Guest Post by Lisa@York Stories: ‘Ways in: looking back …’

Since 2004 Lisa@York Stories has been documenting the city under the heading ‘a residents record of York and its changes’. As part of the My Future York project we’ve been asking people to look forward and imagine their lives and York in 2026. In the first of three posting for the My Future York project, Lisa looks back ten years to 2006. What difference can 10 years make?

A contribution from Lisa@YorkStories

The My Future York project is asking us to imagine what life might be like in the city of York ten years from now. It can be difficult to think ten years into the future, into an imagined future. It can feel like quite a long period of time.

Perhaps, as a way in, looking back ten years could be a useful exercise. Giving a perspective on what has changed in the ten years just gone might help us imagine what ten years on might look like.

In my online ‘record of York and its changes’ ( I’ve taken photos around York and written about York for more than a decade. I’ve been going through the photographs I took on my York walks ten years ago, in 2006, and reading the website pages I wrote about some of them, focusing on our lives here in this particular city.

The photos include some things that are no longer part of the cityscape, and many things that still are.

Back in 2006 the sugarbeet factory was a prominent feature of the skyline on my side of town, and the announcement of its imminent closure led me to take many photos of it, from the other side of the river, across Clifton ings. Its familiar smell was part of the local landscape at certain times of the year, a reminder that a sense of place and ‘our heritage’ involves all our senses, as we live and work and walk through the local patch.

November 2006, looking over Clifton Ings to the sugarbeet factory – now closed, taking with it familiar smells. Photo credit: York Stories.

What will York smell like in 2026? Will the smell of cocoa still drift across from the Nestle (formerly Rowntree) factory? And will the blue signs for the cycle routes still point the way to ‘Rowntrees’, or by then will they be replaced with ‘Nestle’? The disused part of the Rowntree site, Nestle South, has been marketed as ‘the Cocoa Works’. By 2026 will it have been redeveloped, and will the signs point the way to ‘the Cocoa Works’? Will locals of a certain age always call it Rowntrees, regardless?

But back to 2006. The photos remind me that there wasn’t yet a Sainsbury’s on the corner of Bootham Row, where a new tall building has replaced the former garage building, low level and set back from the road. Just like all the sites built on in the last ten years in or near the city centre, the new buildings are much higher, making as much profit as possible on valuable land.

In the heart of the city, the Minster’s East End was covered in scaffolding, back in 2006, and old carved pieces of stone were stacked on the ground nearby. After painstaking restoration for so many years it was recently unveiled in all its glory. In 2006, around the Minster’s south side, Deangate still had kerbs and tarmac, an obvious road. Now it’s repaved with expensive stone, a shared space where cyclists whizz through and pedestrians are wandering.

Back in 2006 King’s Square still had its 1970s paving scheme, since controversially replaced. Similar major repaving work has occurred in the last decade in part of Exhibition Square, and in Library Square.

The library has been renamed York Explore, and it now has the city archives housed in an impressive added extension. Major work here on this building and all the others around it in what was called for a time the ‘cultural quarter’, though that phrase didn’t seem to catch on. But in the last decade we’ve seen work on the Yorkshire Museum, the art gallery, the theatre, the De Grey rooms alongside, the public loos by Bootham Bar, and most recently St Leonard’s Place. All emerging as handsome and new, and some of them in some ways more accessible, in other ways less accessible (because of increased entry fees, or because bits of them are no longer open to the general public).

Also in the ‘cultural quarter’, at the Lendal Tower corner of the Museum Gardens, the former engine house and the land behind it was scruffy and intriguing in 2006. Now it’s the Star Inn, and very posh. There’s a new access point through an archway in the wall, which in 2006 was used as a storage area for old bits of wood and the like.

Across the other side, the ‘tunnel’, just inside the Museum Street entrance of the Museum Gardens – still an unexplained and intriguing place in 2006, with sarcophagi along its walls. Now it’s a display space for information boards.

Beyond the historic core we’ve lost many buildings that had heritage value but no listing to protect them. Attempts to compile a ‘Local List’ drew attention to many buildings of interest, many of them demolished in the last decade. Including the old iron foundry buildings on Leeman Road, Reynard’s garage (aka the former Airspeed factory), St Barnabas old school building, and the Burnholme WMC, housed in a fine and fancy Victorian villa, now demolished, with a new club and housing in its place.

The Bonding Warehouse was empty in 2006, had been that way for some years, with its plastic letters dropping off: The Boding Warehouse by then. It’s now fully renovated and occupied, with offices in the place we used to booze and dance and laugh. I hope people still laugh there, even if boozing and dancing isn’t on the cards.

The photos from back then also remind me that there were the usual seasonal floods, in the autumn of 2006, lapping around the Boding Warehouse and other buildings by the Ouse. I have many photos of the riverside areas, Clifton ings and Paddy’s Pitch, covered in water, and gulls. But nothing too dramatic, over the ten year period, until of course the major incident in late 2015, with the failure of the Foss Barrier. I have photos of the Foss Barrier in 2006, when like many people I didn’t really appreciate just how important it was. It was rather taken for granted back then. Begging the question: what do we take for granted now that in ten years time we might not?

By the Foss, back in 2006, the old Stubbs ironmongers building was being converted to a Loch Fyne restaurant, with a new residential block behind it. I have photos of it mid-conversion with its new lettering painted on the brickwork and the old Stubbs signage still above the shopfront. The 2015 floods left it closed for almost a year. Another restaurant nearby still hasn’t reopened. Will we be better able to control and cope with the effects of flooding in the future?

June 2006: the conversion from Stubbs ironmongers to the Loch Fyne restaurant is underway. Photo credit: York Stories.

Nearby, walking down the characterful Straker’s Passage off Fossgate in 2006 meant passing the side of the Barbican Bookshop, where a side window held a selection of interesting books. The Barbican Bookshop is one of many familiar well-established shops to have closed down in the last decade. New shops have appeared, but bars and restaurants are more common.

June 2006: the Barbican Bookshop side window down Strakers Passage. New shops have appeared since, but bars and restaurants are more common. Photo credit: York Stories.

Near Fossgate is the Hungate redevelopment area. In 2006 it was still full of the functional low brick-built buildings dating from the mid-20th century. I’m reminded of this by a photo of the buildings on Stonebow taken from the Peasholme Green end. The demolition of those buildings led to a marketing suite on part of the site and a fine buddleia forest behind hoardings on the other part. Behind that, in the intervening ten years, tall blocks have been built. Some private residential and some student accommodation.

June 2006: buildings on Stonebow, since demolished. Looking very different now, with a marketing suite for the new Hungate development. Photo credit: York Stories.

Which brings us to the main change in the city over the last decade. There has been a huge increase in the student population, and that has had a noticeable effect on the city, in terms of the built environment and culturally.

If in 2006 you lived on a quiet street of residential houses occupied by families paying a mortgage and now you’re living on the same street surrounded by rented houses occupied mainly by young people only living there for a short time then your neighbourhood will have a different feel to it. In recognition of this there have been attempts to deal with the large increase in the student population by building huge blocks of purpose-built accommodation. Large accommodation blocks for students have appeared in the Hungate development area and on Navigation Road and Walmgate, and outside the walls along Lawrence Street and Hull Road, where the older properties of the Poor Clare’s and the former St Lawrence WMC/Tuke house are also being converted to student accommodation. The changes on this side of town are quite dramatic.

The changes between then and now stand out. But photos from 2006 also focus the mind on the things that haven’t changed much, the things that endure, much the same, maintained. I have many photos of Homestead Park, York Cemetery, Clifton ings and the riverside areas, Rawcliffe Meadows. All as lovely as they were, actually better than they were, as our appreciation of our local natural environment deepens.

In the paragraphs above I’ve focused on the changes. But ten years isn’t really that long, certainly not in the context of a historic city like York. So how will it change in the next ten years? With competing interests and opposing viewpoints? Technology will of course be part of the mix, and wider cultural changes. But for York, specifically, what changes in buildings and our use of land can you see being likely? What would you like it to be? How would you like it to look? Will it feel ‘like home’?