Space for improvement with £500,000 Sheffield art studios scheme

Kate Dore, director of Yorkshire Artspace and this year's chair of Sheffield's Culture Consortium, pictured at Exchange Place Studios. Picture: Chris Etchells
Kate Dore, director of Yorkshire Artspace and this year's chair of Sheffield's Culture Consortium, pictured at Exchange Place Studios. Picture: Chris Etchells

“The artists are really relieved,” says Kate Dore. The organisation she leads in Sheffield, Yorkshire Artspace, is being given £500,000 by Arts Council England to buy and refurbish its newest complex, Exchange Place Studios, and the decision has brought about much celebration.

“We were very excited - we had a little party. If the artists are happy, I’m happy.”

Now the work begins. On a tight budget, the group has had to find ways to improve the building - once a base for WH Smith and, later, transport offices - and a planning application is being worked up. The existing roof and skylights will be replaced, the 1960s single-framed windows are being swapped for newer versions and elements of the original 1920s glazing scheme will be reinstated in a fresh design.

The building’s facade - covered with Art Deco tiles made from faience, a material once popular for its soot-resistant properties - is to be preserved too, with the repair of cracks and gentle cleaning.

Inside, public access to the project spaces is being improved, measures will be put in place for wheelchair users and the corridors and stairwells will benefit from being brightened up.

The project is expected to get under way next spring, and should be completed by the end of 2018. Kate says the end result should be an end to leaks, warmer studios and a place that’s generally ‘cheaper to run’.

Exchange Place’s occupancy rate is 100 per cent - ‘full to bursting’ - with all 63 spaces taken up by 80 artists, and a waiting list that is steadily lengthening.

“The artists are very much at home. It’s nice to know their future is secure in that building. It’s not nice having that hanging over you, that you’ve got to clear out.

“There’s a lot of them. Realistically there wouldn’t be anywhere else to go to.”

Sheffield Council has leased the building for 100 years - the previous arrangement was a short lease that would expire next year.

Built in 1926, the six-storey property was originally known as Hambleden House, and underwent a major refurbishment 50 years ago to provide offices and public spaces for the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive. In 2013, Yorkshire Artspace signed a five-year licence to occupy the building.

Just before the agreement began, metal thieves stripped most of the electrical wiring and plumbing, and smashed most of the sinks and bathroom fittings.

A £36,000 refurbishment - largely to subdivide larger spaces into smaller studios - turned into a £200,000 project, funded through a rent-free period from Sheffield Council and Yorkshire Artspace’s own income from the studios as they were let.

Kate joined as a volunteer 25 years ago, when the organisation was based in Sidney Works on Matilda Street. In 2001 the operation moved to Persistence Works, an award-winning £4.25 million complex on Brown Street in the heart of the Cultural Industries Quarter, which now offers workspaces for 70 artists of all persuasions.

The building was joined in 2010 by Manor Oaks Studios, which has four large rooms for artists, and four years ago by Exchange Studios.

An extra fundraising target of £15,000 has been set for the refurbishment, with events and activities planned in the coming months.

Longer-term, Yorkshire Artspace has secured NPO - national portfolio organisation - funding from the Arts Council until 2022.

“Without NPO funding we wouldn’t be able to run any of our programmes or develop new studios and raise the profile of our artists and our organisation.”

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