Park Hill: Looking Back, Moving Forward

Nick Bax, Human Studio

I like it because you can look at the city quite objectively from up here.

What was it like moving in as the first commercial business back in 2013?
Only the first block was inhabited, so I think there were around 70 people here; whereas now there are probably 500 or so. We had three years of drilling and fitting out going on around us – just noise really. But we always had faith that this place would become more of a destination and that seems to be coming to fruition.

What gave you that faith?
I think partly Urban Splash’s track record, although they couldn’t have picked a worse time to try and develop this building. They’d literally started work on it as a shell when the recession hit, and lots of people then thought it wouldn’t get done. But it did. Today clients who’ve lived and worked in the city for decades will come and visit us and it’s the first time they’ve ever been to Park Hill.

Strange, isn’t it? It’s somewhere that people have always looked at from afar and judged, but many haven’t actually stepped inside.
Yeah, it’s quite literally the over side of the tracks. You’ve got the tram tracks, the train line, a busy dual carriageway; you have to be quite determined to get here. People will tend to focus their opinions on how it looks from the outside, rather than what you can see when you’re inside and looking out – it’s a stunning view of the city and a very different one to what we’re used to. I like it because you can look at the city quite objectively from up here. I also think people are surprised by how quiet and peaceful it can up here given the proximity to the city centre.

“I think the biggest misconception for me is that people blame the building for the place and communities falling apart.”

With that in mind, would you say the building lends itself to housing creative industries?
It’s an interesting point, because it didn’t set out to be a new creative quarter or anything. But it’s not for everyone, this place, and I think it can particularly appeal to people with a bit of knowledge of art or design history and maybe that’s why a number of the companies who’ve moved here are involved in creative or digital practice. It becomes part of your DNA and you have to be on-board with the place. For example, Warp Records moving here just makes perfect sense to me.

As a business, how do you fit into the community?
The community is good. We’ll see and speak to people in the communal spaces all the time. When we moved in we had a party downstairs and about 200 people, a few of them residents, came down to join us. It will always be hard to replicate the community bonds that they had here in the 60/70s – old neighbours were literally rehoused together with floors named after their old streets – but it’s a friendly atmosphere certainly. We’ve got a café now, which is a good chance to see other neighbours and businesses more regularly.

What are the common misconceptions about Park Hill you’ve noticed?
I think the biggest misconception for me is that people blame the building for the place and communities falling apart. Even on a national scale, these sorts of buildings were seen to be a problem. Yes, it wasn’t looked after properly, but something I know from growing up in a mining village during the 80s is the effect of the government encouraging people to buy their council homes. It led people to think that: A) living in council-owned property was undesirable; and B) you needed to have a home with a nice garden – definitely not a flat – to be seen as successful. Another misconception with Park Hill is that it’s like a tower block inside, but the space on the decks and “streets in the sky” design means it’s spacious and airy. Planners didn’t really see how all our cities were going to grow; they must have thought people were all going to flock to the countryside or the woods. High-rise living is hugely important for growing cities.

Next: Raymond Kinsella, Regional Manager at Great Places Housing Group

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