When they opened up the former Anns Grove School in Heeley for the day last month, the response was far better than anyone expected.
“We had dozens of old pupils come along to tell us about their school days here,” says Matthew Conduit. “One 92-year-old was almost in tears. In a good way, that is.”
The happy news is that this historic site, where children were taught for more than 100 years, has a bright future.
The trio of Grade II listed buildings are being transformed into a creative business and arts complex, home to 28 offices, 20 studios, rehearsal room, venue space and digital media centre. And this week, after six years’ planning and developing, the first tenants move in. The site, which has so far cost £2.4 million to upgrade, has been renamed Sum Studios to celebrate.
“What we are doing is giving Heeley a vibrant community centre while saving a hugely loved building,” explains Matthew Conduit, development consultant with the Heeley Development Trust, the organisation behind the project.
It’s not been easy.
Anns Grove - which was first opened in 1890 - shut in 2006 when youngsters were moved into a new school next door. The council planned to sell the buildings but after no takers came forward, they invited the trust to take it over and create a community hub.
“What a good idea,” says Matthew, who lives in Meersbrook. “We’d only suggested it five years earlier.”
Since then the trust has been raising money and overhauling the first of the three buildings. This is now the ‘business block’. The two other buildings will open over the next two years; one as an ‘arts block’ - complete with studios and gallery - and one as a ‘creative block’ with digital media centre.
“The whole area has been really behind the project from day one,” says Matthew. “The idea is to encourage businesses to set up here so they can walk to work instead of driving into Sheffield, while also attracting art and creative events.”
Six tenants have already taken space before the official launch party on July 6. Among them is a digitial design company Curv Creative.
“It’s a lovely story,” says Matthew. “The guy behind the business used to come to school here.”
And that name? Sum? It’s a nod back to old school lessons - while also embracing this bright new future.