Portland Works, Sheffield

What’s so special about this place?

The Grade II* listed Portland Works is one of the last remaining working examples of a purpose-built metal trades factory. It was here, in 1914, that Harry Brearly produced the world’s first stainless steel cutlery. The building is a courtyard-style complex of workshops and offices built in 1879 as an integrated cutlery factory, housing all the processes in cutlery making. It now houses a rich variety of 32 tenants including a specialist knife-maker, silver plater and other skilled metal workers in the tradition of the ‘little mesters’ (self-employed cutlery workers) on which Sheffield’s reputation and identity were forged. It also accommodates artists, musicians and other creative craftspeople.

Why was the building under threat?

In 2009 the owner applied for permission to convert the building into flats, which would have ended 130 years of manufacturing on the site. The building is in poor condition and there is a backlog of repairs estimated at £2 million.

How was it saved?

A campaign to buy the building by its tenants and supporters resulted in the formation of a Community Benefit Society and a Community Share issue which raised over £250,000 over 18 months – a testament to the strength of feeling locally and determination  to keep the building as a place for ‘makers’ in the 21st century. There are now more than 500 shareholders.

Where is the project at now?

Portland Works operates as a community-owned social enterprise, letting workspace at affordable rents to support small-scale manufacturing and creative businesses. It is run entirely by volunteers – there are 40 regular helpers out of 70 overall. The aim is to develop the site as an educational resource and heritage attraction, alongside its business use. The Society has organised public open days several times per year and these have grown into bigger events, with popular cutlery and craft fairs in 2014 and 2015 each bringing in around 400 people.

There is an on-going programme of repairs and conservation work, bringing more disused areas back into use. In 2016 the Society secured a Heritage Lottery Fund ‘Our Heritage’ grant for repairs to roofs and chimneys and for an Education and Development Worker to meet demand for educational activities on the site.

Building: Portland Works, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England

Organisation: Portland Works Little Sheffield Limited

AHF support: £10,000 Cold Spots Grant, 2012-13; £200,000 Acquisition loan, 2013; £70,000 of loan converted to Community Shares, March 2016; £9,200 Additional Community Shares purchase offer, June 2016.

Outcome: Community buy-out

Find out more at: www.portlandworks.co.uk


How Did The AHF Help?

The community buy-out would not have been possible without an AHF loan to plug the gap between the acquisition cost and the amount raised via Community Shares. This enabled the purchase to be completed on 28th February 2013. A £10,000 grant also enabled the Society to complete a range of surveys and to develop a prioritised plan of work to address the building’s repair needs. The AHF has also invested in the site long-term by purchasing Community Shares.