[ssf] The Squatting of Pisgah House

worldwarfree at riseup.net worldwarfree at riseup.net
Tue Oct 6 18:46:39 BST 2009

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
upon it, 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

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. The 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

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}







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