Talk about success: the Forum hits 20...

Looking to the future: Kane Yeardley outside the Forum
Looking to the future: Kane Yeardley outside the Forum
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It is the independent Sheffield bar best known for its eclectic music, outdoor deck chairs and apparent policy of never hiring an average looking member of staff when a potential model will do.

The Forum, in Devonshire Street, is today one of the city centre’s most popular pubs, beloved by those in search of both night time hijinks and sun-kissed day drinks. It has been widely credited with inspiring the regeneration of the lively Devonshire Quarter.

But 20 years ago this week, things were rather different.

Then, Kane Yeardley was preparing to open this new boozer in an old engineering unit. He was 31, had no experience and, he admits, even less idea of what he was doing.

“I was just fed up there were no decent bars in Sheffield,” he says. “I thought if no-one else is setting one up, I will.”

This week, as he celebrates that 20th anniversary, it seems it wasn’t a bad thought. The former Ecclesfield School lad now owns six bars – from the city centre to Abbeydale, Broomhill to Barnsley – and employs 200 staff. The Forum, meanwhile, has been praised by everyone from pint-suppers to city planners who say it has transformed this once neglected area.

“It’s strange,” says Kane. “There was never any business plan to do all that. But it’s that old phrase: ‘if you’re not going forwards, you’re going backwards’. I like to keep busy.”

It was that desire, indeed, which inspired him to open the place in April 1993.

The 51-year-old – then running a poster company – had taken the lease for the building a couple of years earlier. He rented units out as part of a plan to create an alternative shopping venue – “like Afflecks Palace in Manchester” – and then decided to add a bar.

“I remember going to Sheffield City Council and pleading for a licence,” he says. “I took Rob Mitchell, the boss of Warp Recordss, along. He said to them ‘We need a place like this, where we can take clients for a drink without worrying there’s going to be a fight’.”

The council agreed. The Forum opened. Kane has been stressing about empty glasses ever since.

“Whenever I walk into one of my pubs that’s the first thing I check for,” he says. “The music shouldn’t be too loud, people should be getting served and there should be no empties. Sometimes I’ll be so busy checking in my head, I’ll ignore people I know. I’ll just not even see them.”

It’s a checklist which has stood him in good stead.

Not only has The Forum kept getting busier over the last 20 years – it was extended in 2003 and the deck chair patio built in 2008 – Kane has opened five other 

His empire noe extends to The Old House and Common Room, both also in Devonshire Street, The York in Broomhill, The Broadfield in Abbeydale and, just this year, the Crown and Anchor in Barnsley.

“I’d love a place in Hillsborough or Walkley too,” he says. “But you can’t just rush in. I think we’ve been successful because we’re specific in choosing our venue.”

And now? This week there will be a series of special live music and DJ nights to celebrate the anniversary. Then it’s onwards and upwards for the next 20 years.

“It’s strange to think there’ll be people in who weren’t even born when it opened,” says Kane. “But it’s great it’s been so popular. I’m delighted with it.”