The urban village

Green Lane Works
Green Lane Works

More houses are to be built in Kelham Island as the ambition of creating an ‘urban village’ gathers momentum.

The proposed transformation of the former Richardsons cutlery factory site with 51 two, three and four bedroom properties is the latest sign developers see Kelham as attractive for family houses as well as apartments for students and young professionals.

Kelham Island

Kelham Island

The first residents of ‘Little Kelham’ - a pioneering ‘eco-friendly’ complex of family houses and apartments being built around the former Green Lane and Eagle Works - are due to move in from the autumn.

It all adds up to a striking reversal in fortunes for the area, which was once blighted by industrial dereliction and crime, including prostitution. New buildings are going up alongside the old in the conservation area, and there are further signs that an established community is taking root alongside the River Don.

A growing cosmopolitan character is reflected in new cafes and restaurants alongside traditional pubs and the landmark Kelham Island Museum.

There is still some way to go in realising the ambition of an ‘urban village’. More community facilities are needed, say businesses and residents.

Kelham Island Tavern celebrates its 10th Anniversary. Landlord Trevor Wraith at the pub

Kelham Island Tavern celebrates its 10th Anniversary. Landlord Trevor Wraith at the pub

City’s urban village with character all of its own

When Trevor Wraith bought a boarded-up pub in Kelham Island 12 years ago, he knew he was taking a risk.

All around were the scars of a rundown industrial area.

“There were a lot of problems - prostitution, drugs and muggings,” says Trevor. “The street lights were out in a lot of places. It wasn’t a nice place.

TRAMLINES 2014'The Everley Pregnant Brothers play the Fat Cat at Kelham Island

TRAMLINES 2014'The Everley Pregnant Brothers play the Fat Cat at Kelham Island

“I didn’t realise how bad it was.”

The Kelham Island Tavern went on to be voted national Pub of the Year two years running - and the surrounding area has also seen a radical reversal in its fortunes.

Increasingly, it has become an attractive place to live. A distinct, increasingly cosmopolitan neighbourhood is emerging that harnesses the new within the conservation area. It’s being called an urban village, with its own character and atmosphere.

Initially, developers saw the opportunity for apartments within walking instance of the city centre, first for private occupiers, then for students. Gleeson Homes started the ball rolling with an ambitious conversion of two derelict factories, Cornish Place and Brooklyn Works, proclaiming the district as a “hidden gem”.

It worked, and other developers followed with new blocks of apartments.

Now, although more flats are on the way, the focus is switching to family houses, which will bring a more balanced community.

Permission was granted recently to Darlington-based Meadale Ltd for 51 houses, with two, three and four bedrooms, on the site of the former Richardson’s cutlery factory next to the Kelham Island Tavern. On the other, the old Kutrite factory is to be replaced with 52 student flats.

But the potential game-changer is ‘Little Kelham’ - the 153 houses and apartments being built around the former Green Lane and Eagle Works over three years in a £30m ‘eco-friendly’ development by Leeds-based property developer Citu that will introduce family accommodation. Some of the properties will have four bedrooms and a garden.

Citu is looking to attract first time buyers as well as families. In some cases, it says there are young couples currently in private apartments now looking for family accommodation.

In addition to the passive houses, the landmark Green Lane clock tower and adjacent former works will be restored for leisure, hotel, residential, commercial and community use, while another old building, Eagle Works, overlooking the River Don, is earmarked for conversion into studios and office accommodation for creative businesses, including a co-working space.

Most of the site, though, is being cleared for new houses with their own garages.

“Things are changing,” says Trevor. “It has gone from one extreme to the other. It was an industrial area in decline and decay when I took this place on. Now it’s all very positive.”

The opening of the inner relief road cut out much of the traffic on the side streets. Kerb crawlers no longer had a straightforward reason for being in the area. As the standing of the area rose, and students and professionals moved in, so the police stepped up efforts to make the streets safer. The prostitutes have gone.

A major attraction of Kelham is what has not changed. Kelham Island Museum, with its treasures from Sheffield’s industrial heritage, remains a dominant fixture next to the River Don.

The Kelham Island Tavern and Fat Cat continue to be magnets for real ale enthusiasts from a wide area - beacons in the so-called ‘valley of beer’ and a tribute to the foresight of the late businessman Dave Wickett.

Some businesses have stayed, but the new Kelham is all around. Next to the museum is the Chimney House, a grade II listed building that has been converted into a venue for meetings, training sessions, private dining and weddings.

City Church, in an old school, has added vibrancy to the district.

And the traditional pubs are being joined by a growing range of stylish cafes and restaurants.

The Milestone gastro-pub was hailed by Gordon Ramsay in Channel 4’s Ramsay’s Best Restaurant in 2010. Since then the Brooklyn Steak Restaurant Bar has arrived.

Meanwhile, another independently owned cafe, the Grind, which is based in the ground floor of Cornwall Works, a former silversmiths, has established a name for itself opposite the new Little Kelham development . It is owned by Howard Wade and his wife, Amanda, who also run Cactus Property Management, a residential lettings and property management company which has a large property portfolio in Kelham Island.

“It is not just the pubs or the museum anymore,” says Howard. “This is Sheffield’s answer to the idea of an urban village. There’s a children’s nursery opening in the old Bull’s Head pub, and as soon as you get a nursery, a doctor’s, a hairdressers’ ... you get a community. That’s what everybody is aiming towards.”

The picture is in marked contrast to ten to 15 years ago.

“A lot of people think about Kelham Island as industrial and empty buildings” says Howard. “It’s not like that anymore. You get people from outside Sheffield saying they want to live in S10, S11 and Kelham Island. There are a lot of people who like the mix of the old and new buildings.

“We are minutes from the city centre, yet we are tucked away and it’s fairly quiet. Kelham has got its own feel. It’s slowly coming together.”

Yet Howard says the council’s input could be better. “The street signage is very poor, and the street cleaning needs significant improvement and the footpaths could do with improving. It could just do with a little more TLC from the council.”

The issue of parking also needs to be tackled, it is argued. Free on-street parking is often snapped up by motorists who work in the city centre.

“We have got businesses wanting to come into the area, but there is nowhere for them to park.”

When the City Living concept was launched, the idea was that residents would be close to public transport or would walk to work. Now Howard says 90% of people who rent an apartment ask for a parking space.

The answer could be permit parking, or perhaps a multi-storey car park, suggests Howard.

Local Green councillor Jillian Creasy supports permit parking in Kelham. “The area is used as a bit of a free car park at the moment,” she says. “The streets are jammed during the day. It would be good to have permit parking, although it needs to be consulted upon to work out the exact needs of the area.”

Kelham has the potential to develop into an urban village, agrees Coun Creasy. “It is one of the up-and-coming areas in the city, and it has a different flavour.”

And as a more permanent population takes root, as opposed to passing through, there are increasing signs that residents are caring more about their community. One issue will be to ensure that the growing number of bars and cafes does not lead to a problem with late-night noise and other disturbance.

More community services, such as a doctor, dentist and eventually a school, will be needed if the concept of the urban village is to be fully realised.

For the moment, though, Kelham Island has come a very long way in a short time.

“It’s very positive,” says Coun Creasy.