• Australian city centre revival project turned area into a top tourist destination
• Empty shop rates across the UK stand at 11.1 per cent
An internationally-recognised regeneration expert will visit the University of Sheffield to share how he brought empty shops back to life in his Australian hometown and how that idea could be used to transform run-down city centres across the world.
Marcus Westbury, who successfully led a pioneering project to bring derelict buildings back into use in Newcastle (Australia’s City of Steel), will tell how his scheme turned the area into one of Lonely Planet’s top ten tourist destinations in the country during a week-long visit to Sheffield from Monday 10 February 2014.
The festival director’s Renew Newcastle scheme, which has since been replicated in cities around the world, sees landlords offer boarded-up business units to a range of creative tenants free of charge – filling empty shops at the same time as showcasing their potential.
He will meet University staff and Sheffield City Council chiefs to discuss how a similar idea, by working with partners including the University, could breathe new life into Sheffield’s shopping streets.
The latest figures from the British Retail Consortium show the empty shop rate across the UK stood at 11.1 per cent last October.
Professor Vanessa Toulmin, the University’s Head of Engagement, organised the visit as part of The Engaged University initiative.
She said: “Marcus’ work in Newcastle, Australia, is an inspiration to all creative cities that believe through partnership – inspirational leadership and enabling people to come together – they can transform where they live.
“I've asked Marcus to come and share his experiences to demonstrate that in a global community, each locality can learn from each other. By working with our partners in the city, The Engaged University can help bring this together.”
On Wednesday 12 February, Mr Westbury will oversee a major event by the University’s Sheffield School of Architecture (SSoA), where students will draw up their own innovative plans for empty buildings in the city.
Around 350 students will work in boarded-up premises in groups, led by SSoA staff and creative partners, to come up with ambitious and thought-provoking suggestions.
While some students will draw up design proposals, others will transform shop windows using ‘live’ installations including slogans, performance and film.
At the end of the ‘Designs on our City’ challenge, Mr Westbury will view the students’ ideas as they are projected in the windows of buildings as part of a public exhibition from 4.30pm-6.30pm.
Carolyn Butterworth, the University’s Master of Architecture course director and coordinator of the SSoA annual event, said: “As a school we do a lot of work in partnership with community organisations in Sheffield and beyond.
“In our highly regarded Live Project programme, over the last 15 years, our students have worked on 150 projects with schools, charities, local councils and volunteer groups.
“‘Designs on our City’ is a chance to develop this collaboration with the city further and demonstrate the impact that our students’ creativity can bring to empty buildings in the city centre.”
Professor Fionn Stevenson, Head of the University’s School of Architecture, added:
"The ethos of our school is a firm commitment to social engagement, with a strong emphasis on connecting the key local and global issues that challenge society today - these include regenerating cities, tackling climate change and promoting resilience.
“We aim to produce culturally agile students who can make a difference to local communities and, in particular, to our home city of Sheffield which we are proud to be a part of."
Mr Westbury’s visit and the ‘Designs on our City’ project are part of a series of events being run by the University’s Civic Engagement team in partnership with Sheffield City Council.
He will speak about his project during a public lecture at the University’s Octagon Centre at 6pm on Tuesday 11 February, take part in a city-centre walkabout with Sheffield’s creative community on Thursday 13 February and join a question and answer session with Council politicians and officers on Friday 14 February.
Marcus Wesbury is creative director of Renew Newcastle, a not-for-profit company established to find short and medium term uses for buildings in Newcastle, Australia, which are vacant, disused, or awaiting redevelopment.
It aims to find artists, cultural projects and community groups to use and maintain the buildings until they become commercially viable or are redeveloped.
The University of Sheffield
With almost 25,000 of the brightest students from around 120 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.
A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.
Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.
In 2011 it was named University of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards and in the last decade has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.
Sheffield has five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.
Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline and Siemens, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.