Sheffield specialists thrive on Leah’s Yard restoration
Project lead RF Joinery, which heads a local supply chain transforming the early 19th century workshop complex, said turnover has more than quadrupled.
Leah’s Yard was once home to up to 18 Little Mesters workshops producing the cutlery, handles and silver stampers that brought Sheffield the worldwide reputation it enjoys to this day.
Now, as part of the £470m Heart of the City masterplan, the complex is being redeveloped with its original cobbled central courtyard surrounded by boutique retail units.
The first and second floors will host around 20 independent working studios bringing the building’s rich heritage back to life.
The centrality of Leah’s Yard to the Heart of the City project, which is mostly much larger in scale, was spelled out by Andrew Davison of Queensberry, Sheffield City Council’s development partner, in this Place Yorkshire Q&A.
Sheffield-based RF Joinery said the project has been transformational for the 2007-founded firm, leading to turnover leaping from less than £1m to £6m.
Initially, RF Joinery was appointed to bring the Cambridge Street building back to a safe and viable condition. This included structural work, roofing, repointing and new windows throughout. The business was then extended to complete the final phase of the project.
“As a local SME contractor, the Leah’s Yard project has had a huge impact on our business,” said director Paul Roberts:
“We’ve delivered specialist public sector projects in the past such as re-roofing work at Sheffield’s Kelham Island Museum over the working steam engine. We’ve got a love for interesting projects and our unique expertise helped us win a very competitive contract process.
“We have built up a team of multi-skilled people who are all so passionate about the project.
“As a small, dedicated team, we can stay very flexible and provide real continuity on site, which is so important on these kinds of restoration projects. Heart of the City has been a game changer for us and taken us to a new level. We are thankful to Sheffield City Council for giving us the opportunity.”
Leah’s Yard will also feature a complementary new-build structure to the southern side of the development, greatly improving pedestrian access.
This extension includes a sloped ramp for wheelchair and pram users, lift access and modern accessible toilet facilities that couldn’t be incorporated in the old building.
Among the craft specialists also working on the project is Masterfit, based in Walkley, which has installed 100 different types of heritage windows and had to make special tooling to deliver the job.
More than 2,500 panels of glass were hand-putty pointed using traditional linseed oil putty by the in house RF Joinery team.
Roberts added: “Timber that was functionally sound had to be kept, regardless of appearance, and all but one of the five roofs re-uses the original roof trusses.
“We even had to make one new truss on site but have reused all the previous bolts and bracketry. It looks brand new, but the bolts are centuries old.
“The cobbles in the courtyard had to be removed one by one and the ground raised up, before all being re-laid again, providing improved level access whilst retaining the original historic values.
“With a building like this, new problems and challenges occur every day. It has been almost a daily negotiation between the structural engineer and the conservation team – ensuring we find the balance between the heritage and character, versus modern building regulations.”
Cllr Ben Miskell, SCC’s regeneration chair, said: “This is one of the reasons we invested in Heart of the City.
“Leah’s Yard brings the city’s rich history back to life and will be a stunning addition. But the impact goes beyond the aesthetic. Heart of the City is helping to stimulate economic activity in the region and helping companies like RF Joinery grow its supply chain and secure its future.
“Leah’s Yard is a unique scheme which reflects Sheffield’s identity. It’s a fascinating blend of creativity, heritage, and historic and modern craftsmanship.”
Once completed in the first half of 2024, the venue will be run by Tom Wolfenden, who manages the Cooper Buildings on Arundel Street, and James O’Hara, who runs bars such as Public and Picture House Social.
- Read the Place Yorkshire Q&A with Queensberry director Andrew Davison on how Heart of the City is moving Sheffield forward