How Sheffield photo exhibition has brought about surprise reunions ahead of events to share more memories and pictures

Martin Brissett, next to himself aged eight at S1 Artspace.
Martin Brissett, next to himself aged eight at S1 Artspace.
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An exhibition of pictures documenting the lives of residents at two Sheffield estates has been reuniting subjects with the man who photographed them decades ago.

Love Among The Ruins: A Romance of the Near Future is running at S1 Artspace's new gallery at Park Hill and features the work of Bill Stephenson and the late Roger Mayne.

'Tony the Ton' and Martin aged eight, outside the Pop In Centre. Hyde Park Flats, Sheffield, 1988. Picture: Bill Stephenson

'Tony the Ton' and Martin aged eight, outside the Pop In Centre. Hyde Park Flats, Sheffield, 1988. Picture: Bill Stephenson

Mayne went to Park Hill in the early 1960s to see the first people to move in at the flats, while Stephenson took his camera to the neighbouring Hyde Park development to meet the final people who lived there in 1988 before the tower blocks were largely demolished.

Word has spread about the show since it opened last month, meaning it has attracted former residents of the two Brutalist estates, including some of those photographed by Stephenson. These include Donna Hargreaves - who was captured aged 14, lounging on a concrete parapet alongside her friend Carmen Bello - and Martin Brissett, who appeared in a picture aged eight, looking up at a shirtless character known as 'Tony the Ton'.

"It's been great to meet them again," said Bill. The photos were first exhibited at Sheffield's Untitled venue - now the Site Gallery on Brown Street - in the 1980s and afterwards toured nationally before they were brought out from the archives for S1's reopening. "Lots of people made contact with me through Facebook and email as well, from various parts of the world. It's been very surprising and pleasant to hear from them. Some of them remembered me more than I remembered them."

Donna is in her 40s, still lives nearby and attended the opening of Love Among The Ruins after reading about the exhibition in The Star.

Donna Hargreaves next to the picture of herself aged 14, with Bill Stephenson.

Donna Hargreaves next to the picture of herself aged 14, with Bill Stephenson.

"I had no idea she was going to be there," said Bill. Donna now has children, and stayed friends with Carmen for a long time before losing touch, he added.

Meanwhile, Martin went to the show with his wife - he works for a firm of architects and lives in Bakewell. "He has a very successful career, I was absolutely delighted to see him," said Bill. "It's a very popular picture, it was used on the poster."

Martin dispelled a myth, however - Tony the Ton was not his uncle, and was simply someone he encountered at the 'pop-in centre', a youth club.

"Tony was known as 'the ton' because kids always thought he was incredibly strong and could lift a ton," Bill said. "He knows about the exhibition but I was told by several people his health isn't good."

Donna Hargreaves and Carmen Bello sit on an unguarded fourth storey concrete parapet. Hyde Park Flats, Sheffield, 1988. Picture: Bill Stephenson

Donna Hargreaves and Carmen Bello sit on an unguarded fourth storey concrete parapet. Hyde Park Flats, Sheffield, 1988. Picture: Bill Stephenson

Peter Child, one of Park Hill's first tenants who worked as an engineer at the flats aged 27 in 1961 after leaving the Merchant Navy, brought a cutting from The Star which explained how he oversaw the complex's heating, lifts, and refuse disposal system.

Bill 'wasn't sure exactly what to do' when he turned up at Hyde Park with his Hasselblad camera 30 years ago. "I starting photographing in a usual, photojournalist's style, quickly taking pictures. It wasn't until I spoke to people, and got to know them quite well, that I realised people weren't alienated in that environment and they actually liked living in the flats. And they wanted to continue living in them."

He tried to 'create intimacy', and wanted his work to be different to that of Mayne - 'a fantastic photographer' - who was commissioned by an architectural magazine. "He didn't have as much time as I did to go to meetings and hang about. I'd be wandering around the flats and people would say 'Hey Bill, can you take my sister's picture'. I became a familiar figure."

Nevertheless he learned to leave his Billingham camera bag at home in Nether Edge - 'I stuck out like a sore thumb' - and instead kept his expensive equipment out of sight in a plastic carrier bag, cushioned with a towel.

The photos were added to his website in 2017. "Up to a year ago they were still negatives in boxes. It brought it all to light. As soon as they went online the Hyde Park pictures had a response from people all over the world."

On Thursday other ex-tenants will be invited to bring along pictures and share their memories during a coffee morning at S1 Artspace, which has moved to Park Hill's old garage block while the Grade II* listed site's extensive revamp continues. Images will form part of a slideshow in the entrance to the gallery and will then be kept by S1.

"Hopefully people will remember the dates and any special events - often people take photographs for a reason," said Bill. "I hope the pictures reflect the inside of the flats, their family life, people who aren't here any more. I'm hoping it will be a very interesting morning."

The event is at 11am on Thursday, and another will be held at the same time on August 30. As well as taking photos to be scanned, people can send pictures in advance to info@s1artspace.org along with their name, the date the image was taken and a brief description. Love Among the Ruins runs until 15 September.