Twenty years on it’s still Work-ing well...

Ian Wild outside The Workstation today
Ian Wild outside The Workstation today
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There is always, it seems, something happening at The Workstation in Paternoster Row. There is a buzz.

Here, the Arctic Monkeys recorded one of their earliest videos, the BBC auditioned for acclaimed drama Prisoners’ Wives and The Human League rehearsed down in the basement.

Sheffield Doc Fest and the Last Laugh Comedy Festival are organised within these walls, an art exhibition can usually be found in the foyer, and a community radio station broadcasts from floor one. Photographers, film producers, web developers and one chap working on a musical about the, er, miners’ strike can all be found here. It’s so trendy there’s even a Russian girl on reception.

Now, this week, the complex – converted from a car showroom built in the Thirties – is 20 years old.

The creative and digital hub – home to more than 50 companies employing some 400 people – was opened on July 27 1993. In typical Workstation style, a party is being thrown to celebrate.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been so long,” says chief executive Ian Wild, one of the people behind the initial project.

The Workstation is today the main building of what has become Sheffield’s official Cultural Industries Quarter. Famous city companies like Warp Films and Designers Republic have started life here. It is credited with establishing the city’s creative reputation and helping diversify the economy.

But rewind 25 years and such success was far from assured. “The council actually wanted to build a car park instead,” winces Ian.

That was the Eighties when the old Kennings car dealership had been derelict for more than 10 years.

Ian and a bunch of like-minded Sheffielders working in academia, architecture and the arts were campaigning for the creative sector to become a driver of the city’s economy – and believed the building could be a lynchpin.

“Sheffield was built on steel but the industry had collapsed,” says Ian. “This was one way of trying to get the city back on its feet.”

The council agreed to support the project. Funds were raised. The conversion took place. The complex opened – inevitably – with a party.

Work since then has led to more units, an exhibition space and, of course, a restaurant and The Showroom cinema opened. That name, incidentally, was chosen because of the building’s history.

“Why have I based my business here?” ponders David Squire of DESQ, an e-learning company. “It’s a great location by the station and very vibrant. We sub-contract a lot of work out and, quite often, that will be to a company across the hall. That’s useful.”

Now for the next 20 years.

“I think we were a bit of a trendsetter,” says Ian. “We are a vibrant studio space but we’re also great for the city. We estimate the businesses based here create 50 new jobs every year. That has to be a good thing.”