Bringing 'Little Mesters' back to Sheffield city centre as part of £500 million scheme

An artist's impression giving an aerial view of Leah's Yard and the block featuring a new high-end food hall in Sheffield's Heart of the City II scheme
An artist's impression giving an aerial view of Leah's Yard and the block featuring a new high-end food hall in Sheffield's Heart of the City II scheme

The renovation of historic Leah's Yard in Sheffield - and the new block featuring a trendy food hall that will be created next door - is one of the most innovative ideas in the council's new Heart of the City II plan.

Originally created as a works for the making of hand tools such as shears, the yard got its name when Henry Leah, a producer of die stamps for silverware, took it over in 1892.

Leah's Yard on Cambridge Street is held up by scaffolding to prevent it from collapsing. Picture: Glenn Ashley

Leah's Yard on Cambridge Street is held up by scaffolding to prevent it from collapsing. Picture: Glenn Ashley

By 1905 the workshops on Cambridge Street were occupied by 18 little mesters, each with their own specialism, from the manufacturing of palette knives to dram flasks. The front of the premises - which presently sits between two pubs, the Benjamin Huntsman and the Tap and Tankard - has a carriage entrance that leads to a courtyard surrounded by brick-built workshops.

But today the place is in a state of disrepair, supported by scaffolding to stop it collapsing.

The ambition is to revive the workshops, bringing in makers, craftspeople and artists to sell their wares in the city centre.

Read more: £500m project promises big changes

Leah's Yard was typical of the enclosed areas where craftsmen had their workshops.

Leah's Yard was typical of the enclosed areas where craftsmen had their workshops.

"Leah's Yard, we think, is a real opportunity to add a unique selling point for the scheme," said Stuart Harris, commercial director of Queensberry, the council's main development partner. "There are challenges with it. It might be one of the smallest areas of the scheme but it's the one I'm most excited about. I think we've got a desire to recreate something there that has a resemblance to what it was before, but is a more modern interpretation of that."

Next door there will be a high-end food hall, serving food with 'local, regional and international influences' from up to 30 operators. Designs indicate a structure with a glazed roof, leading in to Leah's Yard.

"Essentially one side of the food hall will be an entrance into Leah's Yard. And the food hall is our only closed space in the building. In terms of design, probably the only benchmark you've got in Sheffield is the Winter Garden."

The dining area will be part of a wider block incorporating restaurants, space for events, an upmarket gym, activities such as bowling and table tennis, and potentially a boutique cinema. The old Bethel Sunday School, which dates from 1852, will be kept and integrated. Facades on buildings towards the corner of Cambridge Street - such as the former Henry's bar - could also be retained.

"You can design character into buildings, but nothing beats the real character you can get of the older buildings," said Mr Harris.

Listed building consent will soon be asked for to restore the shell of Leah's Yard, to 'stop it falling down and make sure we've got a building we can be proud of for the city', said Nalin Seneviratne, the council's director of city regeneration.

"It's a challenge, but that's where we've decided 'enough is enough', we need to fix it and get it right. As it's the council taking control, we can do that. We can take that long-term view."

New shops occupied by 'quality' names, two plush four or five-star hotels, Grade A offices and residential apartments, all set around tree-lined streets and public spaces overlooked by rooftop bars and cafés, are planned in Heart of the City II, to be built on 1.5 million sq ft of land between Pinstone Street, Barker's Pool and The Moor.

Department store John Lewis is staying put in its existing premises, which are likely to undergo a revamp, and a new 500-space car park is on the way.

The scheme is the successor to Sevenstone, the proposed shopping project that stalled during the recession and was dropped five years ago when the council parted ways with developer Hammerson and opted to go it alone. Its name has also changed from the New Retail Quarter; the focus has shifted away from a reliance on stores and towards a mix of uses, a move that reflects consumers' increased preference for buying things online.

The first Heart of the City brought the Winter Garden, Millennium Gallery, Peace Gardens and the offices of St Paul's Place, and the initial phase of its next instalment is well under way - a new base for the HSBC bank, in a large block with room for eight shops or cafés on the ground floor, is taking shape in Charter Square on the site of the old Grosvenor House Hotel.

In the latest plans, the council is again acting as the developer alongside Queensberry. Designs have been drawn up based around nine 'blocks' which will be delivered on a phased basis, speeding up progress. It is hoped work will start by the end of this year, with overall completion expected by 2024. Around 500 construction jobs will be created and, once built, the scheme will support up to 7,000 jobs.