ACCORDING to local legend, when the last of the streetworkers and small-time dealers were being moved on from Kelham Island around the turn of the decade, one turned to an official and noted: “This place has gone downhill since the artists arrived, anyway.”
It is a rumour they re-tell with a certain pride in the studios, galleries, real ale pubs, award-winning restaurants, vintage stores and designer workshops which today populate the area.
But it is one which a new network of the area’s most prominent interests is determined to dispel.
And they are hoping to do it while turning this unofficial Sheffield alternative quarter set among derelict factories and warehouses into a bustling cultural district capable of attracting visitors from across the city, county and – hey, why not be ambitious? – country too.
SKINN – Shalesmoor, Kelham Island and Neepsend Network – will launch the weekend after next, October 29-30, with a mini-festival and ‘art crawl’ where nearly a dozen venues will throw open their doors for two free days of live music, pop-up bars, improv theatre, fashion shows, art exhibitions and craft stalls.
Studio complexes, including The Nichols Building in Shalesmoor, CADS in Smithfield and Pebble Dash Studios in Burton Road, will be welcoming visitors; while The Riverside and Shakespeares pubs, in Mowbray Street and Gibraltar Street respectively, The Orchard Centre, in West Bar Green, and Kelham Island Artist Cooperative will host events.
Two curated trails will guide people round the district’s highlights, while maps with full listings will be distributed to venues for visitors wishing to explore more independently.
“It’s a whole weekend of wholesome post-industrial family fun,” quips co-ordinator Ivan Rabodzeenko. “It’s about celebrating the creative community which has developed around Shalesmoor, Kelham Island and Neepsend completely independent of council involvement or any kind of top-down influence.
“The area has completely changed over the last couple of decades, and that’s because of the people who have come here. They have transformed these historic Sheffield factories from something that was falling into dereliction into these thriving dens of creativity. And we reckon there’s enough going on here – places to shop, drink and relax – to attract even more people and visitors on a regular basis. It’s just getting the message out there.”
And, although this is a pilot event, the 23-year-old CADS development officer reckons there’s potential. “There’s no reason why the festival can’t become regular – Christmas trails, summer street parties etc.”
Steve Rimmer, director of CADS, agrees: “In the space of about a square mile you’ve got jewellers, artists, designers, clothes-makers, cafes, bars, micro-breweries and music venues – it could be a natural tourist spot.”
A full programme of events for the mini-festival is to be posted at www.cads-online.co.uk and will be available from the Nichols Building from 10am Saturday.