Tattooed bearded bicyclist Russell Cutts exemplifies for many the modern criteria of hip, but he has little time for such frivolous matters.
“When my Nan worked down here 60 years ago, there would have been men with beards and tattoos all over the place,” he said. “She loved her paste jewellery and fake fur coats when she went out to the working mens club, and the clothes she wore wouldn’t look out of place on a 20-year-old in parts of London nowadays.”
Russell was reflecting on the latest of many surveys placing Kelham as one of the hippest locations in the modern world. (Or thereabouts: The Travel Supermarket’s ‘Hip Hang-out Neighbourhood Index’ polled Kelham equal eighth in the UK with London’s Dalston).
It’s all a load of nonsense, said virtually everyone on the plain-speaking backstreets by the inner city River Don last week. But then they were north of the river, which, as home to Yellow Arch Studios, The Depot Bakery, Peddler Night Market and Russell’s Bicycle Shed, must mean that Neepsend is hipper than Kelham anyway? (Discuss).
The Grind Café and The Milestone were pioneers in the area’s rebirth, said Ben Smith of Peddler Night Market, setting up risky shop with high-end food in the early days of hip Kelham. Food outlets and real ale pubs were changing the area, and when a warehouse and a former model railway workshop on Burton Road became available, Peddler and the Depot Bakery moved in just over a year ago.
Ben, who worked in Shoreditch for several years and knows all about hipsteria, reckons such inner-city locations share a similar story: a post-industrial landscape with interesting buildings available at cheap rents for youngish people setting up their own businesses as an interesting way out of a recession. (In his case, he bought a horse box from which to sell craft beer at street markets).
The difference here is Sheffield itself, said Wakefield-born Ben. “Sheffield has a nice understated humility about it, there are loads of interesting people beavering away on the quiet. Kelham doesn’t project itself on a national scale, it’s just a nice place to be.”
Natalie Perry from The Depot Bakery said interesting people with interesting ideas come from our changing city. “Over the last 20-25 years Sheffield has changed because of the universities, and the people with new ideas who’ve come from London or overseas and planted themselves in Sheffield. I don’t think Sheffield is stuck in its ways any more, it’s very diverse and different and interesting.”
But here and there around the light industrial landscape of Ball Street and Rutland Road are hints of disquiet, with ‘no more yuppies’ and similar opinions scrawled on walls and street corners. “I’ve seen the graffiti, I’m not sure if it’s ironic or not,” said Ben. “To say it’s gentrification is a simplistic way to look at it. When you speak to many of the businesses who’ve been here for a long time they say what’s happening is a breath of fresh air.”
Like Sean Needham of Hick Street Fish and Chips, a favourite of Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley, said assistant Michelle Hackett.
“They used to call this area Gotham City, it was dark and dingy and you wouldn’t want to walk about,” said Sean. ”Now it’s a nice area to work and sell food. Now we get more suit customers than in their overalls customers, and residents.”
Managed carefully, said Russell, Kelham should provide a home for traditional industries, upmarket cafés, musicians, circus classes, start-up businesses and quirky bike shops (like his own), although everyone would like to see someone do something with the old brewery on Rutland Road, and more of the old factories and workshops brought back into use.
And perhaps the hipster fashion did originate in Northern enclaves like Kelham, said Russell. “People in London take the best bits of everywhere else and make it into something of their own.”
Or maybe it really began in Neepsend, named by Scandinavian immigrants who looked out at the wooded hillside with their tattoos, facial hair and offbeat accessories 1,000 years ago, and decided things really would have to change.