Pressure building up over threat to old cutlery works

John Craven, right, and Jules Hudson at Portland Works.
John Craven, right, and Jules Hudson at Portland Works.

CAMPAIGNERS trying to save a historic Sheffield cutlery works are stepping up their campaign in the face of new concerns over its future.

Pressure is mounting as they aim to raise £250,000 in five months to stave of the threat to Portland Works, the first building in the world where stainless steel cutlery was made.

After plans to turn the Victorian complex into housing were blocked, a campaign, including a community share issue, was launched by the local community and with support from all political parties to try to ensure it remained a home for small manufacturing businesses, independent artists and craftspeople.

It will be highlighted next week as part of a BBC2 TV series, Britain’s Heritage Heroes, as the share campaign tries to reach a national audience.

While the immediate threat to Portland Works was lifted, supporters said this week it remains in commercial ownership and under threat and the future for tenants is still bleak. Moreover, the building, built in 1877 off Randall Street, near Bramall Lane, needs substantial repairs.

The largest community share offer in the UK aims to buy the building. Planning to raise £400,000 through a mixture of share purchase, donations and loans by June, campaigners still need £250,000.

They say investors will see sufficient interest on their shareholdings to protect them from inflation but the principal return will be the knowledge that they are contributing towards preserving jobs, skills and a historic industrial building.

Derek Morton, who chairs the committee, said: “Portland Works represents much to be proud of in Sheffield – traditional skills, innovation, creativity and an iconic building with a unique history.

“Add to this a community project that will restore the building, retain the workshops as commercial enterprises and add educational and visitor facilities, and the result will be a fine resource for the city and a tribute to the cutlery industry. Our volunteers have raised £150,000 locally and we are now appealing nationally to achieve our target.

“Buying shares in Portland Works will give people a say in the project and a social return on their investment. We want to support and sustain small local businesses in this splendid building”

Stuart Mitchell, a tenant, whose family business has been making knives at the works since 1980, said “This is a one-off chance to save something special from Britain’s industrial history while still keeping working space for local businesses and artists.

“We need to restore the building to share not only with the people of Sheffield but with the people of the UK.”

Portland Works will be featured in a 15-part series, Britain’s Heritage Heroes, next Thursday at 6.30pm. The programme is presented by Jules Hudson and John Craven.