Kelham Island named best neighbourhood in UK

Kelham Island was named the best neighbourhood in the UK and Ireland
Kelham Island was named the best neighbourhood in the UK and Ireland

Today Sheffield’s Kelham Island bears no resemblance to its industrial past, having gone through major redevelopment in recent years to be crowned best neighbourhood in the UK.

One of the oldest industrial sites in the city, the area now boasts an array of fashionable cafes, bars and restaurants alongside hundreds of modern flats and office buildings.

Kelham Island Museum.

Kelham Island Museum.

And, its transformation from traditional manufacturing to ‘urban village’ has now been recognised, as it was named the best neighbourhood in the UK and Ireland at the Urbanism Awards.

The award is one of five given out each year by The Academy of Urbanism, a network of built environment experts from across Europe who recognise Britain and Ireland’s best place, street, neighbourhood and town, as well as Europe's best city. 

Voted on by its members, the Academy judges against a number of social, economic and environmental factors, including good governance and commercial success. 

The theme of this years awards is ‘post-industrial’ - recognising examples that have transformed themselves into thriving places after suffering from the decline of their predominant industry.

Joe Goss, Manager of The Gatehouse with Head Chef Mark Goodwin

Joe Goss, Manager of The Gatehouse with Head Chef Mark Goodwin

And, visiting the area its easy to see why it has achieved such an accolade.

Buildings which once housed iron works, and latterly a power station, now offer collections, displays and workshops of Kelham Island Museum allowing visitors to learn the history of the area.

Others are home to an abundance of independent eateries, drawing crowds after a unique experience which help keeps business booming.

Joe Goss, Manager of coffee bar and kitchen The Gatehouse explained how redevelopment has helped the area thrive, and what it is like for business in Kelham.

Duncan Shaw, Manager of Fat Cat

Duncan Shaw, Manager of Fat Cat

He said: “It’s really busy and it just keeps improving everywhere week. Being in Kelham Island is exciting, every week there is something new, there is something happening and its changing constantly. You’ve got things like the beer and gin festivals coming up and the Christmas markets.

“Its quite chaotic, and very interesting but in a good way. There is always something else opening in Kelham. The groups down here are aware not to tread on peoples toes, we all do our own thing.

“Everyone has a niche, there are a dozen very different and very independent restaurants.

“You develop a nice working relationship with others and help each other out. For example with Fat Cat we share bouncers on busy weekends, and when they’re busy or we are we bail each other out.”

James Stringer, Assistant Manager of Kelham Kitchen and Wine Bar

James Stringer, Assistant Manager of Kelham Kitchen and Wine Bar

But what does the future hold for Kelham now it has won the award?

Duncan Shaw, manager of Fat Cat echoed the feeling felt by many in the area, speaking of a new tourist trade which has evolved with the transformation.

He said: "We’re really busy. Its almost like two different kinds of pub. We’re quite a traditional and local pub in the week and we have our regulars. But, at the weekend, the area has become such a destination it attracts different kinds of people.

“You can get the best of both worlds, you’ve got places like us and The Wellington which are your traditional pubs, and then the new wine and craft beer bars. 

“Development has been great for the area, decades ago we were a steelworkers pub, but we get a lot of the office workers now. Without the redevelopment we wouldn’t be half as busy. Years ago you just had us and Kelham Island Tavern.”

And, he says the area has now solidified itself as one to visit on a night out where customers can stay for hours. 

Helen Featherstone, Director of Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust

Helen Featherstone, Director of Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust

“You don’t just come for one pub, we try not to duplicate beers so we can offer something different,“ he added. “When the Arctic Monkeys played we created the Tranquility beer and talked to all the different pubs and a lot took it.

“I put a keg in the boot of my car and dropped it round to the Shakespeare, we all work together. And with things like change, if we run out I’ll nip to Craft and Dough, or when their ice machine breaks they’ll come round here with buckets. 

“Development has been great for the area, decades ago we were a steelworkers pub, but we get a lot of the office workers now. Without the redevelopment we wouldn’t be half as busy. Years ago you just had us and Kelham Island Tavern.”

But what does the future hold for Kelham now it has won the award? James Stringer, assistant manager of Kelham Kitchen and Wine Bar believes the area will continue to move from strength to strength.

He said: “It’s good to get recognised with the award, the area has changed completely over the last year. But it’s changed in a good way, it’s positive there is always local contractors in the area doing redevelopment and its good building work. 

“Some of our customers travel from far away just to come to Kelham Island, I think it is word of mouth. Our weekends are really busy, and in the week we get office people coming in.

“Ben McGarry and Simon Wigglesworth-Baker from the Kelham Island Community Alliance come in regularly. They talk about all the different things that are happening and the plans for the future of Kelham. 

“The business is in a good area, and winning the award can only be a positive. I know we were up against decent places, so its got to be good to compete against London. Once they’ve finished all the building it will be great for business, its good that the area is managing to succeed because not all redeveloped areas do.”

A variety of the local independent businesses, community groups and residents, were also involved in the bid for the award – from writing the narrative and designing a booklet for the judges, to orchestrating a tour of the neighbourhood, where they met local business owners and people along the way. 

Helen Featherstone, Director of Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust said: “The team at Kelham Island Museum is thrilled to be part of the success of winning the Great Neighbourhood Academy of Urbanism award. The judging panel visited the museum as part of their assessment, were given a tour of our collections and saw the River Don Engine running.

“We’re incredibly proud of on our ongoing work with the local community and our neighbours, as well as the contribution we make towards the success of the area.

“Kelham Island is home to a unique mix of new developments, cafes, restaurants and emerging businesses who sit alongside toolmakers and traders who’ve always been here.

“Since opening in 1982, it has been fantastic for Kelham Island Museum to be part of the growth of this area of Sheffield where industrial heritage-led regeneration is so vitally important.”

Kelham Island fought off strong competition from fellow finalists Hack Wick in London and Ancoats in Manchester to win the award.

The assessment team noted the excellent relationship between the local authority, the community association and businesses in the area with a sense of common purpose.

They say the lack of extreme market pressure has enabled slow organise growth ensuring the area has developed at a sustainable pace, which has enabled a strong residential and business community network.

Lead Assessor, Tim Challans, commended Kelham Island for its retention and creation of industry: “Local authority intervention has ensured the retention has of some long-standing small scale manufacturing industries and crafts and created opportunities for cultural and creative industries and artist studios to develop alongside these without creating tension.”

Past winners of the The Great Neighbourhood award include Ashley Vale in Bristol, Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham and Sheffield’s Devonshire Quarter.