A new Home for the Arts in Sheffield
Early last year, Sheffield Hallam announced a long-term lease on Sheffield’s former Head Post Office, a Grade II listed building that held many memories for local people. The building had sadly fallen out of use for some years, and was now in need of some serious work.
The renovated building would be home to students from the University’s Institute of Arts, and they would be making and doing loads of creative and interesting projects in the space. The move was clearly a great opportunity to use our communications work to raise Sheffield Hallam’s profile and engage members of the public.
We started the planning process by identifying some key aims that would drive our approach. They were:
“Communicate Sheffield Hallam’s sympathy for the heritage of the building and surrounding area, and highlight our sustainable approach to our presence in the city region.”
“Celebrate the Sheffield Institute of Arts and promote the outstanding teaching that is currently delivered by the Institute.”
And the move into the space would clearly have a positive impact on the student experience, helping to create a sense of community cohesion among our art and design students.
So, with some objectives in place, we started to throw ideas around for a social media campaign. The concept that really stuck with us was the idea of the University creating a new home for the arts in the city – a space that wasn’t just for students but, taking into account the public gallery and café, would be for the people of Sheffield.
And that’s why we settled on #HomeForTheArts as a way of aggregating social content. We knew that we wanted lots of visual content, and that Instagram would play an important role for us.
We were fortunate enough to have a brilliant photographer working with us, documenting the whole process. India Hobson, who we’d worked with on other projects, was commissioned to photograph the restoration process at regular intervals, gaining access to all areas of the building.
The next thing we did was seek out a few Instagrammers who were interested in architecture in the Sheffield area. We found a few, and messaged them to invite them to our very first Instameet. In the end, we took around 12 Instagrammers on a tour of the building, co-ordinated with our partners M3, who were overseeing the restoration.
Well in advance of the tour, we sent them a brief, which included when and where to meet, what to expect, what they would and wouldn’t be able to get access to, and what the hashtag for the restoration was. This ensured that we’d be able to aggregate their content, share it and help develop a narrative about the building’s restoration.
We also did our first Periscope, broadcasting from inside the building and the rooftop, which has incredible views of the city.
— Sheffield Hallam Uni (@sheffhallamuni) September 25, 2015
— m3 (@M3_ltd) September 25, 2015
By inviting a group of enthusiastic photographers on a tour of our building, we reached new audiences, and our Instagrammers helped us communicate our key messages about the building.
The Instameet (and subsequent tours for other groups) allowed us to:
- announce the restoration project to new audiences
- develop a bit of a buzz online about the building
- create a feeling of goodwill towards our sympathetic treatment of the building
- give local people a sense of ownership of the space
It also created an opportunity to talk longer-term about heritage: for the building, and for the Institute of Arts. Again, we had a narrative, and we used behind-the-scenes photos of the restoration and archive shots of the building to talk about our resurrection of the building for arts and culture in the city.
— Sheffield Hallam Uni (@sheffhallamuni) October 6, 2015
And, in terms of measurement and evaluation, engagement was the key metric. We were looking for shares, likes and replies – and hopefully those replies would be opportunities to further develop the narrative around our role in the city.
@sheffhallamuni fantastic news that something is happening with that building!
— Martin Gleadow (@mgleadow) December 10, 2015
@sheffhallamuni and very beautiful it is ! Wonderful rescue, setting a fantastic precedent for more of Sheffield's negelected treasures.
— Yorkshire Artspace (@YArtspace) January 21, 2016
Outcomes for the campaign? Well, we have social media users acting as advocates for the University, talking about us restoring an iconic building to create a home for arts and culture in the city. But the real impact will be felt once we start to use the building for public events like the degree show and Catalyst Festival.
I hope the groundwork that was done with the #HomeForTheArts campaign means that people still feel a connection with the building, albeit one that’s shaped as much by the work our art and design students do in the building as it is the rich heritage of the building, and the people who used to work there.
Joe Field, social media manager