My architectural journey and relationship with Sheffield started at the same time when I left school and came to the University of Sheffield to study architecture. Originally from the edge of Exmoor in Devon, Sheffield was my first city experience and was initially a bit of shock. However, I quickly discovered what residents of Sheffield already know, that the city is not really a city but a series of distinctive villages and communities that have been linked and brought together to form the a conglomeration we call Sheffield. Studying on the top seven floors of the Arts Tower also gives you a unique perspective of the city. Day to day you can watch the hustle and bustle as the light moves across the roof tops. But over a longer period of time you start to understand the relationship the city has with the landscape, the famous “seven hills”, the industrial valleys and the green links out to the Peak District that have given Sheffield its wonderful character. I first saw these views in 1997 and in the intervening 23 years the panorama has changed as Sheffield has continued to grow and develop. Sheffield engages with design and realises it’s value in creating spaces that enrich our lives and projects such as the “Grey to Green” development in Kelham Island and around the two universities, including the Site Gallery where Thread Architects currently reside, are fantastic to see.

Howgyll House – Fritchley

After graduating from Sheffield University in 2003 I went to work with one of my tutors, Robert Evans, at Evans Vettori Architects in Matlock, Derbyshire. The practice has a strong ethos of design and understanding materials which formed the basis of my education there. After 10 years I was an Associate at the practice and had led on a range of residential, community and education projects. I was also working closely with fellow Sheffield University graduate, Rachel Haynes. We worked on several designs together including a new modern house in Fritchley, Derbyshire and a new Foundation Unit school building at Renishaw School that was awarded an East Midlands RIBA Award.

Renishaw School Foundation Unit

As well as working in Derbyshire, I moved there and have lived in Bolsover for the last seventeen years. I love living in and exploring the rolling Derbyshire countryside and have got to know the hidden jewels and challenges that the area has. Within Derbyshire I have worked on a range of projects from a straw bale house in Tibshelf, working with Junction Arts on the Shirebrook Market Shops Enlivenment Project, and most recently worked with clients on a new build home in Ashbourne.

Sketch model for a new house in Ashbourne, Derbyshire

Rachel and I both left the practice to set up our own new practice to develop our design interests. It was a huge step and hard work starting from scratch but also exciting. As well as working on a range of residential projects we entered design competitions including being shortlisted for the Grand Designs Self Build on a Shoestring twice for our “Basket House” and “H.E.M.P (Homebuilding Educational Manufacturing Pop-up)” designs. Both working from home to start with, we also designed and constructed a Thread Pop-up office, setting up in indoor markets, shops and the Sheffield Winter Gardens to meet and speak to people about architecture.

H.E.M.P – Thread Architects – Self Build on a Shoestring

I’m proud of how Thread has developed and grown over the years, growing as a practice with Anya Sutton joining as a co-Director in 2015 and now leading Tom through his apprenticeship at Sheffield Hallam University. Our varied team helps us tackle a range of project types. Running a practice is always a challenge but the variety of designs that we work on, including residential, commercial, community and churches, allows us to constantly challenge our design ideas and develop our skills. Key in this is how we make the Client a central part of the design and engage them in the process to ensure that they have full ownership whilst helping them create something special.

As well as my work with Thread I have also taught at Nottingham and Sheffield Universities, am a member of the Design Midlands Design Review Panel and have taken a first tentative step into writing in the architectural media. Many of the projects that I review are Paragraph 79 homes, new proposed home in the open countryside that, to meet the strict requirements of the National Planning Policy Framework, must be of outstanding or innovative design. Being able to be part of the education of students or the design development of other architects projects in design review is an invaluable experience, to see design through other peoples eyes.

When not working you will generally find me at home out running or on a rugby pitch. My playing days are (probably) behind me but I am a qualified sports coach and coach my eldest son’s u14 rugby team at Chesterfield Panthers RUFC and Wednesday evenings and Sundays mornings find me organising chaos in the mud, and having great fun with it.

Current Perspective

I can’t remember an event in my lifetime that has had the same impact on day to day life as the current COVID crisis. I count myself extremely lucky that, so far, although there have been changes to my “normal” these have been relatively easy to accommodate by working from home and taking the precautions we all must. If a pandemic had struck 10 years ago it would have been a different story, but modern communication and technology have allowed us to continue working successfully on projects in the design stages. Having understanding Clients is also a huge help! This is just the short-term impact and it is interesting that we have received our first community project where the brief asks that designing for COVID is considered. This is something we will be debating and challenging in the practice. At the very least well proportioned, naturally lit and naturally ventilated internal and external spaces at a domestic and urban level where people can move and interact safely will hopefully become the norm for all future development.