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Leah's Yard Ambitious plan to transform historic complex submitted to Council

Collaborative bid between Union St, DINA venue and Opus could see conversion of listed building on Cambridge Street into a "pioneering hub" featuring co-working space, studios, offices, cafe bar and courtyard space for performances and exhibitions.

Leahs Yard Backfields Square View Final crop

Leah's Yard from Backfield Public Square.

Studio Gedye

Three well-known social businesses have submitted an ambitious proposal to Sheffield City Council to transform the Grade 2* listed Leah's Yard in the city centre into "a business, social and visitor destination and independent cultural hub".

Leahs Yard Proposal September 2020 1
Read the full Leah's Yard proposal.

The partnership - made up of popular co-working space Union St, arts and culture hub DINA, and local social enterprise Opus Independents, publisher of Now Then - has brought together a team of expert advisors behind a plan to move the historic complex back into daily use after it has sat empty for over 20 years.

If the proposal is approved by the Council, the new partnership plans to invest £350,000 into the 'fit out' of the building in the first two years of its 25-year tenancy, in partnership with interior designer Laura Wellington of Duke Studios in Leeds.

An exciting, modern extension to the building has been designed by Simon Gedye of Studio Gedye, whose work includes the conversion of three listed school buildings in Heeley into Sum Studios.

Leah's Yard is located between The Benjamin Huntsman and The Tap and Tankard pubs on Cambridge Street, opposite John Lewis, within an area earmarked for development as part of the Heart of the City II project.

A "first stage decision" on the proposal is expected in November.

DINA, Opus Independents and Union St are rightfully respected for their social, cultural and economic contributions to Sheffield. Together they will catalyse the potential of Leah’s Yard: a community enterprise, cultural and heritage hub. Innovation, making, impact, art, collaboration and play: the heart and soul of Heart of the City II. A meaningful way to level up and build back better through actions not slogans.

Leah's Yard Social Enterprise proposal
Leahs Yard Cambridge Street View Final crop

Leah's Yard from Cambridge Street.

Studio Gedye

The Leah's Yard Social Enterprise

Words: Daniel Dylan-Wray

Sheffield has long been synonymous with merging the city’s industrial past to its creative future. In the 1970s pioneering artists like The Human League and Cabaret Voltaire utilised abandoned cutlery works to create the new electronic sounds of the future; the old Victorian nuts and bolts factory Yellow Arch was the place that Arctic Monkeys honed their world-conquering sound; the crumbling factories and warehouses of Kelham Island are now some of the UK’s finest food and drink destinations; and at the heart of the monolithic Brutalist housing estate Park Hill sits S1 artspace.

Another opportunity to continue this rich and longstanding tradition is the Cambridge Street Partnership, connecting Union St, Opus and DINA together at Leah’s Yard. From Union St’s co-working space providing a productivity-boosting home to freelancers and new businesses to DINA’s award-winning arts venue and café to Opus’ crucial journalism via Now Then magazine, the three organisations also have a proven history of attracting huge numbers of people to unique, vibrant and inclusive events and festivals.

Already providing an invaluable contribution to the independent spirit of Sheffield, they now join forces to create an innovative community enterprise and cultural hub. A place where work, play, art, music, collaboration and culture will flourish. “Looking back on the way little mesters workshops operated, you see that Sheffield was built on a network of independence,” says DINA’s Deboarh Egan. “It's a really critical part of the city's identity and we want to connect to that DNA.”

“This is a real opportunity to demonstrate an alternative vision for the city centre,” says Matt Hill of Union St. “Union St operates in a building that nobody wanted to touch for five years because it wasn't viable so our current location proves the concept of what we do, as well as what might be possible in a location which is fit for purpose like Leah’s Yard. We estimate an additional footfall of around a quarter of a million visits per year.”

Growing up in Sheffield, Egan remembers Leah’s Yard when it was operational. “I've got really strong memories of that building,” she says. “It was this bustling den of people scurrying backwards and forwards. It would be amazing to bring it back into circulation with some really interesting and dynamic people who are future-oriented. We need the texture and visible humanity of people functioning and doing interesting things in a place to give a city its identity.”

Tim Feben of Opus feels the partnership has room to be a groundbreaking one with Sheffield residents as its core focus. “We want the partnership to be radical,” he says. “To be a place where organisations can come together and help make our city better for everyone, providing meaningful opportunities for both internal members and members of the public. There's evidence that shared cultural experiences are essential for developing empathy and critical thinking. We want to provide an inclusive space for those experiences.”

Ultimately this vision for Leah’s Yard is about paying tribute to the history and function of the building but also an opportunity to move slickly and stylistically into the future. The proposed eco-friendly new build that will accompany the heritage site will allow the past and the future to co-exist side-by-side. “The texture of those two buildings next to each other creates a great identity for a future organisation in the centre of Sheffield,” says Egan. “By recognising our heritage but also going for a very green, contemporary, forward-facing building results in a perfect marriage.”

by Sam Walby (he/him)
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