Moinak Basu recently wrote the below article for Insider Magazine, reflecting on the considerable opportunities that thoughtfully designed and high-quality new student accommodation can bring to Sheffield, particularly when it comes to long-term regeneration and community benefits.
Regularly named as one of the best places to study in the UK, Sheffield’s students embrace all that is special about the city – a strong educational hub surrounded by a varied mix of leisure, retail, cafes, restaurants, music venues and businesses, all within easy access to beautiful countryside.
In recent years, it seems that every new real estate scheme in Sheffield is being developed for the city’s growing student numbers. With a population of around 60,000 students in 2022, and with many choosing to live in and around the city centre, student accommodation has been the fastest growing development sector in Sheffield for some time.
In parallel, the landscape and student expectations have changed dramatically. Just a couple of decades ago, Sheffield’s students would live in ‘halls’ for their first year before typically moving into shared housing in areas such as Broomhill or Hunter’s Bar. When the government introduced student fees, needs and expectations changed accordingly and quickly. Today’s students expect modern accommodation with ensuite bathrooms, communal facilities and a range of great amenities, all located close to their universities and central, thriving social districts.
For those sighing over ‘yet another student accommodation block’, it is worth bearing in mind the huge impact that high-quality new student accommodation can bring to regenerating our inner city, contributing to a flourishing local and regional economy, and adding long-term social value.
The challenge is for the city to ensure that it retains its competitive edge in the student market, remaining attractive to them while making the most of the urban regeneration opportunities that emerge as a knock-on effect of accommodating the growing student community.
Design with social value at its heart
Good design can have a positive impact on people and society, and this is something that we have seen first-hand at HLM Architects. In designing the new 972-bed Hollis Croft student accommodation just off Broad Lane our team was faced with the challenge of not only creating an exciting new space for students to live and study, but reviving a city centre neighbourhood that is full of rich industrial heritage but had been neglected. Crucially, our vision for the project engendered a new community, bridging the gaps between the universities, local businesses, and commerce.
With this in mind, we developed a masterplan with placemaking at its core, seamlessly connecting the new student development to the wider city in a way that complements its evolving needs. A new public route through the site, along a long-lost historical path, allows easier pedestrian movement, while thoughtfully-designed public realm brings life back to streets by inspiring people to meet, interact and socialise. This encourages the changing residential population to integrate with the wider local community, including students, and has the added advantage of substantially boosting footfall for local businesses.
All of this contributes to making the neighbourhood feel safer and more inviting, with the aim of ultimately creating a renewed sense of identity and place. Underpinning the Hollis Croft design is a respect for the heritage of the area. We took great care to retain and celebrate the historic street patterns which give this quarter its unique identity and, in turn, a renewed pride of place for residents. The new public realm was also landscaped in a way that intentionally builds on the industrial character of Sheffield’s past while being reimagined for the new generation.
It is vital to understand the potential of sites such as Hollis Croft to link formerly disparate or forgotten areas, while successfully integrating students into the life of the city and focusing on the social value that new developments can – and should – bring.
What we have seen is that student accommodation has started to bring activity and a sense of vitality back to the area, which now boasts new shops and the potential for further new cafes, restaurants and retail. It has introduced fantastic new places that actively work to foster a strong sense of community spirit. Redevelopment in this area has also really connect the lively Kelham Island neighbourhood and the city centre.
These factors are fundamental to the success of student accommodation design in Sheffield, and indeed elsewhere.
There is another key advantage that student developments can offer to the city centre. Over the past ten years, demand for residential housing, either to rent or buy, has almost overtaken the available supply of affordable housing. By delivering new accommodation for Sheffield’s students, we can help to release some of the city’s terraced accommodation, freeing up more residential space and leading to more diverse communities. This contributes to the continued vibrancy of the area, safeguards its economic development, enriches the lives and experiences of varied communities, and enables a more widespread urban regeneration of our neighbourhoods that we will all benefit from both now and long into the future.