Cultural Regeneration for Local Residents? The Case of the Millennium Galleries and the Winter Garden

by Kirsten Holmes


Regeneration through culture

Photo of metal fountains outside the Winter Garden.

The 1970s and 80s saw a cultural renaissance in many European cities. This was partly in response to a widespread decentralisation of power from central to local government, which gave non-capital city authorities more autonomy and also because of the need to adapt to social and economic restructuring as manufacturing declined and city decision-makers sought to diversify the local economy (Bianchini, 1993). City authorities needed to compensate for the jobs lost in traditional industries and also create a lively, cosmopolitan city, which would attract new investment and visitors (Voase, 1997).

Sheffield was no exception to this. Sheffield’s economy had been based on steel, cutlery, engineering and tool-making industries, for which the city had gained a world-wide reputation. The steel industry collapsed in the early 1980s and Sheffield City Council was one of the first in the UK to turn to the cultural industries as an alternative source of employment creation and urban regeneration. Putting money into culture became investment, rather than subsidy. The city council established a Cultural Industries Quarter with facilities for music and film production, close to the city’s transport links. The council supported various cultural industries initiatives including the Leadmill Arts Centre, Red Tape Studios (the first municipal recording studio in the UK), film studios, the Site Gallery and the Workstation, council-owned office space for small enterprises (Brown, O’Connor & Cohen, 2000).

In addition, cultural developments were seen as a means of contributing to social cohesion and helping to create a new identity for a city. Arts and other cultural festivals encouraged people from widely different backgrounds to participate in the public life of cities; arts initiatives were designed to provide meaning for disengaged people in society, including the elderly and unemployed and improvements in public spaces helped to reclaim city centres for public use. In response to social change caused by economic restructuring, cities developed cultural policies which were designed to create a quality urban life for all residents (Bianchini, 1993).

Flagship attractions

Photo of the National Centre for Popular Music, now Sheffield
Hallam University’s students’ union.

During the 1980s, prestigious cultural attractions were viewed by local authorities across Europe as a focus for regenerating areas facing economic decline. These cultural flagships could attract investment and new jobs in their construction and operation; contribute to a new identity for the region and, through tourism, generate additional income and visitors (Richards, 2001). Sheffield, unlike some other industrial cities, does not have a wealth of obvious heritage attractions in the city centre. In areas such as Sheffield, flagship projects, which would generate news and attract tourists were particularly favoured and this was spearheaded by nationally-funded museums based in London, when developing regional outposts such as the Tate Gallery’s at St Ives and Liverpool and the National Museum of Science and Industry’s outposts at Bradford and York. When the Tower of London proposed building their own outpost to display the collection from the royal armouries, Sheffield City Council unsuccessfully bid for this, hoping their history of steel production would make them seem a natural home for this collection. However, the Royal Armouries were finally built in nearby Leeds.

Photo of the Eden Project (Copyright Caroline Scarles)

However, cities and regions lacking existing cultural attractions were provided with an entirely new source of money to build these with funding from the national lottery, established in 1994. Funding was made available from both the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Millennium Commission, a temporary lottery funds distribution agency, which funded projects designed to celebrate the change in the millennium. In particular, these new lottery-funded projects featured striking architecture, many designed by renowned architects, such as Daniel Libeskind’s Imperial War Museum North. However, the national lottery initially generated large sums of money, which were eagerly spent on a variety of new and often poorly planned projects, perhaps with too much emphasis on creating landmark buildings, which the public do not need to pay to see. Sheffield sought to build on its history as a home to popular music and the city council’s investment in the cultural industries by building the National Centre for Popular Music (NCPM), which was designed as a tourist attraction. Like many other early projects funded by the lottery the feasibility studies for NCPM made wildly unrealistic predictions for visitor figures, combined with a high admission charge. Moreover, local people saw the attraction as elitist (Evans, 2002). Struggling to meet its visitor targets from the start, NCPM closed in 2001 having cost more than £15 million. Many other lottery projects were found to be unsustainable without continued subsidy and have since closed.

The accusation of elitism has been made at both successful and unsuccessful several flagship projects. This seems to be particularly the case when substantial sums of public money are being spent on cultural facilities designed for the ‘high’ arts, such as opera, ballet and fine art, which are likely to appeal to visitors as much, or even more so, than residents. These charges were laid at grants of £78.5m to the Royal Opera House and £73m to Sadler’s Wells Theatre. The controversy over Zaha Hadid’s designs for the National Opera House in Cardiff is an example of where these charges stopped the whole project. At the last minute lottery funds from the Millennium Commission were redistributed to the possibly more populist Millennium Stadium, meaning that Hadid’s vision was abandoned. A new competition to design the opera house held and the delayed opera house opens in 2006.

In contrast, more successful lottery-funded flagship projects have succeeded in both contributing economically to their locality and helped to forge a new image or identity as well. The Eden Project in Cornwall is considered to be one of the few successes of early lottery funding (Crowe, 2004), and has contributed an estimated £450 million to the Cornish economy and led to the creation of approximately 2500 jobs. The Angel of the North in Gateshead, close to the A1, is one of the most viewed pieces of art in the world and has become an iconic image for the Gateshead and Newcastle region, alongside the more longstanding Tyne Bridge. However, flagship projects alone cannot address all of a city’s problems and cultural regeneration needs to be more than about simply attracting new visitors into a city or region.

Sheffield city centre masterplan

Since Meadowhall, a major retail centre, opened nearby in 1990, Sheffield city centre has struggled commercially. This has only compounded the problems caused by the decline in traditional industry, council funding cuts and restructuring which threatened many of the city centre’s existing cultural facilities, including Kelham Island Museum and the Showroom cinema and the failure of new ones, such as the National Centre for Popular Music. Despite being relatively small for the fourth largest city in England, Sheffield’s city centre is still important economically as 50% of the city’s jobs are located within the inner ring road.

Sheffield One, one of three urban regeneration companies in England, was launched in 2000 as a partnership between Sheffield City Council, Yorkshire Forward (the regional redevelopment agency) and English Partnership. Sheffield One has developed a city centre masterplan for Sheffield. Masterplanning enables a city authority to produce a ‘blueprint for the future evolvement of an area’ (Syms, 2002: 256). Sheffield city centre masterplan was launched in 2001 and will take between 10 and 15 years to complete. The masterplan aims to improve the city’s economy, particularly with the creation of new jobs, the property market, the retail, leisure and cultural facilities in the city centre and the city’s transport system. Thus, cultural attractions are only a part of the overall masterplan, however, these are probably some of the most visible changes to local residents and visitors alike. The masterplan aims not only to create a pleasant and vibrant city centre for residents, but also to attract significant inward investment through retails, office space and property development, which will bring economic benefits.

The masterplan divides the city centre into different quarters, each with an individual but connected regeneration plan. The quarter of significance to this chapter is the ‘heart of the city’, which includes many of the city centre’s existing cultural attractions including Sheffield Theatres and the Graves Art Gallery and two public squares. This quarter is also home to the Millennium Galleries, a flagship cultural attraction built by Sheffield Galleries and Museums Trust and the Winter Garden, an indoor public space owned and managed by the city council. While the ill-fated National Centre for Popular Music suffered from poor planning, Sheffield One is taking an integrated approach to its redevelopments, learning from Sheffield’s past mistakes and recognising that no one project will ‘turn the city around’ (Syms, 2002).

Sheffield City Centre masterplan also aims to tackle the problems of social inclusion, deprivation and unemployment, which the city currently faces, by creating ‘strong and vibrant City economy”. However, city centre renewal in the UK has largely targeted and been in response to a growing class of urban professionals (Evans, 2001), who are attracting by new city centre apartments, leisure and retail facilities and are likely to use the new hotel complex. On the other hand the masterplan is creating free cultural and leisure spaces, which are theoretically available to all.

The Millennium Galleries and the Winter Garden

Photo of Millennium Galleries, Sheffield.

Both the Millennium Galleries and the Winter Garden (A leaflet can be downloaded in PDF format here.) were designed by the same architects, Pringle Richards Sharratt Architects. Both attractions received funding from the city council and the lottery. Both buildings have new and striking architecture and since opening, the Winter Garden has won the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Award (with the Millennium Galleries), the Variety Club of Great Britain Best Regeneration Award and the Royal FineArt Commission ‘Jeu D’esprit Building of the Year’ Award and was officially opened by the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh in May 2003.

The Millennium Galleries more closely resembles a shopping arcade rather than traditional art gallery. Visitors using the main entrance are faced with escalators and a café on the entrance level and the second level consists of four exhibition rooms leading off from a wide corridor, known as The Avenue. The exhibition spaces include one for temporary ‘blockbuster’ exhibitions, where there is an admission charge, another temporary space for contemporary crafts, for which admission is free, and two permanent exhibitions of the city’s metalwork collection and the John Ruskin collection, which are also free. Both the Winter Garden and the Millennium Galleries are situated in the centre of the city, close to the main shopping networks and the railway station, though there is no designated parking space. The Millennium Galleries and Winter Garden are connected and when the city masterplan is complete, it is envisaged that they will form part of a large connected public space in Sheffield city centre, linking existing and new public squares.

The Millennium Galleries and Winter Garden complex is shown in the plan below, which shows the gallery spaces, café, shop and public walkway, which links the two sites. As well as botanical displays and occasional exhibits, the Winter Garden also includes some leisure shops. This is detailed in Figure 1:

Figure 1: The Winter Garden and the Millennium Galleries

Entrance A opens onto Arundel Gate, which is opposite Sheffield Hallam University, near to Sheffield’s Cultural Industries Quarter and the nearest entrance to the train and bus stations. Entrance B is the door between the Millennium Galleries and the Winter Garden, which are separate but connected buildings. Entrances C and D are the doorways into the Winter Garden from Surrey Street, opposite Sheffield Theatres, the main library and Graves Art Gallery and close to city centre shopping. Entrance E is not currently in use, but looks out to further redevelopments as part of the ‘heart of the city’ masterplan.

Photo inside the Winter Garden.

Sheffield City Council described the Winter Garden as an example of stunning architecture, a place for the public to relax, to provide interesting examples of horticulture to educate the public and to be accessible to everyone in Sheffield. Thus, as a free entry venue it is open to everyone. In particular, the Winter Garden may serve as a gateway to the exhibitions in the Millennium Galleries for non-traditional audiences. The Millennium Galleries’ building is designed to be welcoming to first time visitors and resembles a shopping mall, with a cafe on the ground floor, visible to passers by, while the galleries are all off a wide corridor up an escalator. However, visitor research examining the audiences for the temporary exhibitions at the Millennium Galleries suggests that they have not yet succeeded in attracting non-traditional visitors (Holmes, 2003).

Studies of museum visitors show repeatedly that museum visitors come from the higher socio-economic groups – ABC1 – and that they have a high level of educational attainment (Richards, 2001). Moreover, MORI noted that the core market for museums and galleries is among students and ABs aged between 45 and 65 years and that these are the most likely people to visit museums (MORI, 2001), although adults aged 65 years and over make the most visits. People from social classes C2, D and E and from ethnic minorities are less likely to visit museums.

Winter gardens elsewhere in the UK

Sheffield is not the only city the north of England to combine a museum complex with a glasshouse. A winter garden was built alongside Sunderland Museum in 1879. However, the glasshouse was damaged during the World War 2 and both the museum and garden were refurbished and reopened in July 2001 as the result of a successful lottery bid. At Sunderland the winter garden is treated as an additional exhibition space for the museum and (free) access is only possible through the museum. The museum’s exhibition programme makes explicit links between the exhibitions in the galleries and the displays in the garden. For example, during the ‘Secrets of the Past’ exhibition, which examined the work of monks, the links with the garden were made through the monks’ use of herbs and a medicinal trail was developed through the garden.

Photo of Sheffield’s Botanical Gardens.

Sunderland Museum has a ‘Museum Street’ similar to ‘The Avenue’ at Sheffield that has been typically used by visitors as a meeting place as well as providing a sense of airy space in the centre of the museum. There are a few sculptures adorning Museum Street but it is mainly a seated area. The winter garden is sometimes opened on an evening but only for private functions, usually corporate entertaining by Sunderland City Council. However, in the summer, the adjoining café is open in the evening and customers there are still able to view the garden from the outside, if not able to walk round. The garden is also used for adult classes in such areas as botanical drawing and a textile project for older people.

Lottery funding has contributed to other botanically based regional flagship attractions, including the Eden Project and provided £21 million for the National Botanic Garden of Wales, which includes Britain’s largest single-span greenhouse. However, the Botanic Garden needs a regular public subsidy to off-set their annual shortfall of £500 000 (Crowe, 2004). Closer to home, Sheffield’s botanical gardens have are also being restored with funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

While it is not possible to measure the economic contribution the Millennium Galleries and the Winter Garden are making to Sheffield, it is possible to examine how these spaces are being used and by whom. What do local people think of the new cultural facilities in their city centre? This chapter details research examining users and non-users perceptions and use of the Millennium Galleries and Winter Garden.


The fieldwork reported here was collected from two projects. The first was research commissioned by Sheffield Galleries and Museum Trust to investigate the impact the opening of the Winter Garden had on visitors to the Millennium Galleries and to find out how visitors used both spaces. The research used a variety of market research techniques, including a questionnaire to randomly sampled users, with a response rate of 277 and a questionnaire to non-users, with 96 responses; focus groups with users, shop keepers in the Winter Garden and city ambassadors (council employees, who are stationed in the city centre to provide both a welcome and information to residents and visitors); observation of users within the Winter Garden; mystery visitors and expert interviews. Non-user responses are notoriously difficult to collect, hence the lower number of non-user questionnaires. These were conducted on-street in locations near to the Winter Garden in the city centre. The sites were chosen as passers by are potentially aware of these two attractions but have not visited them. Two ‘mystery visitors’ were used to gain the impressions on first time visitors to the Winter Garden and Millennium Galleries. Mystery visitors are real visitors, who provide an assessment of service, quality and standards exactly as they experienced them on a given day and time. The mystery visitors were taken to the site and allowed to visit on their own, while the researcher observed their movements and afterwards debriefed about their experience. The second piece of research (referred to in this chapter as ‘the second study’) examined city centre users’ perceptions of the Winter Garden and involved 250 on-street questionnaires.

Visitor Profile

The visitor profile to the Winter Garden is significantly different from the typical visitors to museums and galleries. In particular, it seems that the Winter Garden and Millennium Galleries attract a cross-section of Sheffield’s population, with more young people, notably students and a greater number of older visitors than might usually be expected in a museum or gallery. The visitor profile is compared to that of the wider Sheffield population, to provide greater context to the data.

Gender and age

The gender balance between male and female visitors was fairly even. Male visitors accounted for 47% while females were 53%, a slight over representation of females, which may be due to sampling. The age profile of visitors shows a typical profile for museums and galleries (MORI, 2001), with peaks among the 35-44 years and over 65 years groups. The observations from the focus groups were that families are a prominent segment of visitors, usually falling within the 35-44 years group. In particular, the city ambassadors mentioned mothers visiting with their babies while sheltering from the rain, or having some time to relax in the Winter Garden. A prominent age category is over 65 year olds, who comprised 18% of the visitors, slightly higher than the proportion of Sheffield’s population in that age group (16%). This data is corroborated by the shopkeepers’ focus groups who observed that the elderly are the first group of people on the site, and are more frequent in their visits than other segments.

Table 1: Age profile of visitors to the Millennium Galleries and Winter Garden

In comparison with visitor figures collected for the Millennium Galleries before the Winter Garden opened, visitors over 55 years have increased from 23% to 28%. In addition, visitors in the 15-24 age category have increased from 15% in 2001 to 20% recorded by the questionnaires. A comparison with Sheffield’s population from the 2001 census, shows that while the 15-19 age group comprise only about 5% of the visitors, they are also only 5% of the city’s population. However, the 55-64 age category comprises only 9% of visitors, which does seem quite low.

Table 2: Occupations of visitors to the Millennium Galleries and Winter Garden

Returns from questionnaires indicated that the retired people and students account for 45% of the users of the site. This is a vast over representation of students in particular, who according to the 2001 census only comprise 11% of Sheffield’s population. The location of the Millennium Galleries is directly opposite Sheffield Hallam University and provides a covered walkway for Hallam students through to the Winter Garden and city centre shopping, which must explain their high level of use. In addition, students are also the most likely people to visit museums and galleries (MORI, 2001). However, the Winter Garden is also opposite the Central Library, which may increase visitors who are passing by, including students and retired people. Of particular significance are the business managers and the two segments of professionals who visited the site during the period of the survey. This implies that the site is an important attraction even to people who are likely to be busy and suggests that the site may be a haven in the bustling city centre. All these categories could be using the facility for short breaks, such as having lunch and so the site may be used as a social centre or meeting place, as at Sunderland museum and winter garden, particularly as it is covered from inclement weather and admission is free!


The data collected on the visitors’ profile suggests that the Winter Garden is attracting a cross-section of Sheffield’s population. According to Table 2, the proportion of unemployed visitors matched the proportion of registered unemployed people living in the city (4%) and the visitors were ethnically very diverse. Only 87% of visitors described themselves as White compared to 91% in the 2001 census. However, the breakdown of visitors from other backgrounds seems to have been skewed by the high proportion of student visitors. The respondents included 3% Asian, 2% Black, 3% Mixed and 5% Chinese. Chinese people comprise only 1% of Sheffield’s population, but students from East Asia make up the highest proportion of both Sheffield Hallam University’s and the University of Sheffield’s international intake.

In addition, the postcodes given by respondents, suggest that the Winter Garden may be attracting an audience beyond that typical for museums and galleries. The majority of visitors came from the S2, S10, and S11 areas of Sheffield. The three regions account for about 30% of all visitors. S10 and S11 are affluent areas of the city, however S2 has a very varied population, including areas with high unemployment and ethnic diversity. The S6, S7 and S8 account for about 20% of visitors. These postcodes include some of the most affluent areas outside of London, but S6 also covers some poorer areas closer to the city centre, now popular with students. The pattern of visitors by postcode is similar to that reported in research conducted for the City Museum and Mappin Art Gallery in Sheffield in 2002, although significantly, the current research shows an increase in the visitors from the S2 area.

How Visitors Use the Winter Garden and Millennium Galleries

Who do people visit with?

The majority of the visitors to the site visit alone (39%) and this seems to confirm the suggestion above that the Winter Garden provides a haven in the city centre for people who are there for other reasons, such as work or shopping. Some respondents indicated that they also visit the site at different times with friends and family. Those who visited with their friends accounted for 34% of users, those with partners, 26%, while families accounted for about 17% of visitors. The proportion of family visitors is low compared to most studies of museums and galleries, although research suggests a general decline in family museum visiting across the U.K. (MORI, 2001).

Length of visit

The questionnaire study found out that 52% of the visitors spent less than 30 minutes at the site while 26% spent between 30 minutes and one hour. This supports the idea that there are a large number of visitors who use the site as a thoroughfare, which is one of the aims of the masterplan. In addition, this adds further support for the premise that the Millennium Galleries and Winter Garden are a place to stop for lunch or find time away from the busy city centre. From observing the mystery visitors’ movements about the site, it was noted that an adult visiting the site on their own was likely to spend more time looking in the exhibition rooms than someone with young dependents. Mystery visitor A, accompanied by her grandchild, spent 79 minutes on site, while mystery visitor B, took 118 minutes to view and enjoy the site.

There were a high number of repeat visits, with 70% of respondents having visited either the Millennium Galleries or the Winter Garden more than once. The second study found that just over half her respondents had visited the Winter Garden more than ten times. No doubt this is aided by free admission to both cultural attractions. The short visit times, suggest that these are places users like to visit regularly, rather than infrequently, but for a longer visit.

Why do people visit the Winter Garden and Millennium Galleries?

Table 3: Main reasons for visiting the Winter Garden and Millennium Galleries

Questionnaire respondents were asked their main reason for visiting the Winter Garden and Millennium Galleries and the results are shown in Table 3. Almost 42% of visitors stated they were visiting primarily the Winter Garden, while 27% were primarily visiting the Millennium Galleries. Moreover, almost 28% of visitors admitted that they used the site as a shortcut. In other words, they passed the galleries and did not go in to visit any of the exhibition rooms. This gives an indication that the ‘Avenue’ within the Millennium Galleries is fulfilling its initial brief to be a thoroughfare connecting Hallam Square to both City Square and Tudor Square, as in the city centre masterplan. According to the city ambassadors, visitors tend to ask for directions to the train station, while some of them use the site to access a car park. At the same time, the whole site is located in the city centre, in the vicinity of Sheffield Hallam University and the City Library, giving an indication of the routes taken by people who pass through the Galleries and/or Winter Garden as a shortcut.

In the Millennium Galleries, the most popular gallery was the Metalwork Gallery, which 26% of users visited. The remaining exhibition rooms are broken down as follows:

  • Ruskin Gallery 20%
  • Special exhibition room 17%
  • Contemporary Art 12%

At the same time, 18% of people visited Café Azure, the most popular area apart from exhibition rooms in the Millennium Galleries.

Respondents to the user questionnaires were asked to describe their movements through the site through the use of a map. From analysis of these maps, 27% of visitors (75 out of 277 interviewees) had visited the Winter Garden only, without venturing into Millennium Galleries. On the other hand, only 1.4% of visitors (4 out of 277 interviewees) visited the Millennium Galleries solely and did not enter the Winter Garden. Most people (almost 60% of visitors) spent time in both spaces.

The importance of public facilities

The Millennium Galleries and Winter Garden are not only cultural attractions, but also provide a public space in the city centre and offer free public facilities including seating, refreshments and toilets. Questionnaire respondents revealed that these facilities were very important in their use of the two sites, with 71.1% of users stated seating in the Winter Garden was important to their visit. Both the City Ambassadors and Users focus groups, and mystery visitor A agreed that more seating in the Winter Garden would be beneficial. However, only approximately 30% of people consider seating in the Millennium Galleries as important; they feel what there is already is adequate. Questionnaire results, analysis of the maps and all three focus groups show visitors are very keen on using both coffee areas, i.e. Café Azure and the coffee shop in the Winter Garden, while they are visiting. Almost 44% of people stated that the café is important to their visit. As noted above, 18% of people recorded a visit to the Café on their map. The users focus group appreciated the waitress service and thought the café offered “really good value”. The users focus group stated that it is difficult to find out the location of the toilets, although once located, the toilets are found to be clean and adequate. City ambassadors also said that many people who visit the Winter Garden asked them about the location of toilets. Only 14% said that the reception in the Millennium Galleries was important to their visit, with visitors perhaps using the city ambassadors as a source of information instead.

Visitors’ Perceptions of the Winter Garden and Millennium Galleries

According to the mystery visitors and the focus groups, the modern architecture of the Winter Garden and Millennium Galleries was considered a great success. It proved impressive to the mystery visitors who had not previously visited the site. The ‘Avenue’ was particularly singled out for praise as being “airy and bright, unlike a traditional stuffy museum”. The interactive elements in the individual galleries were much commented on as an enjoyable means of communicating the meanings of displays to all ages. From the interactive computer programmes in the Ruskin Gallery to the ‘games’ in the Metalwork Gallery, there was a range of pleasing ways to aid understanding.

The exhibitions at the Millennium Galleries

The Millennium Galleries hosts a programme of special exhibitions, for which there is an admissions charge. There has been much debate on the pricing policies of museums and galleries both before and after the government introduced free admission to museums and galleries funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Visitor figures at museums with free entry have not surprisingly soared. However, in the UK, there seems to be a remarkable consistency in the perceived importance of special visiting and temporary exhibitions. Previous research has suggested that a special exhibition can generate up to one third of a museum’s visits. Consequently, regular, substantial and temporary exhibitions make a significant contribution to attendance figures (Davies, 1994). Charging entry for temporary exhibitions is common in London and in mainland Europe.

A recent special exhibition was a John Constable retrospective. This exhibition was described by a participant in the users focus group as “wonderful” and “beautifully set out”. This opinion is supported by the questionnaire data, which shows 61% of respondents believe the special exhibition to be ‘Very good’ value for money. Although only 17% of respondents to the users questionnaire had visited the special exhibition on the day they were surveyed, 21% of those who had not visited stated their reason for not visiting was that they had ‘Already been’.

Previous research has found that in contrast to the respondents in this study, visitors to the special exhibitions at the Millennium Galleries conform to the typical museum and gallery profile. They were well-educated, with over half having experience of tertiary education and were regular cultural consumers, frequently visiting other museums and nearly two-thirds being members of cultural organisations such as the National Trust for England and Wales (Holmes, 2003). However admission price did not appear to be a barrier to visitors as only 17% stated this was the main reason they had not visited the special exhibition on the day of the survey. Rather, it seems lack of time, cited by 52% of respondents, is most likely barrier to viewing the exhibition. Of the non-users who were surveyed, 92% indicated that price is not a barrier to visiting. It may have been presumed that people who are not familiar with the site and do not already have an interest in this area may consider an admission fee a substantial barrier to awakening an interest, however the evidence suggests that price is not a significant determinant of visiting special exhibitions.

Both mystery visitors agreed that there was enough to see at the Millennium Galleries, even without paying to see the Constable exhibition. However, mystery visitor B stated that she “would not necessarily feel the need to return in the short term”, as she felt she had seen everything she wanted to. In contrast, mystery visitor A, visiting with her grandchild, felt the need to return as she did not feel she had seen everything the Galleries had to offer.

Mystery shopper A was impressed by the fact that the Metalwork Gallery is very related to Sheffield, commenting that: “The special exhibition is something that can be seen in any city but the metalwork is very appealing, especially for people from outside Sheffield”. Although the Millennium Galleries is the flagship gallery for Sheffield and must have a national profile, perhaps it could make more of local and regional collections, particularly as the local element at the Weston Park Museum has been lost to the city during its redevelopment. The curators of Sunderland incorporate their museum exhibitions with areas within the Winter Garden, an example being the connection between a museum exhibition on Burma and Burmese plants in the Winter Garden, such as bamboo. The Users focus group suggested that the Millennium Galleries and Winter Garden could co-operate in a similar way. This idea is already beginning to emerge with the joint aspects of the next special exhibition, ‘Flower Power’, which includes later opening of the Winter Garden for late night events in the Millennium Galleries.

The Winter Garden

The Winter Garden was generally thought to offer an enjoyable experience. It provides a peaceful atmosphere for people to relax on their lunch breaks and as “somewhere completely different” to study, as commented by a student participant in the users focus group. The design of the building that houses the Winter Garden was again considered impressive and the ‘airy’ feel of the glass roof made the Winter Garden feel spacious despite the fact that their actual size is quite small. Users did comment that the Winter Garden could make more use of the space available, possibly by installing more plant beds. The seating in the Winter Garden was felt to be important to 71% of respondents to the users questionnaire. The second study found that nearly all respondents thought the Winter Garden had contributed to the city in some way. Mostly, they though the contributions were aesthetic, as an attractive building and space to spend time in and that it improved the image of Sheffield city centre.

Barriers to Use

While the small sample of non-user respondents means that they cannot be representative of all city centre users in Sheffield, their age profile was significantly different from the users, with only 2% aged over 65 years and overall, their profile was younger than users of the Millennium Galleries and Winter Garden. The non-users were also more ethnically diverse, with only 71% describing themselves as White and a high proportion of Asian respondents, 8%. There was a slight bias towards female respondents, with 56% compared to 44% male.

Non-users were asked why they were in the city centre. The most common responses were work, with 30%, relaxing, 21%, studying, 19%, and eating, 18%. These responses give no indication why they had chosen not to visit the Millennium Galleries or Winter Garden, as students are more likely to visit this site and the findings discussed above show that the site provides opportunities for both relaxing and eating. In order to further ascertain their propensity for visiting cultural attractions, non-users were asked which cultural attractions they had attended in the previous 12 months. While 92% had visited the cinema, and 62% had visited a museum, only 38% had visited an art gallery.

Table 4: Non-users reasons for not visiting.

Lastly, users were asked why they had not visited the Millennium Galleries and Winter Garden. Table 4 reports on these findings.

The main reason given is the same as that given by the users for not visiting the special exhibition at the Millennium Galleries. The Millennium Galleries and Winter Garden have to compete with other leisure options, which the city centre offers, such as theatres, the Graves Art Gallery, cinemas, pubs and restaurants and shopping.

The second most important reason given was that non-users were simply not interested in visiting the Millennium Galleries or the Winter Garden. These findings are supported by the survey from the council for Museums Archives and Libraries (MORI, 2001). MORI’s research shows that there are other reasons for not visiting galleries and museums. The first reason not to visit galleries is ‘there is nothing I particularly wanted to see in galleries’. Hence, it is content rather than price that proves the main barrier. In fact, only 8% of non-users in this study stated that they had visited because they did not want to pay, although since admission to all but the special exhibition is free, perhaps the city council and/or Sheffield Galleries and Museum Trust need to emphasise this in their promotion.

Source: MORI, 2001

Table 5: Reasons for not visiting museums and galleries%
Nothing I particularly wanted to see41
Galleries are boring place12
I find it difficult to get out/health problem 1212
Poor local transport/ too far to travel8
Not open when I have time to visit8
My children wouldn’t be interested in6
No time too busy6


Photo of Sheffield City Hall in 2006, following completion of

The Millennium Galleries and Winter Garden form a combined flagship cultural attraction, built with support from both Sheffield City Council and the national lottery and are part of the city council’s broader masterplan for the regeneration of the city centre. Unlike previous attempts at creating a ‘flagship’ in the city centre, these attractions form part of a wider plan for the whole city and significantly they provide free access public spaces. Research suggests that the Millennium Galleries and Winter Garden may have succeeded in attracting a broader audience than cultural attractions typically do, particularly with regard to ethnicity. However, one of these attractions’ functions is to simply provide a thoroughfare from one part of the city to another and this may be one of the main uses by non-traditional cultural audiences. It is also clear that these attractions, as a free indoor space with seating, provide somewhere to escape the city centre, somewhere to have lunch or to meet friends. Therefore they have succeeded in meeting their aims, according to the masterplan, that is they are a ‘superb public space’, which links different parts of the city.

Sheffield’s masterplan makes a difference in other city regeneration schemes, in that it is aimed at improving the city for local residents, not just about trying to attract in new visitors of better residents and this may be the key to its apparent success. However, a significant question, not addressed in this research, is how far people come into the city centre to visit the Millennium Galleries or the Winter Garden or whether it is visited primarily by people already in the city centre. A small number of non-users were questioned and their reasons for not visiting mirrored responses given in a wider MORI study of museum and gallery visiting, that is the attractions do not interest them. This may be because they do not appear relevant to them, in which case this should be a concern to the city council, as public spaces should be relevant to everyone.

Photo of the Winter Garden as viewed from the Peace Garden
dwarfed by the Macdonald’s hotel

It could be argued that Sheffield city centre is already enjoying something of a renaissance. Sheffield Theatres, the largest theatre complex outside London’s West End, after a long period of struggle and uncertainty has achieved notable success as a regional theatre, attracting well-known performers for their in-house productions, as well as hosting the World Snooker Championships. The uncertainty that marked much of the 1990s for the city’ cultural attractions has been overcome largely by externalising them into various trusts. In addition, Sheffield City Hall has also being redeveloped as part of the masterplan.

Thus the Millennium Galleries and Winter Garden are not necessarily acting as catalysts for cultural change. Significantly, the ongoing development of the ‘heart of the city’ involves a new Macdonald’s group hotel, next to the Winter Garden, which largely hides its structure from many city centre viewpoints.

This is one of the original aims of the masterplan as the Winter Garden “was intended to be partly hidden and ‘discovered’ by catching glimpses of it from the Peace Gardens, thereby encouraging people to walk through”. In addition, the hotel is clearly not for local residents and may undo some of the masterplan’s work in creating public spaces in the city centre. We will have to wait several years before we can view the city’s masterplan as a complete whole.


This chapter includes data collected by Jennifer Chang, Kim Chin, Zack Hashim, Claire Lawton, Hyeri Lee, Robert Lock, Claire Mooney, Hannah Proctor, Christine Sowden and Caesar Warutere, all students on the MA Arts and Heritage Management and the MA Leisure Management at the University of Sheffield.


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