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An open letter and plea to Sheffield regarding Shiregreen WMC


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Sheffield History

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An Open Letter and Plea to the People of Sheffield

RE: The Demolition of the Shiregreen Working Mens Club, Home of The Full Monty

 

To whom it may concern, 

 

Since lockdown began there have been many loud and virulent injustices in this country, but this is the story of one you may not be aware of, which has been fought quietly and defiantly behind closed doors.

 

This is about losing the battle, but winning the war. And to do that, we need your help...

 

Shiregreen Working Mens Club is almost 100 years old, and was the iconic location for 1997 film The Full Monty’s famous ‘big reveal’ closing scenes: packed with female extras, film crew, and of course Robert Carlyle and co. More importantly though, the club was also a thriving hub for the people of Shiregreen and beyond, with its bustling pub and back room home to everything from charity events to birthday parties.

 

The club closed in 2018 after some financial challenges brought on by difficult freehold deals in the 1990s, even though before its closure there were still 450 active members. The site has since, unsurprisingly, been targeted by developers. Eyre Investments are the current owners and recently applied for planning permission to demolish the club and build accommodation on the land.

 

On hearing this news, and responding to a petition to save the club which garnered almost 1500 signatures from local people, a collective of individuals from the arts and creative industries in Sheffield banded together to fight back. Among us are professional producers, fundraisers, theatre-makers, designers, and production managers, and for several months we have worked alongside Shiregreen-based community organisers, including local councillors and the former landlady of the club. We came together to propose an alternative future for the building, which would mean keeping it’s legacy as an iconic pub and club but also utilising the facilities to serve the community in new and exciting ways once more, with a programme of events and social activities. Inspired by theatre company Slung Low's work at the Holbeck in Leeds, the oldest working man's club in Britain, the people of Shiregreen deserve (and want!) a similar community-centred social enterprise on their doorstep, especially if it also means keeping a historically and culturally important building standing.

 

We were enthusiastically supported by Shiregreen councillor Peter Price, who has been an ongoing and vocal advocate for the creative re-use of this site, and were backed up in writing by local MP Gill Furniss. We would like to publicly thank them both, and everybody else who has offered support through the process.

 

And we did make progress:

We succeeded in getting the decision date for the demolition delayed.

We submitted an Asset of Community Value nomination to Sheffield City Council.

We were making significant plans, upon the success of that application, to fundraise to buy the site as a community.

We were in discussion with local housing associations and non-profits to put together a financially viable alternative plan.

 

And all this happened while in lockdown. Communicating only via Whatsapp and Zoom. Frantic phonecalls and hurried emails, a google drive full of research. Hundreds of unpaid hours between us.

 

Unfortunately, as it so often is with these things, the outcome is still bad news. The demolition proposal was accepted - Sheffield City Council were as supportive as they could be but as the building is not listed, there are only limited reasons for it to be refused. Despite our work, on 30 April 2020 Eyre Investments was given the go-ahead to clear the site.

 

At that stage the only possible route for saving the building that remained was either to reach a partnership agreement with the owner directly, or for our Asset of Community Value application to be accepted and our proposal to buy the site honoured after the fact. And there was some hope in it too: on 5 February 2020 the owner was quoted in The Star saying:

“If someone [who] signed the petition wants to ring me that’s great. I would be more than happy to do a deal with somebody to help save the club and see if they could make it work as a community asset.”

This, it turned out, did not ring entirely true. We have never had an email response from the owner, and only one phonecall, during which he claimed if we sent a viable proposal it would be considered...but also warned that he didn’t much care about our endeavours, that we were putting him at risk of losing the money offered by the developer he’s selling to, and that he has a lawyer who deals with assets of community value.

 

On 28 April 2020, we sent our most recent proposal and asked for another conversation. This has been ignored.

 

On 18 May 2020, we received a response from Sheffield City Council regarding our Asset of Community Value application. Unsurprisingly, and somewhat incongruous with his quote in The Star above, the owner has objected to our nomination, on the following grounds:

 

1.    Alleged failure to provide evidence of recent and previous use of the property that meets the social interests of the community including details such as: how it was used, dates of use, who it was used by, number of users, frequency of use or examples of community events including levels of participation in these events.
 

2.    Alleged failure to demonstrate the impact of the closure of the property i.e evidence that the current dormant state has had an impact on the community.
 

3.    Alleged failure to demonstrate that future use of the property will be of community value including evidence of support from the community for use as a cultural and community arts centre.
 

4.    Alleged failure to demonstrate that the property is fit for purpose and no evidence has been provided as to how any remediation works or any other necessary works would be funded or supported within the next five years.

 

Some of these points are valid, to an extent. Others overlook the obvious community and social value, and undermine the 1500 people who wrote things like this on the petition:

 

I've known this club since I was a young boy. It has many family connections. It deserves to be given back to the local community who used this club 7 days a week all year round. The pub wasn't making a loss and should never have been closed.”

 

“We are losing to many of our pubs and clubs, the working men's clubs are part of heritage and should be saved!”

 

“I was born in Sheffield and went to the shiregreen club twice a week very happy memories the club needs to stay” 

 

“I am signing because the club is great place for people to get together and would be a great loss to the community”

 

“I’m from Sheffield and the club is a tourist attraction and a well known working men’s club. Stop destroying history.”

 

“There are too many buildings being sold to developers, let us have something for the community.”

 

We were given only two weeks to collect more evidence, and with the pandemic still affecting our ability to gather together in person, fighting this further is simply not possible for us to do alone. Many of the people in the community that we are working alongside, who might be able to help us gather some of this evidence, do not have email or access to the internet - we have been relaying information over the phone. Some are older, at risk, or shielding. It is a nigh on impossible task in the current situation, and we expect the lawyer knows that.

 

On top of this, most of our group are freelancers, and the theatre industry is on fire. Our jobs and livelihoods are at risk. Many of us do not have the security of furlough, and are not eligible for SEISS. That is a topic for another letter, but makes it difficult to put as much energy into this now as we could at the start of the fight.

 

Today, Friday 5 June, was the deadline to counter the objections, and a decision on our nomination will be made next week with the evidence we have already provided and nothing more. Money talks, and we do not have enough. We do not have a lawyer, nor can we afford one. We tried our best, but we expect this will not go in our favour. 

 

So instead we publish this letter.

Not because we want a pat on the back.

And not because we’re upset or angry, even though we are.

 

But because even though we may be too late to save this building, this time, this is not the first working mens club to be sold, closed or demolished in Sheffield in recent years, and it won’t be the last. Shiregreen alone has already lost many local establishments: the Wincobank, the Roman Ridge, the Horseshoe, and the Sicey to name just a few. There is speculation from some sources that one developer alone has bought up five WMCs in the city. There are very few pubs or social establishments left, especially not those with community use in mind. If groups no longer have anywhere to meet, they will either cease meeting or look elsewhere, depriving a community of important social assets which are vital for cohesion and wellbeing of residents. This will only get worse post-covid.

 

We are calling on the council, local residents and the wider Sheffield community to come together in objecting to these closures, more often, more loudly, and in bigger numbers. To stand up and say no, not this time. This needs urgent attention. Of course, affordable and social housing is much-needed and vital too, but there are no guarantees the accommodation built on these sites will be either of those things. There is a world in which it is possible to build more houses without erasing our brilliant, vibrant city’s heritage.

 

We didn't want to let this demolition slip through the cracks with a lack of scrutiny due to distractions caused by coronavirus. It did, and there’s not much else we can do about that now. But please, if you are able to fight for your local next time this comes up, which it will, we urge you to. Here are some useful links to make getting started easier:

 

 

If you need more help or want to talk more about the steps we took, you can contact any of us on Twitter below too.

 

Thank you for reading, and we implore you to join the cause.

Last but not least, we want to say sorry to the residents of Shiregreen that we weren’t able to do more to help, this time.

 

Linda Bloomfield, Producer and Theatre-Maker | @LindaBxx

Malaika Cunningham, Director | @MalaikaEliza

Bethany Wells, Designer | @preparedtobe

Tom Robbins, Production Manager | @tomrobbinsgb

James Ashfield, Producer | @JimDeanAsh

Ali Pidsley, Theatre Director | @Ali_Pidsley

Sarah Sharp, Producer | @SarahSharp22

Ruby Clarke, Director and Writer | @rubytheclarke

Sam Dunstan, Director and Producer | @SamuelCDunstan

Joe Boylan, Theatre-Maker | @J_Boylan

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lysandernovo

I was saddened to read the letter. 

I was never a member of Shiregreen Club but back in the 80s was a fairly regular visitor...not for the Bingo but for the "Turn". I enjoyed the cheap beer; the crowds out of an evening determined to have some live entertainment and a good laugh with friends. The Committee ran the place like clockwork and with several other clubs within walking distance they had to be on their toes to keep members "happy" ( free beer in the New Year which repaid the membership fees as an example)

Club life started to die ( as did Publife) with the increase in police action to stop drinking and driving and the ban on smoking killed off what was left after too many members found the cheap booze in supermarkets too enticing. It is sad that so many Clubs have gone but a few continue...some have even started to offer meals.Just along the lane was the English Steel Sports Club.. another well loved venue for all manner of activities...including their famous Gala Day... The Club has now gone after being transferred by the Council, for a period, to the "Community" I gather vandalism was the final straw.

Working Class culture is vanishing rapidly... to be replaced by ?????

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