Sharrow Songs: Creative Writing Workshop

New Mesters works at Regather was once again filled with the sound of industry and craft last night, as #SharrowSongs participants were ‘apprenticed’ to the writer and workshop facilitator Kelly Snape.

Rather than learning how to hone horn into handles (say that ten times fast), we were crafting creative writing using images of Sharrow as our raw materials.

As part of our ongoing programme of creative community sessions, I invited Kelly to come down and introduce us to ways of using images of Sharrow to spark creative writing.

First, we were invited to write an imagined ‘Postcard from Sharrow’.  A written message to friends and loved ones, from the beaches and tavernas of Sheffield City Centre.  It wasn’t too difficult as it happened – the sun was out, the magpies were sunbathing on the roof, and we all had plenty to say about the exotic culinary adventures on offer in the area (mental note to check out the amazing-sounding cakes at the Old Junior School Cafe)


Two for Joy: Magpies enjoying a sunbathe on Regather Roof

We were clearly all a bit hungry, as Brian imagined tucking into a ‘mixed meze type thing’ in a Turkish restaurant, Scott describing ‘Restaurants from around the world side by side with abandoned works’ and Tina lovingly recreating a ‘custard/coconut/chocolate bar – never tasted anything like it (in a good way)’.  A holiday in Sharrow would clearly be a foodie one.

Others mentioned the ‘magical lantern carnival’ and the bright weather and happy atmosphere.  Our creative juices were flowing and ready to take on the main task – writing about images of Sharrow.






There were a range of pictures dotted around the workshop – from the permanent displays showing Horn Handle Works (Regather Works around 100 years ago)…

Horn Handle Works Display, Regather

Horn Handle Works Display, Regather

…some historical images of Sharrow such as this of the Drill Hall, courtesy of Picture Sheffield

Interior of Edmund Road Drill Hall, also known as Norfolk Barracks

Interior of Edmund Road Drill Hall, also known as Norfolk Barracks Copyright © Sheffield City Council. All rights reserved

Instagram feeds with the #Sharrow hashtag…

…photos by the the excellent Sheffield photographer Tim Dennell

No Law

…and some snaps from Scott’s commute along London Road that morning…

We were each asked to take some time to look at the images and find one which captured our imagination, for whatever reason.  When we had, we spent some time looking carefully at the image, examining it in detail, and forming a creative response to it – in whatever form that took.  We were encourage to write freely, without inhibition, and without editing.  If we got ‘stuck’, we were to write ‘banana’ until the blockage cleared and we were ready to carry on.

Kelly helped create a perfectly relaxed, comfortable and safe environment for us to create.  Many of us (myself included) probably hadn’t written with and around people in this setting for quite some time.  I know that I found it transportive, and hugely relaxing.  It was an inspiring session to be part of as we worked away, each producing our own individual take on a range of Sharrow images, nothing but the sound of pen (and Brian’s pencil) on paper, breathing, concentration and focus (and Haiku Salut’s music on the workshop playlist)

In a matter of 20 minutes the quality and range of writing we produced was fascinating.

Helen bravely went first, sharing her writing on the photo ‘No Law’ by Tim Dennell (above).  Helen lives on the Landsdowne Estate so it’s a subject close to her heart and her piece was passionate, edgy, modern spoken word delivered with real energy.  The group gave great positive feedback, comparing her style to slam poetry or beat poems.  She put into words some of the tensions of city living – wanting to make a difference in the place you live, while fearing ‘putting your head above the parapet’.

Next, I shared my stream of consciousness musings on scaffolding – the dangers (fallen restaurant signs) the challenges (1908s TV 20160418_101425assault course, winding your way through, like a crufts agility dog) the fears (one person’s elegantly faded ghost sign is another’s ‘ugly old eyesore’) and the embarrassments (coming face-to-face with a stranger “oops, sorry, you dancing?”)  It may have been too much of a glimpse into my over-caffeinated urban anxieties, but it raised a few smiles with the exploration of the mundane!

20160418_101607Next, Tina shared her pacy, electrified, abstract, impressionistic riffs on the image of flyposters on London Road.  Like the plastered shop front, Tina’s writing was multi-layered and had depth and variety.  On the printed version of the image, the dark shape on the left appeared completely black, and Tina tried to imagine what it was – where it went.  It developed a sinister presence, this nothingness, and she used it beautifully as a repeated theme in opposition to the riot of layers, nationalities and activities which the posters brought.  Again, the style of writing and delivery seemed to take on the life of the picture – fast, excited, energetic – all the things Sharrow is.  We all agreed we might struggle to sleep, as our own imaginations were drawn to the idea of this ‘black hole of London Road’ created by the torn posters.

Brian chose the image of the Drill hall – a building he has personal ties to, as his family used to attend dances there back in the day.  He astonished us by somehow, with very little editing, creating a complete historical fictional setting, with a Sheffield anti-hero (Bunting) his nemesis (the Drill Sargent) and a captivating setting of the scene.  Bunting is defined by the place in which he lives – a very specific part of Sharrow – and the places he goes, the church he attends and the pubs he visits.  All delivered in a carefully chosen voice, Brian transported us to another time, created with the help of the evocative picture of the Drill hall, and an impressive amount of knowledge of the local area (Brian will be leading a walking tour of Sharrow for us next Monday 25th April – details here).  When Brian had finished reading, we were all hooked, and ready for the next episode.  Look out for a novel coming soon I think!

Finally, Kelly shared her own piece of writing about Harland Works on John Street, a vibrant modern works.  Proving that even Sheffield folk from the lofty heights of Walkley 😉 have Sharrow Stories to share.  She described how, like the saw blade manufacturers who used to earn their living in the Works (formerly Clifton Works), she too is an apprenticed craftsperson taking Guitar lessons in one of the units there.  Now, instead of steel and blades, it’s guitars and yoga, pottery and architects.

We could have gone on longer, and it’s a sign of a good workshop when the time flies.  The writing produced about a variety of Sharrow stories was wonderful, and aligned perfectly with the aims of the Sharrow Songs project:  The local community brought together and inspired to create together.  New works exploring what it means to be in Sharrow today.

It is hoped that these new seeds of Sharrow writing will now go on to grow, and hopefully form part of the future Sharrow Songs anthology.  Watch this space for future announcements on writing and songwriting workshops to follow up this creative session.  A huge thank you to Kelly Snape, who did such a great job of guiding us on a creative journey (as one of us said ‘It wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be’) and for helping us to bring out such meaningful responses to Sharrow.  And, of course, special thanks to all the brave community creatives who came along and shared your thoughts and words with such openness and generosity.

See you next week for Brian Holmshaw’s walking tour of Sharrow: The Spaces Inbetween.  Monday 25th April, 7pm, Regather Works, Club Garden Road.


Special mentions to Regather for room hire and support

Kelly Snape, who is wise enough to not be on Facebook, but you can find her on Twitter Here

Picture Sheffield for a wonderful Sheffield archive resource

the lovely Sharrow photos by Sheffield photographer Tim Dennell

Haiku Salut‘s perfect creative soundtrack (‘Curated’ by Kelly)

Old Junior School Cafe for Tina’s cake

and Harland Works for being a great Sharrow hub.


Sharrow Songs: Week 2

A quieter evening, it’s fair to say, at the second meeting of the #SharrowSongs community creative collective, but no less productive.  What we lacked in bodies, we made up for in inspiration.  The evening centred around discussion of two ‘Digital Artefacts’ which Helen brought in to ‘Show and Tell’ to the group.

First,  we looked at an advert on ‘Rightmove’ (other online estate agencies are available) of an apparently ancient house of Sharrow Lane, for sale…

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 14.01.02

Streetview image of the Sharrow Lane House which caught Helen’s eye.  Copyright 2016 Google.

It’s a building I’ve walked, driven and cycled past without a second look being, as it is, set back from the road, smothered in grubby pebbledash, and fronted by tarmac.  Some sort of electricity substation sits by the gate, with it’s aggressively spiky-hair anti-intruder razor wire.  Now it’s on Rightmove though, we can look ‘through the keyhole’ and have a nosy inside and out… we learn that it is, apparently:

…thought to have been occupied since approximately the 1400s. This old coach station was once the Sheffield stop on the London to Scotland route. Developed in the 1800s to its current size, this is a four bedroom, link detached, family home with a fantastic garden.

Merely estate agent spin, or is there truth in the claim that this was once an important stop off for travellers passing through Sheffield?  It’s a great story, and one which we’ll try to follow up to find out more.

When combined with Helen’s second Sharrow story, there emerged a strong theme to do with a sense of ‘changing homes’ in the buildings of the area.  We looked at a picture she’d taken on her phone, of the plaque which commemorates the building of the Landsdowne Estate, where she lives in one of the low-rise flats.  Helen had researched into the history of the area and found that her flat is more or less situated in the place where an old road called Cliff Street once was… here is a powerful image of it being demolished back in the 1960’s…


Copyright Picture Sheffield, Sheffield City Library

Formerly a row of terraces which were demolished as part of Sheffield corporation’s development of ‘slum’ areas, now a cluster of modern, brutalist homes.

These lovely photos by Tim Dennell show snapshots of the estate back in 2010, before it was given a spruce up by the council…

Wash Day at Lansdown

View From a Towerblock Over Lansdown Estate Maisonette Blocks

(Copyright Tim Dennell)

A piece of creative history emerged, organically, when Helen was invited to imagine herself back at the time when she had just moved in, and was making her new flat into a ‘home’.  She described how, when she was decorating it, ‘giving it back the love it needed’, she was peeling back layer upon layer of wallpaper, which seemed to chart the decades of the property’s exsistence.  After scraping away years of interior design fad and fashion, removing traces of former residents, she reached what we thought was the bottom layer – the late-60’s / early-70’s.

Crudely done, lurid bright red above

turquoise below.

We quickly set this scene down on paper, and it began to emerge as a powerful piece of creative writing.  An ode to her home, and its place in the continuum of former and future homes.

This week 14th March, we’ll be building on such thoughts and feelings, using the story of home and domestic life in #Sharrow as our inspiration.

Next week – 21st March, we’ll be using pictures and maps to spark creative writing.

Is it a Pop-up Folk Club – Is it a Local History Society?


I haven’t been able to work out where Sharrow really is.  To be honest, my attempts haven’t been all that thorough and have so far mostly consisted of looking at historical maps, and talking to local folk in the pub.  Through my, ahem, ‘rigorous’ research I’ve gathered that it seems to reach south where it rubs up against Nether Edge; north to and abrupt and noisy end at the ring road and city centre; southwest to Sharrow Head and west to Eccleshall; and east to Heeley.  The wise old internet (via postcode boundaries?) Shows the Sharrow Area here:

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 13.11.51.png

Where though are the actual boundaries and, within this area, do we also include Highfield,  St Mary’s, Lowfield,  and even the historical area of Little Sheffield?

It seems appropriate, for an area so hard to pin down, that a new project seeking to explore and interpret it, should itself start out so open-ended.  Like Sharrow, the place we will seek to explore, the Sharrow Songs project will be shaped by the people who call it home.

At the new sessions starting at Regather Works in Sheffield at the end of the month there is one clear aim – to work with whoever would like to get involved in the local community to produce a new songbook for and about Sharrow.

Initially, the sessions will be a loose get-together, for a diverse range of people who are interested in their local area, past and present, and who are interested in telling its story – all are welcome, and all art forms can contribute to the project.  Meetings will be a mix of open-floor ‘natters’, where all-comers can contribute stories, songs, research, photographs, thoughts, local legends and myths. They’ll be time to explore local history resources and space to consider creative ways to represent and reinterpret them. There are also plans to include ‘field trips’ out into the local area, to other parts of Sheffield, and to the Libraries, Archives and Local Studies.

The final product: a community created and curated publication incorporating a range of contributors and art forms.  Ambitious?  Maybe.  Achievable?  Definitely.  If the resourcefulness and entrepreneurial nature of your average Sheffield-dweller is anything to go by.

Sessions are free and will take place on Monday Evenings from 7-9pm at Regather Works, 57-59 Club Garden Rd, Sheffield S11 8BU.  There will be refreshments available including hot drinks, soft drinks, and Regather’s very own micro-brewed ale.

Email or call Scott on 07929 316270 if you’d like more information or have any questions or visit our Facebook Event or Eventbrite bookings page.

Mapping things out

It’s been a while – several months since I last posted to the site – but I wouldn’t want you to think I’ve not done anything.

All sorts of things have grown and developed since I started my first tentative posts on this site.  This site still remains as it was intended, a note book and journal of the work in progress.

What progress is there, then?

I’ve been very fortunate to find myself working at the very places that helped inspire this project.  Now part of the team of Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust ‘Interactors’, one of my tasks has been to bring the history of Sheffield alive in school workshops.  As part of my role at the museums, I hope to include some of what I do with this project in terms of workshops, performances and installations.  Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet is, after all, a wonderfully preserved example of the water-powered industry, so a perfect place to involve in my work.

I’ve also renovated and settled into a new workspace / studio in the heart of ‘Little Sheffield’ another place which fired my imagination when I visited Portland Works earlier in the year.  I now have my base in a former file grinding workshop in Harland Works.  Where better to be working, than a historic building that was home to it’s own ‘Little Mesters’.  As I stripped the grim carpets back and scoured the floorboards (see above picture) I found myself scraping off years of grease, presumable used to lubricate the machinery or grinding wheels.  Interior design show meets archeological dig.  It was hard but rewarding work.

Also, getting to know the modern city along with its fascinating past has been a real focus of the last months.  It’s proving to be a vibrant, proactive, busy place.  Festivals such as Tramlines, the brilliant festival of the mind, the Off the Shelf Festival, Sensoria, there’s so much going on, and so much of such good quality.

I’ve made a map.  An eight foot, nineteenth century ordinance survey serpent, which is spread across the north wall of the studio.  It is a map of the Porter Brook and it’s nineteen or so water powered works, the subject of my first run of pieces, songs and activities.  I chose to explore the Porter first as it’s the nearest to where I live and work, and as I’ve been getting to know it very well through many runs, bike rides and walks along it’s length.

It’s a great to call home, and and even better place to work, now at least.  My aim is to try and discover as much as I can about what it has been like through the ages, for the people who also made it home.