there’s getting too many of us for Carols living room now. The artists group who opened the hackspace thing have just bought a load of old garages next to it too. They want to turn them into studios and stuff, not sure how that’ll work but apparently they want the artists to go wild and turn it into a crazy creative hub so that could be interesting, it’ll be nice to have a bit more colour and stuff going on there and have something else to check in on when i go tend the garden.

Carol is up for reelection next week and I’m standing against her. I thought it would be awkward but she’s really excited about the whole thing. John is standing with me as a co-chair on a platform of turning Norton Hammer into a republic, he’s a bit mad but he’s such a great laugh that I’m willing to go along with it. He’s always joked about being the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire, but last week he put up a giant flag, which he’d got Josh to paint at the gardens, so we’ll see.


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