It is hard to believe that only eight months ago the home of Sum Studios in Sheffield was derelict, deserted and decrepid.
Today, the three Victorian buildings and courtyard that once formed Anns Grove Primary School in Heeley are in the first stages of the city’s most ambitious renovation project.
One of the buildings, the ‘Sum B’ building, has already been completed. Now known as Sum Studios, it is slick, clever and spacious but also homely, with 19th-century exposed brick walls, big windows and a state-of-the-art heating system.
The building has been developed by Heeley Development Trust with money from central government – and cost £2.4 million to finish after the school moved out in 2006 and it fell into disrepair.
But, according to its tenants, it has been money well spent. Already, designers, photographers and brand communication agencies have flocked to the site to lap up its cutting-edge facilities.
But Sum Studios has not shunned its past – there are echoes of the primary school everywhere. In the foyer, an old-fashioned blackboard reads ‘O Level, downstairs’ and ‘A Level, upstairs’ and – accordingly – the names of the companies in the building are printed on to the spines of fake books.
Andy Jackson, Heeley Development Trust manager, says: “We really wanted to save this historic landmark. We knew its historical significance and the place it held in people’s hearts locally. But, more importantly, it was a big Sheffield school and a real record of how our forebears saw the importance of education and invested in its future.
“It’s been a massive job. When we started on the site there were sparrows nesting here, mice and most of the roof was missing. But we knew there were big opportunities for the site.”
However, there was one condition – the site had to earn its own keep.
Andy says: “This is a not-for-profit development, but it is very private sector in that it has to fund itself. It’s a balance between earning an income and having a social purpose.”
The finished building is rented out to companies like Peter & Paul, which specialise in branding, design and communication and whose clients include the Victoria and Albert Museum, Channel 4 and Sum Studios.
And already, barely months after its completion, the majority of the units are let out. Standing at the end of the corridor on the upper level looking down on the whole building, Andy says: “It is so exciting. I was standing here only last year and it was all rubble.”
The tenants appreciate the space too.
Pete Donohoe, of Peter & Paul, says: “It’s good for people to get to and it’s nice to be working in a building that’s grounded in the community. It’s a little bit bohemian around here too.”
Peter & Paul helps companies with communication – whether through design, custom-designed typefaces or logos.
Pete says: “We work a lot in the building industry and housing sector so it’s good to be part of a social enterprise.”
For designer Camilla Umar, who creates print designs for clients, moving to her tiny unit at Sum Studios was a no-brainer.
She says: “Moving here improved my productivity and provided me with a tool that would force me to be more creative and do things like sort out my website and come up with a business strategy.”
Her space is small but big enough for two large desks. She has a desk for her computer and a desk for her paints.
Camilla says: “It’s great to have a space where I can also create things for the sake of it. And being part of a bigger network is good too.”
She is not alone. Across the building, Matthew Conduit runs his Untitled print and photographic business, making large-format fine art prints for photographers and artists while also working on his own creations as a landscape photographer.
“It’s so nice being based here and the busier it gets the more exciting the atmosphere becomes,” he says.
Matthew, one of the drivers behind the project, has gone full circle in his career.
“I came to Sheffield to study art at Psalter Lane, then I ended up working in building consultancy, travelling all over,” he says. “But then I got fed-up of that and decided to get back into my own work.”
Matthew – who cut his teeth in Sheffield’s cultural sector running the Site Gallery and the Workstation on Paternoster Row in the city centre – said: “There are so many artists in the Heeley and Meersbrook area but they have no major resource.
“We’re so excited about what we can do with this space. In the other two buildings there are two big halls, which would make brilliant venues and, combined with the courtyard, it would make a great site for a festival.”
Sum Studios is still a work in progress, but by 2015 the site is scheduled to be completed and will include a community centre, artists’ studios and landscaped gardens.
Sum B is an environmentally-friendly building. Since its solar panels were commissioned in May 2013, they have generated 1,375 kilowatt hours of electricity and avoided 774 kilogrammes of carbon dioxide.
The building’s solar water heating produces water at 20C to 30C every day.
Heeley Development Trust is now ready for phase two of development and will start by securing and weatherproofing both the other buildings from September to early next year.
Phase three needs funding, but eventually the space will be a collection of artists’ studios.
Sum B – the first building to be renovated – cost £2.4 million.
Already many of the units are let and more tenants are moving in this autumn.