As an increasing number of residents move into new houses at Kelham Island, the dream of creating a distinct enclave of Sheffield with its own sense of community is becoming a reality.
The Little Kelham development of 107 homes has expanded from the site of the former Green Lane Works into a £50 million scheme taking in 98 more properties where the Richardson’s cutlery factory once stood opposite the Fat Cat pub.
In recent weeks plans to redevelop the Grade II* listed Green Lane gatehouse, with its attractive clock tower, have been approved by councillors and work is progressing on the renovation of another old building, Eagle Works.
Aisling Ramshaw, one of the three partners at Citu, the firm behind the Little Kelham project, said 15 properties - larger, three-bedroom homes with roof terraces and a shared garden - are now occupied, putting the ambition of cultivating a genuine ‘community feel’ to the test. Another 12 are sold to move into from January onwards and a showhome has opened.
“If it’s all students in a block that will create a certain feel to a place but if it’s families, retired people or younger people starting out, it does form a proper community,” said Aisling.
“Most people are nice and when you get to know them you would like them but the way buildings are designed and set up, if you don’t know them then if there’s noise there’s an issue, for example. If it’s your mate next door it wouldn’t be as annoying. We can’t force a community to happen but as a developer by enabling interaction and designing spaces it will start to happen naturally.”
Ages range from a family with young children to a couple in their fifties. Occupations are diverse, too - teachers, engineers, IT workers and opticians have all moved in.
A woman from Devon relocated to Kelham because of the scheme’s low-carbon credentials - one of the pillars supporting Leeds-based Citu’s thinking across all of its developments.
“Some of our buyers are very climate-aware and will be very aware of what materials are being used,” said Aisling. “Some of them are interested in location, some of them are interested in lower energy bills but, whatever the motivation, by living in one of these houses you’re reducing your impact on the environment.”
Buildings are all ‘super-insulated’ and fitted with shared solar panels. Energy use such as heating and lighting can be controlled anywhere using a mobile phone app. The key is to make it easier to be energy-efficient.
Design is also a major driver behind the project. Brickwork is coloured black, double-height spaces maximise light indoors and the ‘sawtooth’ shape of the roofs helps the solar panels to catch the sun.
Aisling said a survey by the Royal Institute of British Architects, which suggested 75 per cent of people would not buy a new- build house, was a prime inspiration.
“That’s because they’re uninspiring in design. We’re addressing the issues.”
Construction began in 2013, and Aisling admitted that there had been some delays which have been alleviated by managing the construction in-house, rather than through a contractor.
“We should have had so many more built. We’re on track and we’re going to be building them much faster.”
Alongside the existing pubs and restaurants at Kelham Island, more shops and facilities are needed for residents - but attracting the right kind of businesses will be important.
“We want lots of independents. A bakery would be really useful, a dry cleaners would be great, hairdressers, all of these things that you use day-to-day. A few people want to open bookshops.”
Encouraging residents to stay in Kelham Island, perhaps even raising a family there, is part of the vision.
“We’ve had people approach us to buy a block of properties as an investment but we’ve just said no because we want owner-occupiers,” she said.
Dates for the completion of the next phases are not yet finalised but Citu will be on site for ‘about three years’. Eventually over 500 residents will live at Kelham.
Work will start on the Green Lane gatehouse while the current houses are being built, and the Richardson’s site is in the design phase. An architect is working on the internal layouts of Eagle Works, where creative agencies and digital firms are interested in moving in.
“Kelham Island is a really up-and-coming area now. You can just feel the history as you walk around.
“Since we bought this land lots of developers have bought other land so the area and value of the area is going up over the next few years. It’s a great place, I think.”
And linking Kelham Island to the city centre through other schemes, such as the £250m West Bar Square project behind the law courts, can only help, thinks Aisling.
“There’s much more focus now on urbanism and city living and doing it right.”