Hi,

I am sure my apologies are not worth offering anymore as I struggle to update my blog regularly.  However, I do apologise for not having found the time recently.  Moving swiftly on to where we left off; the Supertram works…

For those that may not know what the “Supertram” is, it is a light rail network which runs through several parts of Sheffield. Now over 10 years since it was built, it is quite popular, however its construction, was a very different story.  Feelings ran very high, with many people swearing that after it was built they would rather crawl on their bellies into town than ever set foot on the Supertram!  In some areas the old tram lines from Sheffield’s old fashioned trams abandoned 10 years previously, had to be removed in order to put the new tram lines down.  This irony was not lost on some Sheffield people.

It was not as simple as just the Supertram works either; major pipelines had to be moved in order to make way for these new tracks and as soon as there was a big hole in the road, of course, all the utility companies dived in as well.  There were some impressive holes let me tell you. Twenty feet deep at times and BIG! Now I know everyone is used to general roadworks and the disruption caused, but these roadworks were not “the usual”, they were so much more.  It was a design and build project that meant the road Cupola was on transformed into a cul-de-sac for nigh on three years and the road traffic management of the area was horrendous.  Routes would change from day to day with no warning, where you could turn right one day, the following day you could not.  So it was unsurprising that people started seriously avoiding the area, and who could blame them really?

cartoon 'Road to Hellsborough' in the Sheffield Star Newspaper

Cartoon ‘Road to Hellsborough’ in the Sheffield Star Newspaper

one of the many heart warming images luring people to Hillsborough during this period..

One of the many heart warming stories luring people to Hillsborough during this period..

Well, local traders were concerned, as you might imagine, and we decided to do something about it. I was part of a group I have mentioned previously called Middlewood Traders; a small self run group of around 8-10 shops who regularly got together to discuss ways of improving the area. When trade began to be affected one of the first things the group did was to print t-shirts for everyone with the slogan “BUSINESS AS USUAL“.

Middlewood Traders take action.

Middlewood Traders take action.

Although this was great, it soon became apparent that if we, as a small group of traders, were going to survive what was turning into a nightmare trading situation, we were going to have to create a lot of noise and get noticed.  There was, and still is, a strong community in Hillsborough and many people were very loyal to their local shops but visiting by car was proving extremely difficult. Articles in the paper like “The Road To Hellsborough” did not do much to help matters either.  We had to get creative.  This is where I think I, as a gallery, started to embed myself and my business into the local community.  Yes, I wanted to survive, but not on my own, so I got fully involved in every way I possibly could. It wasn’t long before I became the unofficial spokesperson for our area and a regular on BBC radio Sheffield.  I wasn’t shy and seemed to have a natural flair for PR. Knowing that simply moaning about a terrible situation would soon become old news we got creative, clever, and a little bit naughty at times!

There were several things I and other Middlewood shop keepers did and I attach some of the press cuttings below, not necessarily in order.  I have not got all the newspaper cuttings relating to the tram works but the ones I have will give you the idea.

We hired a stilt walker to hand out promo flyers to people stuck in traffic..

We hired a stilt walker to hand out promo flyers to people stuck in traffic..

part of our extra promotion for Christmas during the tram works.

Part of our extra promotion for Christmas during the tram works.

I commissioned an artist Guy Tarrant to make an installation out of traffic cones

I commissioned an artist, Guy Tarrant, to make an installation out of traffic cones

Guy Tarrant is a conceptual artist now based in London. Guy created my “Holly” installation for my first Christmas in the gallery and really liked the idea of making a substantial piece of sculptural artwork from hundreds of traffic cones.  In the end this piece of work was never realised but we still managed to raise substantial press coverage for the idea.

A better image of Guy posing with his cones.  This piece was never completed due to planning permission lol!

A better image of Guy posing with his cones. This piece was never completed due to planning permission!

The Star 11oct1993 2.jpeg

I tried to think positive..

I tried to think positive..

Another notable thing I did involved decorating the cages. Yes, you heard right, I said cages. They were referred to as this because they were 6 feet high metal fences that caged in businesses on each side of the road, built in such a way that you had to walk nearly 200 yards to cross the road! This was bad, very bad. I knew something needed to be done as people weren’t even crossing the street any more, getting to each shop was too much hassle.  So I hatched a cunning plan.  I decided to decorate the cages with slogans, sayings, and paintings, but in order to do this I needed help.  I drove around gathering artistic friends very late at night from all over the place, getting some of them out of bed at 3am to help me. By 6am we had covered a long section of cages with large sheets of A1 mount board from my picture framing business painted with pictures, lyrics and cheeky statements such as “I hear the train a coming”, “work faster, shorter tea breaks!”. We also strung balloons on the tractors and diggers which we later gave away to local children, and yes, this did cause noise and attract notice! One local radio presenter saw our efforts on their way in to work that morning and gave us a “shout out”. And people began to walk round the cages to read the slogans finally making their way across the street again – phew!

However, it still wasn’t easy to get to us and we had to constantly work VERY hard. I remember getting a visit from a lady after another bout of successful PR had encouraged her to come and see us. I’ll never forget as she flung open the door in a most dramatic way possible when she arrived, it was as though she had just conquered Mount Everest!  She almost collapsed through the door and said “It’s taken me SO LONG TO GET HERE, I’d damn well better buy something now I’m here!” – and she did.

Another time, when large tents were over the tracks, I encouraged another artist friend Kate Jacob to come and help me paint them. Unfortunately this resulted in a lady getting paint on her jacket due to an untimely gust of wind when we were replacing the tent covers and I had to replace the jacket – but hey, you win some, you lose some.

During this period I was also approached to join the Chamber of Trade.  I agreed, but only if I could be on the board within 6 weeks, and I was. Sometimes you’ve just got to get things done!  I learnt a lot from the Chamber of Trade, not just about local politics. I’m glad I did it as it helped me establish my business within the larger business community as well as allowing me to fight for, and support, my local area.

There is still so much to say about this and so many stories to tell; not all bad! Suffice it to say I did survive these works, but many did not.  In fact 1 out of every 4 businesses in Hillsborough closed during the Supertram works, amounting to 94 business ceasing to trade. A horrendous legacy by any account and one that took a long while for Hillsborough to recover from as there were further issues once the works themselves had been completed!  I’ll leave it here and finish this extensive chapter in my next post.

 

See you soon,

K x

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