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58 Broad Lane: Haven of making in an industrial complex

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Scissor making at Ernest Wright.

With the frontiers of development barely reaching beyond Kelham Island, Sheffield still has vast swathes of untouched industrial buildings that can be put to imaginative new uses. One of these is 58 Broad Lane, opposite Fagans pub. We spoke to Rachel Edmondson, director of building tenant Gordon Snee Art, to find out more.

Tell us about the history of 58 Broad Lane.

Like many of Sheffield's industrial buildings, 58 Broad Lane has been through many different incarnations. In recent times, the Broad Lane facing part of the building had been occupied by Ernest Wright scissor-makers since the flood in 2007, and originally Kent Brothers knife-makers. Part of the first floor had been occupied since the mid-nineties by theatre set designers and prop makers VisionWorks. One room has a special trap door and pulley system in place to lower down huge props. The landlord also tells me Def Leppard used to practise here!

What are some of the new uses the building is being put to?

The ground floor and part of the upstairs is occupied by Ernest Wright, a traditional scissor-making company. To the surprise and delight of local Sheffielders, a pair of Dutch entrepreneurs invested in continuing the 117-year old legacy when the original business sadly went into receivership in 2018. The new owners decided to use the building in a similar way that it had been previously. However, they have worked exceptionally hard on upgrading and cleaning up the tools, machinery and processes here. They also re-hired many of the original staff, with the addition of some fine new apprentices.

We've had life drawing, printmaking and a jazz quartet have even performed here

The remaining upstairs part, originally occupied by VisionWorks is now home to Gordon Snee Art. One room, The Drawing Room has been turned into a creative space and gallery which houses the collection. Our aim is to promote the spirit of creativity by connecting with the wider community and providing space for classes, exhibitions, performances and workshops.

We've had life drawing, printmaking and a jazz quartet have even performed here. Local artists who've never shown their work before have exhibited and sold their paintings here. Sheffield is very rooted in community and we wanted to reflect that.

Tell us about Gordon Snee, and how the building became home to his work.

Gordon Snee was born in 1931 in Burnley, Lancashire, into a working class family who worked in the cotton mills. He was the first of his family to be educated beyond the age of thirteen. In 1948 he won an academic scholarship to The Slade School of Art, where he won several prizes. After leaving The Slade, he pursued his art career and exhibited in both solo and group exhibitions.

Snee saw himself as a craft-based abstract painter. In the late seventies he increasingly found himself at odds with the trends of the time - conceptual art, minimalism, political art, installations and art happenings - and turned his back on the 'art world'. From then on he preferred to paint in isolation in his studio at his Lincolnshire home.

From the age of 16 in 1947 until his death in 2013, he drew and painted every day of his life. When he died he left a legacy of over 70 sketch books and hundreds of drawings, prints and paintings.

After he died his daughter Jo Snee and his granddaughter, me, saved the whole collection and brought it to our hometown of Sheffield. As Snee had rebelled against the world of galleries and selling, we inherited a huge collection of fine art, without the usual funds that surround such things. This is where Sheffield's thriving arts community steps in. I called Kelham Island Arts Collective (KIAC) director Simon Wigglesworth-Baker, asking if we could house the collection in one of their low-cost artists' studios. On seeing the work, members were impressed by its quality and quickly stepped in to help.

The collection stayed at KIAC for a while and two very successful pop-up exhibitions were held. Gordon Snee Art became part of the Kelham Island scene. Fine works of abstract art gracing the walls of characteristic old industrial buildings was a sight to see. The group then realised they needed a safer, more secure home to store and show this treasure trove of artwork.

Nick Wright stepped in again and invited the group to use an empty part of his upstairs office to look after and show the collection. Gordon Snee Art were then able to hold a major retrospective at the Dean Clough gallery in Halifax in September 2017.

It was when Nick tragically passed away in early 2018 that the group decided to take on the then-vacant old VisionWorks space. With the help of some fantastic volunteers to break down and rebuild the purpose-built cupboards, the Snee collection is now held in The Drawing Room.

What does the future hold for the building?

The future is looking bright. Sheffield as a city is becoming increasingly popular for its buzzing network of independent makers and creators, its music and its collaborative spirit. You might come here to have a picture framed and then find yourself watching beautiful handmade scissors being crafted. You might buy a pair of antique stork scissors as a gift and then take a look at an art exhibition. And what better way to top it all off than to go over the road afterwards for a pint in one of Sheffield's best pubs, Fagans. A visit here is like visiting a microcosm of Sheffield, in all its character.

Sam Gregory

Visit the websites of Ernest Wright, The Drawing Room and Gordon Snee Art.

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