Words by Terri Munro,
Walking the streets of Sheffield as a ‘foreigner’ from the Midlands is fascinating. As you stroll past mazes of brick buildings with large panel windows, you wonder what these areas would have been like at the height of Sheffield’s industrial age. Busy, noisy, full of life and dust, people turning out knives, forks, spoons, and a host of silverware destined for some of the great houses, hotels and clubs around the world. Fine work that marked Sheffield out as The Steel City.
Yet for many students today they are just part of the background scenery as we walk to Uni, work and the clubs. If you go to The Night Kitchen in Shalesmoor for an all-nighter, do you ever wonder what that building used to be? Ever look around and wonder who used to live or work here?
The Night Kitchen is home to CADS (the Creative Arts Development Space). And it’s not the only old building which is being used for a greater use for the people of Sheffield.
Portland Works on Randall Street near Bramall Lane is one of these buildings. Built in 1877 it was where stainless steel cutlery was invented by Robert F. Mosley Ltd. Shipped all over the world, the metalwork’s made here and across the city, marked Sheffield globally as ‘The steel city’.
Today, Portland Works offers workspace for over 20 businesses, bands and artists and is a great location for a start-up businesses. Contemporary jewellery maker MAH jewellery has a block at the works. Made by Maral Azhdari, a jewellery and metal works graduate from Sheffield Hallam, her products are truly unique and she combines traditional craftsmanship with contemporary techniques to produce one of a kind jewellery.
There’s also a range of musicians such as Kimmy Yeah, Big Eyes Family Players and Dosch as well as a record production company, Singing knives. There’s also a wide range of craftsman who use traditional techniques to create everything from Knives (Stuart Mitchell Knives) to engraving, by Shaw engraving, and joinery projects with Lynthorpe Woodworks. There’s many more to be discovered on the Portland Works website.
What is so remarkable about Portland Works’ story and other buildings similar to it such as Albyn Works, which is located next to Kelham Island and The Stag Works on John Street, is that they still house traditional craftspeople. CADS also being a part of this story. As well as being the home to The Night Kitchen it also rents studio space for all forms of creative activity such as art exhibitions, music events and film screenings at cheap rates.
However, it isn’t an easy ride for buildings like Portland Works. Many of them have suffered severe neglect since the decline of steel manufacturing in the UK. A lot of money and dedication is needed to get them functioning properly and looking their best.
In 2009, due to its decrepit state, Portland Works was threatened with being converted into flats. Loyal tenants and the local community campaigned for four years to conserve the Works for its original use. As a social enterprise, the Works is owned by community shareholders and any profits made from running the Works are reinvested in the building.
Since 2013 the aim is to renovate the building so it can be used to its full potential, and be developed as a centre for traditional crafts. Meaning seeing more independent mental works and other creative manufacturing businesses. It also hopes to offer training in traditional skills to the younger generation.
Buildings like Portland Works, Albyn Works, The Stag Works and CADS hold history that is still unfolding today. These are more than just a collection of businesses. These buildings represent the kind of space that is disappearing in our cities. They are vital to sustaining creativity and a good quality of working life in Sheffield. Portland Works wants more attention from the young, to inherit the traditional manufacturing skills used by existing tenants for its future.
Students make up a large part of the population of Sheffield and we need to appreciate and treasure these buildings in order to keep creative arts and independent manufacturing alive in Sheffield.
As a student what would you like to see more of from these buildings, such as Portland Works, that would make you want to get involved? Leave a comment below.
If you are interested in the story of Portland Works, inheriting some traditional skills or renting space for a business of your own after graduating, take a look at their website: http://www.portlandworks.co.uk/ or come along to their open day on 11th April 2015.
Portland Works, Randall Street, Sheffield, S2 4EQ.
Find out more about the makers who work at Portland Works here
If you would like to donate to Portland Works to help restore the building to its former glory you can Gift Aid online via: https://localgiving.com/charity/portlandworks
Other places to discover: