Real ale pioneer dies of cancer

foodram'Dave Wickett at the Fat Cat,  Alma Street July 31 2001 pubslh
foodram'Dave Wickett at the Fat Cat, Alma Street July 31 2001 pubslh

BUSINESSMAN Dave Wickett – the man who put Sheffield on the real ale map – lost his battle with cancer early yesterday.

Dave, aged 64, was best known as the founder of Kelham Island Brewery, but he also made his mark as an entrepreneur, a keen sports fan and a contributor to the Sheffield United match day programme.

His death has prompted tributes from across the community.

Thornbridge Brewery director Simon Webster said: “Dave has shaped the current beer scene in Sheffield by being the catalyst for so many great pubs, brewers and breweries.

“He was a visionary who was appreciated not just in his adopted city but also nationally and internationally. He will be missed – but he does leave an astounding legacy.”

“What Dave did was create a place where people wanted to be,” said Duncan Shaw, manager of the Fat Cat pub. “And he did that by being enthusiastic, committed, passionate. There’s no doubt without him Sheffield wouldn’t have the reputation for real ale that it does and I think the city as a whole would be a poorer place today. He’ll be so sadly missed.”

Sheffield United chairman Kevin McCabe paid tribute to “a knowledgeable and dedicated friend of the club who will be sadly missed by all at Bramall Lane.

“He embraced everything about Sheffield United. He was one of life’s nice people, a great guy who was loved by everyone at the club.”

Sheffield Sharks chairman Yuri Matischen also praised Dave’s staunch support: “He was there from the start and he was at the Sharks’ last home game two weeks ago – he was a very determined guy as well as a pretty shrewd and tough businessman.”

Miles Stevenson, a director of Sheffield University, said: “Dave Wickett was regarded with huge admiration and affection by everyone who knew him. He was a true entrepreneur with boundless energy, courtesy and optimism. We are immensely proud that he was one of our alumni.

“I think he must have been the most positive person I ever met – and spending time in his company could never fail to uplift you. The way he faced his final illness with a spirit of optimism was an inspiration. All of us salute his tremendous achievements and mourn his passing.”

Originally from London, Dave came to Sheffield in 1969 and graduated with a Masters in economics from Sheffield University. He started his career as a lecturer at the old Sheffield Polytechnic and was one of the first to recognise the value of work placements for students.

He established business degrees at 47 universities across the country and became Chairman of the Business Studies Placement Scheme.

His interest in brewing and passion for real ale developed after setting up a staff club at the Poly – and in 1981 he bought the Fat Cat pub at Kelham Island. Sheffield had over 600 pubs at the time, but this was the first to be free of a brewery tie.

Its success led to establishment of the neighbouring brewery in 1990, along with a twin pub, the Old Toad, in New York, which welcomed British work placement students as part of an exchange programme.

He later co-launched Champs sports bar in Ecclesall Road and also inspired other breweries, including Thornbridge.

As the big breweries closed, Kelham Island became the largest in the city, its success serving as a catalyst for the Kelham Island real ale trail.

In 2004 Pale Rider ale was named as Champion Beer of Great Britain and the brewery now sells ale across the globe. Its reputation has grown to such an extent that an onsite gift shop opened last year.

Dave’s achievements did not go unrecognised. Last year he was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group.

He was also honoured by Sheffield University, earning the Professor Robert Boucher Distinguished Alumni Award for his work in business and education.

Dave had always been fit, taking part in sport as well as spectating, but two years ago he was diagnosed with myeloma, a form of leukaemia.

Last year he was told he would have to rely on a wheelchair but he continued to run his business right to the end.

Dave died peacefully at home. He leaves a wife, Helen, and son Ed, 21. Details of his funeral have yet to be announced.