CAMPAIGNERS hoping to preserve historic little mesters’ works on the edge of Sheffield city centre have just over a month to raise £70,000 needed to take over the site as a going concern.
Over the last six months, the Portland Works Campaign group has raised £130,000 of £500,000 required for the grade II* listed building, on Randall Street, near Bramall Lane, which was the first place in the world to produce stainless steel cutlery.
A loan of £300,000 has been offered by the Architectural Heritage Fund, leaving a shortfall of £70,000.
If the target cannot be reached, shareholders will be given their money back.
The works dates back to the 1870s and currently provides units for specialist trades.
Some 35 people work there, including silver platers and engravers, cabinet makers, a knife maker, artists and musicians.
The campaign group says if it does not raise the £500,000 by January 31, it is ‘only a matter of time’ before it ends up being converted into flats and offices - and many of the current tenants may find it difficult to find alternative accommodation.
Money is being raised by issuing shares ranging from £100 to £20,000, which are still on sale.
The Portland Works campaign is also set to ask local businesses to invest in the building and become patrons of the site, which it wants to become ‘a centre of excellence in Sheffield-type crafts’.
Portland Works Campaign chairman Derek Morton believes only half of current tenants would survive if the building was closed and converted for other uses – proposed unsuccessfully in 2009.
He said: “We’d lose something special. Portland Works has a very strong skill set which is special to Sheffield – it’s the nature of the businesses.”
His group hopes to complete purchase of the works by the middle of the coming year.
A structural survey has showed little wrong with the main fabric of the building although urgent repairs are needed including making it watertight and so the top floor, which is currently unused, is habitable again.
Stuart Mitchell, who makes specialist knives, swords and daggers at Portland Works, said preserving the site is important due to its history – it was where Harry Brearley first produced stainless steel cutlery in 1913.
Mr Mitchell said: “It is very important, not only for Sheffield but for the whole world.”
Rob Marston, a shareholder trying to preserve the building, said: “I liked the idea of keeping it working, not preserving it in aspic as somewhere you’d only visit on heritage open days.
“It’s living in the real world – they’re finding new ways of using the building. It could be an exemplar, rolled out in other industrial areas of the city.”