Once the historic birthplace of the city, Castlegate is now a rundown area of Sheffield city center. “Imagine Castlegate” is a collective, community-focused coproduction process to envision, campaign for, and support the development of a new neighborhood, accessible to all, that celebrates the rich heritage of Castlegate while creating a sustainable future. Since 2014, SSoA students and graduates have been coproducing design work and participatory research with local groups to develop a vision for future development of the site.
The historic city quarter of Castlegate is struggling: Many of its buildings are empty, footfall is minimal, and dilapidation is taking hold. However, the area holds strong social and cultural value for the local people. Demolition of the modernist Castle Markets in 2014 left the community feeling undervalued and ignored; there was no clear consultation or direction from the site owners, Sheffield City Council, in terms of the site’s future. SSoA was motivated to help citizens and community groups ensure that they had a voice in decisions about regeneration to come.
Throughout the coproduction, physical and digital models have been powerful tools for connecting people with the rich heritage of the site, situating them in the present, and encouraging them to engage in co-design toward the future. These models have proved effective in engaging diverse audiences and gathering a wide range of views to inform design development.
On-site installations, events, and activities conveyed information about the site while engaging passersby in “what-if” scenarios for the site’s future. This method opened debate around the possible uses and users of the site, setting the context for speculative, aspirational co-design.
Design ideas, research, and participatory activities were powerful mechanisms for inspiring a diverse range of local actors. Friends of Sheffield Castle adopted the SSoA students’ vision produced in collaboration with local actors in their “Blueprint for the Castle Site,” which became a shared objective for the Castlegate Partnership, including Sheffield City Council. Harmony Works created its new home for music in Castlegate based on designs by SSoA students. Experience Castlegate, an augmented reality installation, has been viewed by 1,500 people, raising awareness of the historic importance of the site. The Sheffield Castle book, the definitive publication on the archaeology of the site, featured work by SSoA students to depict the future vision.