THE DIARY: What’s Grot To Like?

Portland Works by John Scholey
Portland Works by John Scholey

IT has the history, of course - this was the building where Harry Brearley first made stainless steel, no less.

And it has the industry - some 20 silver platers, engravers and cutlery makers ply their trade there.

Hand Tools by Mike McManus

Hand Tools by Mike McManus

And just last month it was given a future when Britain’s biggest ever community buy-out ensured this 1876 building would not be changed into a soulless apartment block.

But what John Scholey loves about Portland Works more than any of those things is...the grot?

“That’s what makes it special,” he says. “That shabbiness, the feeling of hard work going on, the grot. I think that’s what we were trying to capture with the commission.”

As these pictures prove, they - that’s the Sheffield Photographic Society - succeeded.

Grinding by Janet Thorpe

Grinding by Janet Thorpe

Now, the stunning (but shabby) shots will be displayed at a special open day when Sheffielders are invited to Portland Works, in Randall Street, to see what exactly those hundreds of community shareholders have bought themselves.

“I had a tour there last year,” says John, exhibition organiser. “And I think it has a real Sheffield identity. I spoke to some people about doing this project and they agreed. It went from there, really.”

Some background, then?

Portland Works was opened in 1877 as a complex of cutlery workshops and became, in 1913, the first place in the world to manufacture stainless steel.

Yet in 2009, despite being home to several tenants, owner John Holland submitted plans to turn the Grade II listed block into flats.

A campaign was set up to oppose the proposals and a community buy-out - where individuals purchase shares in the building - was organised.

Last month it was announced a £420,000 deal had been reached, and the building will remain home to small-scale industrial makers and creators.

Now campaign organiser Derek Morton, a retired teacher of Fir Street, Walkley, has announced £500,000 plans to carry out major renovations and structural improvements.

“Not too much, though.We wouldn’t want to lose the muck,” said the 63-year-old.

Ah, there’s that word again, and it brings us nicely back to the exhibition. Six photographers - John, as well as society members Jim Charlton, Linda Jackson, Mike McManus, Steve Dorey and Janet Thorpe - spent a day taking shots of the people, the work and the tools. Twenty-six snaps made the final cut.

“There’s a great deal of affection for the building already,” says John, a retired software analyst of Clifford Road, Nether Edge. “So I thought the pictures would get a positive reaction, which they have. If they’ve helped sell a few shares so much the better.

“I’m the kind of person that still checks his knife and fork to see if they were made in Sheffield so, for me, it was a lovely assignment. I just hope we’ve captured the spirit of the place.”

He hopes they’ve got that grot.

n The exhibition shows at a May 6 open day. All places are booked but visit www.portlandworks.co.uk for details about a future opening in June.