Kelham Island has everything — except for a doctor, a school or a park
It’s allegedly one of the coolest neighbourhoods in the UK. But is that a problem?
Good afternoon members — and welcome to Thursday’s Tribune.
It’s the time of year for lists of holiday destinations, and (surprisingly for some) Sheffield has featured in many of them. But among all the general praise for the Steel City, one area has been swimming in plaudits. Over the last 20 years, the industrial area of Kelham Island has successfully reinvented itself as one of the trendiest places in the city. But what’s daily life really like there? Earlier this week, I tried to cut through the hype and find out what its current residents think of living in the place dubbed the “fifth coolest neighbourhood in the country”.
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The cross-party committee of MPs also accused major local news publishers like Reach, who publish Yorkshire Live, and National World, who publish The Star, of “compromising quality” to increase the number of people who click on their stories. The report means parliamentarians agree that The Tribune is at the forefront of a huge change in journalism — and we’ve got you to thank for that.
🗳 The tragedy that is Jared O’Mara is being played out daily at Leeds Crown Court this week. On Wednesday, the court heard how the 41-year-old former Sheffield Hallam MP was "non-existent" in his constituency office and on one occasion attended a staff meeting gurning, grinding his teeth and appearing to be "on some sort of substance". A former case worker on his team also claimed Mr O'Mara used a "range of excuses" to avoid attending Parliament for over two years, including "slipping in the shower". The sad case continues.
🏴 Following on from our briefing on Monday about the end of Levelling Up, the scale of the challenge has been laid bare by a new report. Research by IPPR North has found that if the north of England were a country, it would be second bottom of a league table showing levels of investment in advanced economies. The report also uses case studies of places that have successfully levelled up including Leipzig in Germany, Bilbao in Spain and Ibaraki in Japan.
🐦 Our regular contributor David Bocking’s personal Substack is quickly becoming a must read for nature lovers. His latest newsletter looks forward to this weekend’s Big Garden Birdwatch, 44 years on from the RSPB’s first in 1979. Participants are asked to do nothing but stare into their garden for an hour at some point over the weekend, noting down which bird species they see. David speaks to John Robinson, aka “the Birdman of Wadsley”, who counted 18 different species in his tiny garden last year. Lovely photography in the piece too.
Things to do
🎸 How did four lads from Sheffield go from demos in dive bars to releasing the fastest selling debut album in UK history? To mark 17 years since Arctic Monkeys released Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, BBC Radio 1 have created a podcast all about that incredible time in the city’s musical history. Presented by Kate Nash, Believe The Hype paints a “snapshot of the band in the eye of the storm, poised to change everything”. It also includes contributions from the band’s friends, such as Reverend and the Makers’ Jon McClure.
📜 Sheffield Heritage Fair returns to the Millennium Gallery this Saturday and Sunday for a weekend-long celebration of the city’s rich history. Organised by local historians Ron Clayton and David Templeman, the event will showcase the work of Sheffield’s heritage groups and give people a chance to find out about the future of key sites with over 40 local groups who care for and promote the city’s history. It runs from 10am-4pm on Saturday, 28 January and 11am-4pm on Sunday, 29 January. The suggested donation is just £1.
💃 The Greatest Yorkshire Show Off returns for the first time since Covid on Saturday, 28 January at Walkley Community Centre. Expect the unexpected from contestants displaying their talent(less) abilities in music, theatre, acting, magic, mayhem, divination, exorcism — and/or anything else they intend to display. If you'd like to perform on the night, get in touch with the organisers. The event will be rounded off with a performance from the greatest show-offs of them all — the Balkan Bandits. Doors open at 7pm for a 7.30pm start.
Kelham Island has everything — except for a doctor, a school or a park
By Dan Hayes
Sheffield is certainly getting a lot of love at the moment. According to the movers and shakers at Time Out, the city is the second best destination for a weekend break in the whole of Europe. So there. Forget Paris, cancel that holiday to Milan: you’d be more in vogue staying at home. Another piece in The Sunday Times recently named the neighbourhoods of Bents Green and Millhouses as the “most trusting” in England. The Steel City is clearly the place to be.
But among all the glowing editorial, one area is drawing more attention than most. “This industrial heartland has been reinvented as an arty enclave,” gushed a piece in Time Out from last year which named the area the fifth coolest neighbourhood in the UK. “It has hip breweries, markets…and a thriving food scene.” Hot on its heels, in another piece in The Times a few weeks ago — 11 coolest postcodes to move to in 2023 — journalist Daniel Dylan Wray described his “perfect day” in Kelham Island:
Breakfast-up at Grind Café, then head off to Kelham Island Museum, grab coffee at Gaard and do some shopping (try Kelham Island Books & Music or Kelham Flea for vintage and antiques). Tuck into lunch at Cutlery Works (the largest food hall in northern England), ready for an afternoon beer run — via Fat Cat, Heist, Alder, Kelham Island Tavern, Gardeners Rest and the Riverside — and then dinner at Domo or, if you’re feeling flush, Jöro. Finish at Factory Floor where DJs play through their bespoke audiophile soundsystem and you can try their unique drip-infusion spirits.
The pieces neatly illustrates two different ways to think about what makes a “cool neighbourhood”. The first is all about what Kelham Island is like to visit for outsiders, while the second is about what it’s like to live there — or what it’s like to live there with sufficient disposable income to enjoy yourself. As an adopted Sheffielder of some five years standing, I’ve visited Kelham Island many times. I’ve enjoyed Peddler Market, or at least I did until I got my fingers burned by skyrocketing inflation (£9 for a hot dog!). Watching The Everly Pregnant Brothers perform on the roof of the Fat Cat during the Tramlines fringe in 2017 was a definite highlight. And I’ve also visited several times to cover stories, most memorably for the Philosophy in Pubs session I attended at the Millowners Arms last February.
But I also wanted to find out what it’s like to live in one of the coolest postcodes in the UK. So, on two days over the last week, I decide to wander round the area: the first on my own and the second with two Kelham Island residents.
The first thing you notice as you walk round is the sheer quantity of building work taking place, with the latest being the large Kelham Central development on Alma Street. As well as that, street art adorns virtually every spare wall and at one point I even see a kingfisher in the goit, the man-made channel which separates Kelham Island from “mainland” Sheffield and gives the area its name.
When it comes to its architecture, an industrial aesthetic dominates: old red bricks of 19th century factories and offices butt up against the stylish black bricks of 21st century housing. Elsewhere sleek new upper floors are balanced on top of old buildings. All of them (and I mean all of them) have sawtooth roofs evoking the factories and warehouses of Sheffield's past. The latest, Cotton Mill Row, has recently been completed. At the Alma Street end, an original wall full of ghost signs sits below a mass of red and black bricks which give the appearance of being weathered despite the fact they are brand new. It looks good, don’t get me wrong. But it’s difficult to shake the impression that it’s the architectural equivalent of ripped jeans.
The way Kelham Island looks is no accident. Way back in 1985, the neighbourhood was one of the first industrial conservation areas ever designated in the UK. This means its character as a working district is protected in the planning process. But tensions are never far away.