Tonight I went to hear Marcus Westbury speaking at the Octagon Centre as part of The Engaged University initiative. Marcus is a renowned regeneration expert who played a leading role in the regeneration of Newcastle, Australia. Very similar issues to Sheffield, it used to have the largest steel works in Australia, and when it closed, it left a huge hole in the city. When he returned to his home town in 2008 he wanted to open a bar, but despite there being 150 empty buildings in the city centre he couldn't even get a reply from estate agents. So, he formed a not for profit company called Renewing Newcastle which worked with the property owners to lend the empty properties to someone who wanted to try something, on a rolling 30 day lease. And it all took off from there. Spaces were lent int the state they were in and had to be fitted out by the people lending them - often for as little as $60. They allowed people to fail, took risks, and it didn't matter. Thre's some amazing success stories, and the previously run down area is now vibrant with many independent businesses. Yuo can see Marcus talking about it here:
DIY transforming a dying city from Marcus Westbury on Vimeo.
Tomorrow Marcus will oversee a major event by our School of Architecture, where students will draw up innovative plans for empty buildings in the city centre.They will work in boarded-up premises in groups, led by architecture staff and creative partners, to come up with ambitious and thought-provoking suggestions.
Really exciting stuff and I really hope that some of these ideas can be used to transform some of the neglected ares of our city centre - especially around the Castlegate area.