'It'll be better than Kelham': Is Attercliffe poised to become Sheffield's coolest neighbourhood?
Coming up: gondolas on the canal, waterside living and acres of open space
Good afternoon members — and welcome to Thursday’s Tribune.
Attercliffe is one of my favourite parts of Sheffield. There’s something about the contrast between the area’s glorious past and its faded state today which makes it endlessly interesting. But changes are happening. A big housing deal has just been struck between a developer and Sheffield City Council to build 1,000 homes on either side of the Sheffield and Tinsley Canal. Will it work? I travelled down to Attercliffe this week to take a look at the site itself and ask whether the development can bring the good times back to a long-neglected area.
Editor’s note: We hope you’re enjoying The Tribune. As always on a Thursday, the first part of this newsletter is going out to everyone on our list but only paying members get the full story. This is because we want to show non-members the kind of great recommendations they can expect if they join up, and tease a bit of the story as well. If you like what you see, and want to help ensure the survival of high quality journalism in Sheffield, please take out a membership today.
🏚️ Big news in The Star that plans have been unveiled to transform an iconic Sheffield building into a spa, cafe bar and restaurant. The magnificent but crumbling Salvation Army Citadel on Cross Burgess Street has lain empty for 16 years, but now owner Robert Hill hopes to use the Heart of the City development to bring it back into use. The plans show a restaurant, a pool, hot tubs, a sauna, a cafe-bar and steam, treatment and relaxation rooms.
🪴 A garden designed for Northern General Hospital as a sanctuary for patients with spinal injuries has won a top prize at Chelsea Flower Show. The design was inspired by Sheffield’s geography and heritage and features a water table at wheelchair users’ level, accessible terrazzo-style paths and layered beds to allow interaction from various levels. The £1.75m garden will be recreated at the hospital’s Princess Royal Spinal Injuries Centre next year.
🍔 Another feather in the cap of Sheffield’s food scene comes this time from Which? magazine which has named us the second best city in the UK for food and drink. Second only to Newcastle in the consumer bible’s list, Which? says “independent coffee shops and cafés have popped up across Sheffield in the past 10 years and the city’s disused industrial spaces have been transformed into cool restaurants and bars”. The best place to start, they say, is Kelham.
Things to do
🍔 The big event taking place over the bank holiday weekend (26-29 May) in the city centre is the annual Sheffield Food Festival. Now in its 10th year, this year’s event will see over 50 traders, 16 acts, two DJs and three special evening events spread across the Peace Gardens, St Paul’s Parade, Millennium Square, Town Hall Square, Pinstone Street and the Winter Garden. For a full list of where and when everything’s happening, see the website. Neepsend’s Rex Market and the Sheffield Vegan Market are also taking place on Sunday.
🎸 Performing on Saturday night (27 May) at The Leadmill are the Bootleg Beatles, the world’s most legendary tribute to arguably the world’s greatest band. Formed in 1980, the band have now played more than 4,000 shows at places including Glastonbury, the Royal Albert Hall and Liverpool’s Echo Arena. They have also toured around the world including in the US, the Cold War Soviet Union and India. Tickets are £25 and doors open at 7.30pm.
🪦 This Saturday (27 May), take a guided walk through wilderness and history at Wardsend Cemetery. The Great Sheffield Flood Tour visits the graves and tells the stories of some of the victims of the cataclysmic event which took place when Dale Dyke Dam burst in 1864. The tour, which begins at 2pm and lasts 90 minutes, is free but a suggested donation of £2 would be appreciated. For our piece about Wardsend Cemetery from last year, click here.
Is Attercliffe poised to become Sheffield’s coolest neighbourhood?
“It’s like a supermodel with spinach in her teeth,” David Slater tells me as we whizz around Attercliffe in his brand new Range Rover Evoque. “You only see the spinach.” It takes me a few seconds to figure out exactly how this gnomic comment relates to the neighbourhood we’re currently touring. But after rolling it around my head for a minute, I think he means there’s a human tendency to focus on what’s wrong with something, and not what’s right.
What’s wrong here is easy to see. The first time I visited Attercliffe and drove down its historic but faded high street, with its sex shops, massage parlours and swingers clubs, I was left slightly shaken by the sheer brazenness of it all. Scattered in between the sleaze, the decaying buildings and empty lots did little to improve my impression of the place.
It’s changed a bit since then, and some of the seedier venues (including notorious swingers’ club La Chambre) have now departed. Of the sex shops which are still standing, the most prominent is Hanky Panky. Three mannequins dressed in risqué lingerie stand in its window while a sign painted on its facade in huge block capitals reads MALE ENHANCEMENT PRODUCTS. A few doors down, massage parlour Diplomat’s inscrutable exterior informs clients: “Entrance to the rear”. Nudge nudge, wink wink.
What Slater, 61, is asking me to do, is look beyond all this, to remember what Attercliffe has been in the past, and imagine its future potential. Its past is well-known. Attercliffe was once the beating heart of the city’s steel industry, home to dozens of vast steel mills and all the people who worked in them. The neighbourhood effectively formed the centre of a separate district within Sheffield, boasting a high street that contained as many shops as you’d find in the city centre and, as The Tribune has found out last year, an astonishing array of pubs.
But industrial decline in the 1980s changed all that. As industry left, so did the people — and most of the businesses and pubs. Over the course of the next few decades, attracted by low rents and the area’s out-of-the-way ambience, the sex trade moved in.
But could things now be changing? Last week Sheffield City Council announced that it had signed a development agreement with housebuilder Citu for 1,000 homes to be built on either side of the Sheffield and Tinsley canal. Citu are probably best known in Sheffield as one of the main driving forces behind Kelham Island’s transformation from a seedy former industrial area to one of coolest neighbourhoods in the UK, which inevitably means that comparisons abound. But Slater says this is selling Attercliffe short. “It’ll be better than Kelham,” he tells me. “We’ve got the one thing they don’t — open space. Attercliffe Waterside is going to light the blue touch paper.”