The Squatting of Pisgah House..

The Squatting of Pisgah House (Pisgah House Road) at the top end of Hoole Rd is not welcomed by all Anarchists in Sheffield, although I very much agree with the aims and objectives of re-using empty buildings in a time of a housing crisis, an increase in Homelessness and other social problems here in Sheffield. No 73 West Street is empty along with many other empties but I ponder: Why Pisgah House? Given the fact there is such a wide choice here in Sheffield, could it be the fact of its location is in Broomhill, the facts can not be ignored that this area has a high population of students whom are white and middle class, the same demographic of those involved?

Why not an empty within a working class area and community such as Pitsmoor where some of those involved will no doubt reside, is the fact they understand there are defecating on those who are the residents of Broomhill, at the end when it comes to an end, some of those who live here are due to reasons of poverty or choice are nothing but cannon fodder for those involved. Now before it is said, would you welcome those involved into an empty in your community? If yes, then invite them to say Rawmarsh or Broomhall, somehow we doubt the parasites involved in the occupation of Pisgah House, they’re the enemy of the working class, some of us are waiting in the shadows for the day of their fall, meantime I along with others shall continue to be critical of their actions and what they stand for as what they offer is nothing more than the reform of capitalism .

On Wednesday 28 June 2006 the former Matilda Social Centre was evicted, no resistance was given the night before extensive damage was done to the building in the form of people painting on walls, the whole place was vacated in an utter state. Given Sheffield City’s councils (the former owners) decision not to put out 111 Matilda Street to public tender and instead to generously accept Sheffield Hallam University’s lower offer than the one made by the long term tenant – Adrenaline Studios, and given the subsequent profitable sale of the property to Yorkshire Forward who have tasked Creative Sheffield with the development of the site (rumours have it the land has been part sold to Sainsburys), Adrenaline Studios are still in occupation of  111 Matilda Street and Yorkshire Forward are now in the process of getting them evicted.

The failing of  Matilda Social Centre is the very folly of the politics of those involved with the the Squatting of Pisgah House, I remember all too well the events leading to the end of Matilda, the fact when Crookesmoor House was re-occupied – the first occupation being in 1991 when Sheffield University bought it off Sheffield Methodist to turn it into a student halls of residence, it become vacant as, the now Bankrupt Merlin Estates bought to turn it into luxury flats. Sheffield University illegally evicted the sole person living there, on the same night an approach was made to seek accommodation at the Squatted flats on Catherine Street being used to house asylum seekers…

It was refused and weeks following they were  illegally evicted by Arches Housing, more efforts was made to re-house the asylum seekers, there was little if no support from some of those now involved Pisgah House, what needs to be asked in a housing crisis is why is this space not being used to help those in need of social housing here in Sheffield?

The Background to Pisgah House.

Pisgah House is a Grade II listed residence constructed in the 1820’s, tucked away in a quiet backwater (Pisgah House Road) at the top end of Hoole Rd. It is next door to the Etruria House Hotel, which is also a listed building. Pisgah House has a fine 2-story coach house which is itself a listed building.

The rear garden of Pisgah House is part of the Botanic Garden on the Tapton Experimental Gardens site. It houses a significant portion of the plant collection. When the Tapton site is redeveloped, whatever public open space remains on the site will adjoin Pisgah House’s garden. To see clearly how these elements fit together, you can download a diagram of the entire site here.

What is it?

Founded in 1951, this botanic garden contains more than 2000 species of plants and has provided an experimental centre for Sheffield University’s department of plant sciences. The garden is established in grounds that form part of the historic landscape around Hallamgate House (built circa 1780, now demolished), Tapton Elms (now renamed Hadow House) and Pisgah House (the oldest listed residence still standing in Broomhill). The garden contains a number of built structures including a ha-ha, a Victorian walled ornamental garden and a pond, in addition to many fine mature trees. The University want to sell the site to developers who plan to demolish many of the existing structures and build a housing estate, along with a larger development on the site of the Tapton Halls of Residence on the adjoining land.

Where is it?

Main entrance is at number 26 Taptonville Road, towards the top end of Taptonville Road, but the garden also has a second entrance from Hoole Road to the rear. The total land area of the garden is around 1 hectare (2.5 acres). Few people in the community know about it because it has rarely been open to the public. This photogallery gives some impression of what is behind that wall, the real thing is even better…

Why save it?

It occupies such a sensitive site in the heart of our conservation area, and has importance as part of the historic landscape pre-dating (and contemporary with) the development of Broomhill;

It provides amenity for the surrounding houses, and an important habitat for birds, bats, rare newts and other wildlife, in addition to its unique plant collection;

Broomhill is desperately short of public green space and the loss of such a good potential public garden in the centre of our community would be a tragic missed opportunity;

Broomhill has suffered many detrimental changes to our local environment as a result of University expansion: surely the University could give something back by working with the community to conserve this garden?

The land in question was originally the garden of Tapton Elms, a fine house now owned by the University of Sheffield that was built by Alderman John Hobson and his wife Thyrza in 1853.  Alderman Hobson and his wife had several children.  Their  second child, called Albert, who continued to live at Tapton Elms after his parents died, was awarded a knighthood around the turn of the century.  He also served as Lord Mayor, Master Cutler and president of the Chamber of Commerce nationally and locally, and sat on the council of Sheffield University.

The general lay-out of the ‘Secret Garden’, as it is known , from old maps.  There was an informal lawned area immediately in front of the house and a formal walled garden beyond that.  Many of the original features of the walled garden still remain. The residents of Broomhall proposal, which was supported by the 1750 people who signed a petition, is to re-create the original gardens and open them as a small public park?.

This would showcase the time when Sheffield was becoming one of the industrial powerhouses of the world and some of the foundations for the city we have today were laid.  Among the legacies of that time are the houses and gardens built by successful businessmen (in the days before Ferraris and helicopters), at least partly to show off their wealth.  Re-creating the gardens The residents of Broomhall propose would place Tapton Elms once again in its original garden setting.  It is proposed that the house itself should be converted into apartments, and The residents of Broomhall have no objection to that.

John Hobson, who might he be then?

John Hobson was in fact responsible for the development of much of Taptonville Road, where these gardens are situated, and it was the view up the road that prompted John Betjeman to describe Broomhill as ‘the prettiest suburb in England’ back in the 1960s.

Another reason for the proposal is that Broomhill is identified in the current Unitary Development Plan as being extremely short of public open space.  Restoring the gardens of Tapton Elms would also address that problem to some extent.  We see no other opportunity to do so, given that Broomhill is so densely developed now and almost all land of any size is also owned by the University.

The residants of Broomhall have no general objection to the proposed development on the northern part of the site accessed from Crookes Road.  There are concerns from local residents about privacy and over-looking, but The residents of Broomhall generally welcome the redevelopment of Tapton Hall of Residence.

However, they disagree very strongly with almost every aspect of the planning officer’s report where it deals with the southern part of the site, known as the experimental gardens.  It ignores or dismisses without proper justification important planning reasons why this part of the site should not be developed.

Here a few examples.

Sheffield Unitary Development Plan policy BE5 says:  ‘Designs should take full advantage of the site’s natural and built features’.  The proposals for the experimental gardens would destroy one of only three walled gardens in Sheffield – this one dating back some 150 years – as well as a line of trees that are marked on a map dated 1893 and have for many years been a major feature of this street.  The recent appraisal of the Broomhill Conservation Area carried out by the City Council specifically notes the need to preserve the vistas that were one of the main reasons why the conservation area was declared in the first place.

Sheffield Unitary Development Plan policy BE15 says the City Council will preserve or enhance buildings and areas of special architectural or historic interest that are an important part of Sheffield’s heritage and will not permit developments in these places.   According to the officer’s report, this policy would be met by demolishing the walled garden that used to belong to one of the city’s most prominent citizens and felling a stand of 100 year old trees.

Sheffield Unitary Development Plan policy BE21 relates to historic parks and gardens.  Because the application area does not contain a listed historic park or garden the officer’s report describes this section of Sheffield Unitary Development Plan policy as ‘not relevant’.  The walled garden of Tapton Elms is not listed now – largely because so few people have known of its existence — but the Sheffield Conservation Advisory Group has recommended  that it should be listed and eminent figures such as the Professor of Landscape History at Sheffield Hallam University supports this view.  But it is not listed – so according to the officer’s report it is justifiable to destroy it.  A remarkable conclusion!

The residents of Broomhall walked round the Tapton site with several members of this Planning Board on a grey October day.  The trees were losing their leaves.  Some of the plant beds in the experimental gardens had already been stripped.  The glass houses and laboratories, never attractive, are looking at their worst.  It would be easy to think that anything would be more attractive than what is there now.

From Lyceum Theatre 30 years ago.

They was reminded of the Lyceum Theatre 30 years ago, then owned by a private company.  It was run down and seemed to have no future.  The owners wanted to demolish it, so they could sell the site to a developer.  It is hard to believe now, but the City Council supported demolition.  Today the Lyceum Theatre is a focal point in Sheffield, giving pleasure to tens of thousands of people every year and recognised as an important asset for the city.

The same for Aizlewood’s Mill on Nursery Street. Some 20 years ago Mike Bower former council leader for Labour showed some people round the building, which had been abandoned.  It was derelict (could be where we get the urban exploration bug from).  A dead cat was lying on a pile of old sacks on the top floor.  Rain was coming through the roof.  No-one else was interested in it.  The easiest course would have been to knock it down and clear the site.  But Mike Bower and others saw the potential, got some funding and today it is an interesting and useful part of Sheffield’s heritage.

The walled garden of Tapton Elms

Could be the same.  But instead the applicants Miller Homes was proposing to build 22 houses on there. Elsewhere on the site there would be 69 apartments and 24 houses – The  Broomhill residents have no objection to these.  But for the sake of 22 more houses, the applicants wanted to destroy the garden and fell the trees next to it.

You might well wonder if we, the Broomhill residents, could be trusted to realise that potential.  BANG are one of the oldest community associations in the city –  they have been in existence for 35 years.  Smaller communities in Broomhall and Whirlow have successful restored larger areas of land than we are talking about, and they have done so without spending large sums of money.  Less than £50,000 in both cases have transformed Lynwood and Whinfell gardens for the benefit of Sheffield citizens, from Endcliff Park to Western Park The Botanical Gardens and Norfolk Park it has been community’s that have seen there regeneration, re introduceing them to the next generation of working class these places was built for. So, unlike the Miller Homes application, the proposal meets the requirements of the Sheffield Unitary Development Plan, would add to Sheffield’s cultural heritage and is a practical, achievable project.

From the planning application being refused.

The  Broomhill residents in there action cost  Sheffield University an estimated 11 Million Pounds in 2010 they plan to sell  Pisgah House The residents of Broomhall are looking to buy Pisgah House

This is of course playing capitalism at it,s own game. Though the main reason to buy Pisgah House is to conserve the gardens, the house itself and the coach house could have a wide range of uses that would provide a return on investment. For example; as community office and meeting space (much in need) an housing co-op; these are just a few ideas that spring to mind when The  Broomhill residents was organising against the plans of Sheffield University, where was The Sheffield Anarchist Federation then?.

Alternatively, the community could retain ownership of the major part of the garden and use it for an organic food garden? selling the food it producers at cost to those on a low income, the unemployed? some could be donated for free to projects such as the Archer Project a homeless person project, or Assist a project helping those seek Asylum here in Sheffield?.

Such a Cooperative organic food garden.

Could re-sell Pisgah House for family occupation. Either way, the Pisgah Partners Project would operate either as a business or a co-operative, no different to a Housing co-op such as Brambles in Pitsmoor? This would ensure that the costs of maintaining and running the estate are met in full, the could be used  with returns on investment to shareholders and partners would be able to sell their shares, though as with any cooperative venture, all shareholders would have a say in important decisions and transactions likewise any profits from organic food garden be given back to Pisgah Partners Project and for wider community projects as a chartable donation .

There are many sources of grant and loan funding available to help top up the funds where further help can be raised for community investors. For example, the Architectural Heritage Fund provides loans for exactly this kind of project. Townscape Heritage Initiative provides grants to regenerate buildings and conservation areas at risk. So we do not need to find all the money ourselves, just a big enough portion to show that we are serious and worthy of financial support.

We have no objection of the social centre in principle.

As an non-hierarchical, anti-capitalist space based on a number of core principles which reflect the world its organisers want to see: co-operation and mutual aid, openness and inclusion, voluntary participation and shared responsibility, we could not disagree with this,

“we’ve established this space for people to openly discuss and learn from each other about issues of social and environmental justice, because there’s a chronic lack of public space in which people can come together and freely and genuinely talk about the things they are concerned about, and take action together to change them. The only real way of addressing the problems of our society is for us all to realise the power we possess when we act co-operatively, and helping people to make that realisation is one of our main goals in setting up this social centre”.

Those involved are from active housing co-ops, live in shared housing, are active in projects such as Climate Camp and often socialise together at free parties, giving them the opportunity to act co-operatively, yes there’s a chronic lack of public space in which people can come together and freely and genuinely talk about the things they are concerned about but such spaces will by there nature exclude people, it also needs to be asked why Pisgah House was chosen?

The crass statement of Sheffield Anarchist Federation needs challenging.

“Since then, we’ve had a very active branch of the Anarchist Federation engaged in all kinds of social struggles, e.g. our recent resistance against Tesco, a cool paper the Fargate Speaker, but we haven’t had a place for folk to get together and agitate until now!”

The  resistance against Tesco was the people of Commonside, it was not there victory alone, they was neither involved in the resistance to Sheffield University and there plans for The walled garden of Tapton Elms, it is the same with all vanguards and political organisations, they proclaim to be the vanguard of  resistance, we openly invite Sheffield Anarchist Federation to see  social struggles in action, lets plan a mass litter pick at Gleadless Valley?, come with us to see the planned destruction of the lower don valley, unlike The Broomhill residents they do not have the same access, or privileges they have but there very much in need of some social resistance, we know a local pub owned by Punch Taverns with an application to turn it into four homes, the former Miners Arms was very much a  public space in which people did come together and freely and genuinely talk about the things they are concerned about, and take action together to change them now closed, this is the story across Sheffield and we might disagree with The Broomhill residents as Anarchist but at least there taking action to save a part of Sheffield’s heritage.

It is easy for people to be critical of others agreed, not all Anarchist agree with The Squatting of Pisgah House, we see it as just self-interest it remains a fact this space is not open for all, neither is it welcoming for all despite the good intentions of those involved, indeed we know and work with some of those who are involved but we remain critical of their actions, as an active anarchist I desire a free space where there are no rules imposed on those who might desire to be involved, such as non racist, non sexist, vegan only… how is this inclusive to the working class?

By their very nature they’re going to hold views, live a lifestyle we of course disagree with, but such rules will only exclude those it is proclaimed this space is for. No, the fact remains from my own direct experience of Matilda will inform me that this Social Centre is nothing different to what Matilda become, indeed when it was proposed to open the space for a soup kitchen for the Homeless of Sheffield it was very much disagreed with, often liberated food would go-to waste. At Matilda there was a full working space, to make a soup kitchen happen, instead the process of consensus decision making was often abused and people imposed what they wanted to happen on others, such as a free party objected week following week, in the end it was imposed on the wider community, the agreement was those who objected would have nothing to do with it.

Indeed on the night, a person fell through a window it took over 15 mins to seek help, it was agreed the space would be left clean and tidy,  a week following the gig collective and others had to clear up the mess left, from what I understand the very same people who left Matilda in that mess and the mess when it was evicted, are the same people involved with  Pisgah House this is why I find myself critical it is the same fucking  parasites, agreed this might seem harsh in its tone but it is born from direct experience of Matilda.

I doubt I would be even welcome, I have been told I might even be banned, so much for being inclusive? But the fact remains some anarchist in this city have no common unity with the likes of Sheffield Anarchist Federation nothing more than a vanguard of the working class, we have the same contempt and anger toward others involved and for the life of us can not work out why some friends feel this is a positive, the people you are involved with are those who fucked you over at Matilda much as they did  Adrenaline Studios and continue to do likewise of the working class.

{notes/research from}


Filed under The Squatting of Pisgah House..

6 responses to “The Squatting of Pisgah House..

  1. Pingback: The Squatting of Pisgah House.. What did it acheve then? « moof

  2. Pingback: The Squatting of Pisgah House.. What did it acheve then? « moof

  3. Halifax lad

    “I desire a free space where there are no rules imposed on those who might desire to be involved, such as non racist, non sexist”

    So, what, you want a space that welcomes white-supremacists and misogynists? Do you not think that might alienate all women and all non-white people? Or dont they matter? Personally, i think racists and misogynists can fuck off, as all anarchists do.

    And why do you complain about Sheff AFs ‘vanguardism’, but then complain that the space wasnt done in a working class area? This makes no sense, especially after your assumption that pisgah was chosen because “this area has a high population of students whom are white and middle class, the same demographic of those involved”.

    So, they are being vanguardist because they squatted a building in the area where they live? And you think they would not have been vanguardist if they squatted a building where they DONT live, but where they had been assured there were plenty of working class people around?

    To be clear, the AF is totally against vanguardism, as you would know if you read anything they had published, ever. Or had talked to any of the Sheff lot. Or any other AF member. Or anyone thats met any AF member.

    Finally, can you define middle class? Is this actually a class relationship, or is this some bollocks about having an accent influenced by watching too much BBC?

  4. Matt Sheffield

    Who are you, and what the hell are you on about?
    You hate the fact it’s not in a more woking class area, ok fine, but empty buildings of such quality shouln’t be missed out no just because of the area they’re in.

    “they’re the enemy of the working class”
    I doubt you have any idea who was there in it’s duration as a social centre and so know nothing of their politics, and if you do and still stand by your statement you’re just wrong.

    “some of us are waiting in the shadows for the day of their fall”
    Good to see you’re active and doing something not just writing on shitty blogs and waiting in shadows, oh wait no that’s exactly what you’re doing. Least the setting up of a social centre itself is doing something productive.

    “nothing more than the reform of capitalism”
    This confirms that you know nothing of the people involved, seriously it’s so stupid I don’t know what to say in return as you’re just plain wrong and terribly misinformed.

  5. Leo

    “as an active anarchist I desire a free space where there are no rules imposed on those who might desire to be involved, such as non racist, non sexist, [edit] how is this inclusive to the working class?”

    Cos not all working class people are racist homophobic sexist white heterosexual men.

  6. Pola

    Actually after talking to a few involved, buildings in working-class areas were actually scouted and considered, however upon entry found that the utilities of that building was too done over for them to be able to fix it up.

    The group was composed of not only AF people, but people from other groups and most notably, non-aligned, but still political, anti-capitalist, and anti-authoritarian people. Most of these people lived in the West of Sheffield, which isn’t entirely comprised of ‘middle class’ areas, Sharrow being a clear and quick example where buildings were looked at and considered, keep in mind that social centres aren’t best situated in small houses, but work best when it’s in a sizeable building, which meant that the choices were reduced.

    Here is another example of some political blogger who thinks they know best, but where activism is the issue they limit it to slagging off people who are actually doing stuff, in their own communities, and not forcing it on others as vanguards would do, and that you suggested we did and then went on further to suggest that we should have done it in a more working class area.

    Keep posting on yer blog mate.

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