Martin Gray's Sheffield Park Hill regeneration documentary a 'tender portrait'

A documentary about Sheffield's Park Hill and construction workers rebuilding the area has been described as "a very tender portrait".

Artist and photographer Martin Gray made the seven-minute film We Were Never Derelict, named after Otis Mensah's poem, at the beginning of the year.

Mr Gray took his idea to Alumno Developments, which is building student accommodation called Béton House as part of phase three of the area's "regeneration", and secured funding for the film.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

It will be released online from 10pm on Sunday.

A rainbow over the Park Hill estate in Sheffield.

The film documents the estate's history with personal anecdotes and "the many memories of Sheffield through the voices of those who are involved in piecing Park Hill back together".

Kim Streets, CEO of Museums Sheffield, said: "It’s a very tender portrait of PH and the city.”

Lord Bob Kerslake, meanwhile, said it is “authentically Sheffield".

One of the earliest examples of Brutalist architecture in Britain and Europe’s largest listed building, Park Hill was constructed between 1957 and 1961 and its "streets in the sky" were seen as pioneering.

Park Hill construction worker Dennis Atherton.

Its 995 council homes were arranged around broad decks that were wide enough for milk floats.

Mr Gray said: “Like much of my work, the Park Hill film project reflects a fascination with the relationships we have with our physical and cultural environment.

"For many people, this is probably rooted in childhood, my own being a mix of places, nationalities, dialects and languages.

"A strong connection to place and shared space exists for most of us, however that evolves.

Park Hill, one of Britain's early examples of Brutalist architecture, at night.

"The three-month Coronavirus lockdown, which began just after the film was made, put this into sharp relief.

“There is something very powerful about places with personal and cultural significance.

"This is what drew me to making portraits and interviews with construction workers who grew up in and around the Park Hill Estate in Sheffield only to find themselves, decades later,

rebuilding and regenerating it."

The project led Mr Gray meet Sheffield poet Otis Mensah, who has written pieces for Park Hill that will sit as permanent public art within the fabric of the building.

"It seemed interesting to intertwine some of the construction workers’ stories with Otis’s personal associations with the site," said Mr Gray.

"It was also fitting to title the film We Were Never Derelict after one of Otis's poems.

"I hope the film conveys how the process of rebuilding Park Hill has caused workers to revisit their previous relationships with this iconic place.”

By the 1980s, Park Hill had become associated with crime and vandalism – but English Heritage’s decision to make it Europe’s largest listed building in 1998 protected it from demolition.

Developers at Urban Splash came up with ambitious regeneration plans, which began in 2007.

Phase one created 260 homes, 33,000 sq ft of fully-occupied commercial space, a vegetarian café and a nursery.

Student accommodation developer Alumno has nearly finished phase three.

David Campbell, managing director of Alumno said: “This documentary offers a glimpse of the history and the many memories of Sheffield through the voices of those who are involved in piecing Park Hill back together.

"Their work and their views are a vital part of this amazing rebuilding project and integral to the Park Hill journey.

"The film offers a way to look back and listen to funny and poignant personal anecdotes.

"It’s not architecture or design that will bring Park Hill back to life for future generations but the preservation of its spirit - and Martin Gray’s

film encapsulates just that.

“This is the most far reaching project Alumno has undertaken – five years in and nearing completion we are honoured to be part of the Park Hill story and its legacy.”

Tom Bloxham, chairman of Urban Splash, added: “Sheffield can once again be very proud of the beautiful, brutal, masterpiece that is Park Hill.

"This film captures Park Hill and the Sheffield spirit through some of its great characters.

“It has been a real joy to watch the redevelopment of Park Hill. After a decade of hard work from Urban Splash, Alumno and all our partners we feel both a great responsibility and

pride in seeing its community renewed."

The film will be available via Martin Gray’s website ( www.martin-gray.com ) and through online channels through supporting organisations including: Alumno, Urban Splash and Welcome

to Sheffield.