Reaching new heights in Sheffield

Phil Robins at the former Abbeydale Cinema in Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, which he aims to turn into a climbing centre.
Phil Robins at the former Abbeydale Cinema in Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, which he aims to turn into a climbing centre.

THE former Abbeydale Picture House is due to become an attraction for climbers.

Plans are being drawn up to convert the listed building into an indoor climbing centre, with an initial focus on the fast-growing sport of bouldering. The strategy also includes re-establishing a reputation as a community hub, installing a cafe and opening up part of the old cinema for uses such as for yoga and pilates.

The building was bought at auction for the guide price of £150,000 by Phil Robins, who runs The Edge Climbing Centre in John Street, off Bramall Lane.

He will continue to operate The Edge as well as steering the new use for the old Picture House, which was an arts venue owned by a community group before being repossessed by the bank last year.

Mr Robins said there was huge community affection for the “iconic” grade II listed building on Abbeydale Road, which was in a fantastic location, in the heart of Sheffield’s climbing community, with on-site parking and on main bus routes. It is also next to Heeley swimming baths.

“It offers the opportunity to develop it into the fastest growing aspect of climbing, which is bouldering, as there is no room for expansion at The Edge.”

Council permission will be needed for a change of use for the building whose exterior and interior is protected because of its historic value and listed status.

However, it is intended to remove more modern features from when it was used as a furniture warehouse. “We don’t need to alter the structure,” said Mr Robins, who has been at The Edge since it opened in 1994. “We are going to get it back to more like the original, when it closed in 1975. We’ll do it in a sympathetic way that is in keeping with the context and architecture of the original Picture House.”

Most of the seats are due to be taken out to create the space for bouldering, which is a type of climbing that does not involve ropes. However, it is intended to keep the balcony seats from which visitors could watch climbing and other adventure films.

Later plans involve the installation of a tall ropes climbing wall, making use of the height of the building, which is 20m in places.

Initial steps also include creating a multi-gym with facilities for weight training and opening one of the rooms for community hire.

But the first job is to secure the roof of the building and bring the electrics up to standard.

The new climbing facility will be called The Picture House, and it is expected to add to Sheffield’s reputation as a magnet for climbers, both for indoor enthusiasts and those heading for the Peak District.

Interest in indoor climbing, and especially bouldering, is growing rapidly, fuelled by schools, colleges and universities, and it is reflected in Sheffield by the construction of a centre for the Awesome Walls chain in Grimesthorpe and the expansion plans of the Climbing Works off Little London Road.

Mr Robins said he was taking a cautious incremental approach to ensure that all the ambitions could be met, but it was hoped the building would be open again by the end of the year

The Abbey Snooker Hall and Bar Abbey, which provides a venue for bands and party hire in the basement, is currently undergoing refurbishment with the addition of a pool room and new lounge area.

The bar and snooker Hall will remain in separate hands, and is seen as an integral part of the future of the building.

The Abbeydale Road landmark has been used as a Theatre, Cinema, Dance Hall and even as a furniture store since it opened in 1920.

A campaign to save The Abbeydale Picture House began in 2003, after the building stood derelict for 12 years. The Friends of Abbeydale Picture House group restored the auditorium and installed a new stage, before reopening in September 2008 to allow a limited range of theatrical productions and rehearsals, concerts and community activities.

Patrons for the friends group included Peter Stringfellow, Sir Derek Jacobi and Michael Palin.

However, with no access to major funds, plans for a full scale restoration faded, and the building went for auction.

Now it is hoped to secure grants to help towards restoration of the historic fabric as a new use is generated.