These first person stories came out of an excercise undertaken in studio, that was unbelievably helpful in isolating the process of my scenario. The main explanatory actors are The Mechanic and, mainly, The Council Officer. Whilst this post is simply a lot of text, it has been absolutely paramount for me to develop my project and thought processes, and isolate documents yet to be produced
Establishing how a group of mechanics change the dynamic of an area
The Council Officer
Meet the council officer who established the framework which allowed the project to happen
One of the scoundrels who stole a table and,unbeknownst to him, start a project. (I’ve tried to write this an Irvine Welsh-esque style of prose… it seemed to fit)
A local little cat whose sole concern is playing on the ort, and who represents a group of users who are underappreciated in 99% of architectural schemes.
My job’s alright at the Bodyworks, but one thing that I never had to worry about 10 years since was smoking. I can’t smoke on site and I’ve got into some trouble about it a few months back, so I’ve took to walking a little circuit every lunchtime. It’s not bad if my mate comes with me as well. One day on our walk, we caught a glimpse of a bench that we’ve never seen before, thought it was a strange place for a pub bench but never really gave a second thought about where it came from.
We went and sat down for a cig and a coffee in this weird little place, completely covered by trees and hidden, nice little place it was, especially to get away for a bit. Even when nippers are playing on it and playing catch etc. it’s still alright to go for our breaks, it’s a big enough space and we’d spoke to one or two of them now and again. One bit of a shame it’s that there’s litter left by teenagers etc, bit it is what it is I suppose, it seems to come and go so maybe someone does come and tidy it up every now and again?
We tended to go every day weather dependent, it’s a bit of a walk to sit in a semi-sheltered space when it’s banging it down, so eventually people started asking where we were going during our lunch times, so we took a couple of others there. People really responded to having a nice space to have some time away from work, to the point that there was eventually different people going at different lunch hours; it ended up like a chuffing circus at times!
Seeing that plenty of people inside and outside of the business use the ort, me and a few others got their heads together and got in touch with Sheffield City Council to see if there was any way to get some better furniture; presumably its council land?
The council officer responded pretty quickly for the council reckoning, and seemed really enthusiastic about trying to help; as luck would have it in stories such as this, he had recently set up an initiative that takes advantage of Corporate Social Responsibility, and has set up a framework of construction consultants which includes Architects, interior designers, landscapers and contractors. Rather than encouraging financial donations to a chosen charity, he has assembled the framework so that practices would be asked to donate their skills and time to small design projects all over the city; little charity refurbishments, consulting with planning applications etc. Good shout if you ask me, might see more areas getting a bit of TLC rather than sodding student flats and god-awful hotels..
He responded by asking if we would have him for the afternoon, showing him the site and saying how we use it. We met him over lunch and walked him the same way we walked, to an empty bit of grass really. The council officer said he would develop a brief, with us lot as a key stakeholder group, I think he called us, and table it at the next framework meeting, in a month or so.
We kept using the space, never really thinking we’d hear anything back. An email came through 9 weeks later asking if the selected Architects (who put their name forward straight away as they have landscape architectural experience). As it is a CSR based initiative, there is no Tender process unless there are competing bids. In this instance, being such a small and non-traditional opportunity, only one practice stepped forward.
The director of the company (a small band of around 8 staff), the project Architect and an assistant (who really was there to record, photograph and take minutes) showed up and also took a look around the site. Both before and after, they sat around a small table in the bodyworks and discussed the lack of seating, what that single table provides, and if there could be anything else.
The Architects came back with drawings to show us, asking if their proposals (which involved seating some nice planting that ran up the side of the cliff face) was to our liking.
The project seemed to go rather quiet for a couple of months, then one afternoon, men in high vis jackets were seen jumping out of a flatbed, carrying building materials to the ort. All of the materials were being taken from existing building sites, which we liked, as it makes it feel local and down to earth. Now, its used by everybody; kids climb up this timber thing and we sit on nice warm brick and concrete sits, or on this platform things and any level we want; they’ve made it so we can get up the cliff as well…might be childish but I like it! There’s more birds and cats and I’ve even spied a few squirrels knocking about as well… not sure how they’ve managed that but wildlife has really improved.
THE COUNCIL OFFICER
Finishing my MSc in Planning was a turning point for me. I finally managed to get myself a job looking at huge resi developments in Manchester, something I’d wanted since I graduated … until I realised just how much of a slog it is having to oppose an army of Architects and lawyers pushing for developments that, regardless of my opinions, were always going to go through because they’d pump hundreds of millions of pounds into an area. The bureaucracy of the whole system of major developments really got me down after a few years of burying my head in oppositions, so when my better half proposed moving to Sheffield, I jumped at the chance.
I made the move hoping to find a new, smaller scale planning officer position. I started working for Sheffield City Council, considering retrospective planning applications, extensions and advertisement displays in conservation areas, that sort of thing. It was simple work, I never worried about having to take my work home with me, it was ideal.
After a couple of years, I became a key member of the office and asked my boss if I could start expanding my responsibilities (hoping it would lead to a discussion about a salary raise in my next appraisal). He said to me that he’d had something thrown across his desk about developing tiny sites across Sheffield, using local Architects and contractors exclusively. He was getting on into his mid 60’s and told me he didn’t have the time to consider it (a lie if ever I’ve heard one, the guy sits on his arse drinking tea and doing online crosswords from 9 until 5, occasionally zooming into a site plan to make himself think he’s grafting), and handed me the brief.
So, I’d been tasked to develop an initiative of revitalising Sheffield’s unwanted spaces; an awesome opportunity to show that I’m worth a raise…but seriously, after a couple of years of doing conservation work and smaller schemes, I’d developed a bit of adoration for Sheffield, and thought that this sort of scheme would be genuinely fulfilling.
I thought the best way to get small site developments identified was to make the public aware; at the end of the day it’s alright for us to select sites in the office but we don’t walk past these places and see how people use them. I made a little flyer and emailed it, distributed it and uploaded it to the SCC website, that told people how to get in touch regarding any sites they’re showing interests in.
So, we had a tool to negotiate between the public and local authority. The next thing was to establish a system of getting Architects involved, to set up a framework of consultants and suppliers who would be interested. The problem with that is, with sites and projects of this kind, no business will want to get involved to level that will be required of them – no Architect is going to spend thousands in resourced time arbitrarily.
The good thing about construction companies is that they tend have a Corporate Social Responsibility policy, so they must do something charitable; be it a donation, advertisements or we’ve seen a few run the Plusnet Half and raise money that way. Would they be will willing to donate time and skills?
Turns out, yes, they would. I ran the framework a bit like an OJEU process; where I’d upload sites and key stakeholder groups, and design teams would get in touch if they’re interested. Contractors never really bother until they’ve seen a scheme, but we’ve had a great response rate from Architects and Landscape Architects, and procurement and appointment have been relatively straightforward due to the size of the schemes. If two firms fancied the scheme, it would have to work on a bid-like submission, where they drew up a design and presented it to the end client…luckily we’ve only had one of those situations and it was dealt with harmoniously.
The framework had been set up for about a year, and we’d done a couple of landscape schemes and a charity feasibility study, when a group from Norton Hammer got in touch about getting some street furniture for a bit of land where they’d found a table and started using it. The council gets loads of requests like this which, honestly, normally go unnoticed, but because of the site being interesting, I got the email forwarded to me.
I went down the Little London Bodyworks, I think it’s called, to meet the guys who had been using the site and asked them to show me around one lunchtime. I loved it, it’s this little, basically, patch of grass that feels hugged by this huge cliff and hidden away by trees. The lads said it was a nice retreat from work for an hour and I can see why. In terms of planning it should be pretty straightforward as long as we look at a low-key design; nothing overly illuminated or anything that could wind up local residents.
I sat down with the stakeholder group and came up with a sketch brief; a few ideas about how they use the site, what they’d like to see it used for and any extraneous information (other observations etc), and after pairing this with a site plan, I uploaded it to the framework network.
Honestly, I think my excitement got the better of me because it seemed to take forever for a practice to get in touch. They were a local interdisciplinary firm with landscape design experience. There must have only been 7 or 8 of them in the entire office, but they seemed excited to get involved, and, coming off the back of a recently designed large university scheme, could afford to spend a couple of grand on the CSR obligations.
After they’d been to site and had a stakeholder engagement meeting, they came back to the office to discuss their ideas and first impressions with me.
They agreed with the idea of a low-key design, and had the great idea of being ‘conceptually adherent’ in the procurement of material packages. I informed them that the contractors who going to put in an expression of interest would be in the same situation as them, within a CSR framework. As luck would have it, one of the contractors who we invited to be part of the framework has been developing the Athol Road site, a 2 minute walk from the new site! He’s promised to donate excess materials and use his supply chain to acquire the rest.
I consulted with the Architects during their design process and helped the contractor with the logistical issues that could arise in terms of planning, which it sailed through with flying colours.
That was it for me for a couple of months after that. I picked up a lot of other work during the construction process so I couldn’t follow it through, but I was invited to the “handover”, if such a word can be applied to this sort of scheme. I’ve got to say, I was a bit blown away. Re-used brick seating and platforms, crib wall details forming climbing frames in case kids wanted to use it, planting that was pet-friendly and the cliff had spaces to sit and lounge in…all external, with a little sheltered area. It could really do a lot of good to that area, being very useful to everybody without needing to shout about itself… a tiny, lo-fi piece of design that makes me glad I work for Sheffield City Council.
After’ Workers’ got shut darn a few month’ since, it’s turned into a proper mess; ‘back’s overgrown and there’s nobody really showing any interest in buying it. It’s a shame, and all, because they used to have a decent pint on and it was a good little local. We walked past it, me and our lad, a week or so before we took that stuff, went just for a ganders round back. Laddo spied an old bench that they’d used as a sort of beer garden that was just sat there… so we thought well, we’re after a bit of garden furniture to put us on and we’d put a few quid over bar in ‘us time hadn’t we?
We went back for it later that week, at night obviously…It weren’t anything bad or illegal or owt… I don’t think… but at end of day people are still gonna think tha’s a bit shifty carrying this massive table round through middle of day. So, we got some black gear on and went and picked this bench thing up…
It was quiet that night, freezing and all, so there weren’t many people knocking about at all, we must’ve seen 3 kids coming up Auckley road and that’s abart it at all night.
We were gonna drop darn that proper steep hill between them houses but we thought it’s a risk running round ‘industrial estate with all’ CCTV knocking about and that, so we went along Smithywood and turned darn Auckley Road. I know there’s cameras ont’ garages but they aim straight at doors and you can’t really see ‘other side of road…I think. There’s barely any streetlights that way either, ideal.
Na, carrying a table, downhill or not, is a swine of a job. By ‘time we’d got to ‘bottom of Auckley we were absolutely knackered, so we slung ‘table in this grassy bit of land that’s hidden by trees and reeds and stuff and went home.
We had every intention of picking it up and taking it back to ours, but seeing people use it and stuff we couldn’t take it…not like us but we’d feel proper bad.
When we walked through a couple of months later we saw some blokes in visi’s taking some building gear over to that scrap of land…seems pointless to me, all they seem to build these days are shite little flats and I’d doubt tha can fit owt more than a table on it anyways… I’ve not been back recently but I might have a wander through next time I’m round there, see what they’ve done on it…
Never know, they might have left some chairs to go with the table…
I like to go for a wander when the big swinging things are opened and I can get into the grassy part of where I live… I don’t go for too long but I’ve had a favourite place to go for ages, it’s perfect for chasing some birds with my mates from the other places where big people have their beds. This place I’m talking about is on a corner of where the other big people live (not my big people) and it is great! There’s long grass that I like to hide in and loads of cliffs and trees to run around.
Sometimes these huge metal boxes come flying up this long hard ground, not on our nice soft ground, and it makes the birds fly away so we can’t chase them…I don’t like those boxes. Other times there are big people who aren’t as big as other big people on the nice place, drinking from these strange metal tubes and playing a strange version of chase the toy… I think they try to be friendly but me and my friends are wary of them so we tend to run back home when we see them.
One day when it was warm I went down to the nice place, there was a big wooden thing that some of the big people sit on. As everybody knows, us cats love square things, so we started to lay together in the middle of the big wooden sit on (or sometimes beneath it if the weather isn’t very good).
I was mad when some big people in shiny green fur covers came and took it away, but we kept going there and playing anyway. I tried to read what the fur covers said on them but if its not the same as what is on the Whiskas box that Mr and Mrs Big People get my food from I struggle. When we all tried to go for a closer look, the big people came down to our level and let us rub up against them; we wanted to leave a happy scent on them in case they came back, hopefully with treats!
Eventually, a group of the big people started to bring blocky looking things and what looked like massive scratching posts in their paws and slam them into the soft grass of our nice place…I didn’t like that, and I wandered elsewhere for a couple of weeks.
When I finally plucked up the courage to go back (when there were no big people or scary metal boxes around) I found an even nicer nice place! The big people had left us climbing frames and scratching posts and little holes to sleep in! I think the big people in the green fur covers thought of us, because they had put some tasty plants in the ground for us to nibble on.
There are more big people coming for a wander away from their big people now, and we have learned to share our nice place with them. They come and feed us strange food and stroke us.