Business review of the year Sheffield 2021: A glimpse of normality bookended by Covid crises

The year ended as it started - with Covid restrictions and financial help for beleaguered businesses.

Friday, 24th December 2021, 7:33 am

The threat to hospitality and leisure firms cannot be understated - again – and The Star will continue to highlight the crisis and fight their corner for as long as is necessary.

At the beginning of 2021, chancellor Rishi Sunak announced £4bn in new grants for the retail, hospitality and leisure sector as the nation entered its third lockdown.

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Chancellor announces £1bn support package for Covid-hit firms

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Developer Capital & Centric started main construction work on the £25m conversion of a former Sheffield city centre cutlery works into flats.

Firms forced to close would receive one-off grants worth up to £9,000 per site to support them ‘until the spring’.

Swathes of the economy faced at least seven weeks of severely limited trade, with many companies forced to shut up shop altogether.

But away from Covid some organisations were forging ahead.

In January, Sheffield hydrogen equipment company ITM Power started manufacturing at ‘the biggest electrolyser factory in the world’ - its ‘Gigafactory’ at Bessemer Park, off Shepcote Lane, near Meadowhall.

In January, Sheffield hydrogen equipment company ITM Power started manufacturing at ‘the biggest electrolyser factory in the world’ - its ‘Gigafactory’ at Bessemer Park, off Shepcote Lane, near Meadowhall.

Developer Capital & Centric started main construction work on the £25m conversion of a former Sheffield city centre cutlery works into flats.

The company is restoring Eyewitness Works and Ceylon Works on Milton Street and erecting a six-storey building on the site of the former Brunswick Hotel.

The firm also wants to create a 15-acre ‘Mesters’ Village’ with more than 2,500 homes, maker spaces, cafés, bars, delis and a school.

The Star revealed in January that the city was set for a £250m boost and more than 5,000 jobs in plans to build a new stadium, arena, office blocks and child health technology centre at the Olympic Legacy Park.

The Manchester-based business says the £200m plan could take five to 10 years.

Sheffield tech company Tribepad announced it was ploughing £1m into Tribepad Ventures, an ‘incubator and accelerator’ to help entrepreneurs launch new businesses, and help existing firms grow. It is focused on the ‘work-tech’ sector of job applications, careers advice and human resources.

Meanwhile, Cleggs started work on a £40m block of flats in Sheffield which ‘shows confidence in the city beyond Covid’.

It is building 229-apartments on the site of the former Queens Hotel on Scotland Street.

Late in April, Sheffield Forgemasters announced it was spending £120m on a 13,000 tonne press - one of the largest investments in steelmaking in the city.

Fernit, a 189-year-old Sheffield machine knife company, announced plans to double in size in a move to a £1.8m new factory.

The firm moved into a purpose-built factory on Dorehouse Business Park in Handsworth and planned to boost its 48-strong workforce with 10 new staff.

The Star revealed in January that the city was set for a £250m boost and more than 5,000 jobs in plans to build a new stadium, arena, office blocks and child health technology centre at the Olympic Legacy Park.

Some £100m will be spent over the next two years on projects including a £20m diagnostic imagery research hub in a new £5m Park Community Arena which will have three basketball courts and become the new home of Sheffield Sharks basketball team.

Over the next five years, £150m will be spent on offices, a conference centre and a hotel arranged around a cricket oval, in a project is by Kevin McCabe’s Scarborough Group International.

It also includes a 3,900-capacity stadium which will be headquarters for Sheffield Eagles Rugby League.

In March, historic Sheffield chocolate company Thorntons announced more than 600 workers were at risk of redundancy after it decided to close all 61 shops due to the ‘ongoing impact of Covid-19’ and a rise in online sales. Thorntons, Fargate. Picture: Chris Etchells

On February 17, Sheffield found time to celebrate the 150 years since the birth of the man who discovered stainless steel - and changed the world - Harry Brearley.

It helped put the city on the global map and still powers a thriving local metals industry with a global reputation for quality and innovation.

At the beginning of March, developer Urbo lodged plans for the first buildings in a £300m new quarter in Sheffield. West Bar Square will feature an office block and 368 apartments valued at £150m and funded by Legal & General.

Sheffield City Council has already signed up to take space.

Urbo hopes to eventually create a £300m scheme between Bridge Street and Corporation Street with five office blocks that could create 6,000 jobs.

Weightlifting brand SBD Apparel announced plans to create 237 jobs at a £9m new factory by moving from five sites in to new premises on the Advanced Manufacturing Park in Catcliffe.

The company makes clothing and power-lifting equipment including wrist wraps, knee and elbow sleeves, deadlift socks and singlets.

In March, historic Sheffield chocolate company Thorntons announced more than 600 workers were at risk of redundancy after it decided to close all 61 shops due to the ‘ongoing impact of Covid-19’ and a rise in online sales.

The firm, which has its headquarters and factory in Somercotes, Alfreton, continues online.

Then John Lewis announced the closure of its Sheffield store putting 299 jobs at risk.

The company announced it could no longer ‘profitably sustain’ the shop on Barker’s Pool and it was not planning to reopen it after lockdown.

It came after the company announced a £517m loss and warned some of its 42 sites might close.

The Brexit deal, which came into force in January, continued to cause problems in April.

Sheffield pump manufacturer Ken Torres said every consignment this year had been ‘delayed like hell’.

Delivery times to the EU had soared from three days to up to four weeks, with some loads ‘totally lost’ for more than a month.

Carriers had demanded more and different paperwork for each country and new charges.

Mr Torres, a veteran of 40 years in business, said he would have been ‘finished’ if he sold commodities available elsewhere in the EU.

But Torres Pumps and Engineering on Brightside Lane makes pumps to order and customers have been ‘very understanding’. Exports are 70 per cent of business.

Late in April, Sheffield Forgemasters announced it was spending £120m on a 13,000 tonne press - one of the largest investments in steelmaking in the city.

The Brightside-based company snapped up the machine - one of the biggest in the world - to make forgings for nuclear submarines for the Royal Navy far into the future.

The deal was supported with a loan from the Ministry of Defence, in a massive vote of confidence in the firm’s capabilities.

Debenhams closes but Covid restrictions end… for now

There was sadness and jubilation as spring turned into summer in Sheffield.

Historic retailer Debenhams closed its doors for the final time. But the prospect of the end of Covid restrictions on June 21 were a huge boost to many.

Debenhams closed on The Moor in Sheffield city centre and at Meadowhall on Saturday May 15. As of today, neither has been re-occupied.

Also in May, transport company Newell and Wright reopened a historic rail terminal in Sheffield to cut the number of trucks on roads.

It re-laid track and built a platform at Tinsley Marshalling Yard - once home to more than 200 locomotives. It had been disused since the early 1980s.

The same month, a pandemic-hit Sheffield business received £25,000 from insurers after pressure from The Star. Kevin Johnstone was ecstatic when insurers settled his claim for ‘business interruption’ after a call from the paper.

In June, the Old Town Hall on Castle Street was put back on the market after ownership passed to receivers. It was being restored by developer Aestrom, headed by Efe Omu.

It is understood the pandemic and lockdowns led to work and loan repayments being delayed. The Grade-II listed Old Town Hall has been empty since 1997.

Then Liberty Steel rang alarm bells when it announced plans to sell off its Stocksbridge works.

The firm said the 750-strong aerospace and special alloys steel business was ‘not core to the Greensteel vision’. At the time of publication no sale had been agreed.

In June, The Star reported that Sheffield City Council was buying 20-26 Fargate, the former Clintons card shop opposite Marks and Spencer.

It will become ‘Event Central,’ a six-storey flagship for the city’s burgeoning creative sector. It is hoped the site will also breathe new life into the area after a long run of shop closures.

The acquisition and revamp of the building will consume a ‘sizeable’ chunk of £15.8m the authority won from the Future High Streets Fund to improve Fargate and High Street.

Meadowhall was in the news when a senior council chief objected to its £150m extension plan over potential damage to beleaguered Sheffield city centre - reigniting the old row about Meadowhall sucking the life out of the city centre. Meadowhall bosses then announced they were moving into warehousing and had earmarked land for a logistics operation.

Sheffield’s computer games industry is well known and Sumo is top of the tree. In July it was snapped up by Chinese firm Tencent for £919m, almost four times what is was worth two years ago. At the same time it was advertising 173 jobs - including 42 in Sheffield. The firm has 14 studios in five countries.

In July, iconic Sheffield steel company, Forgemasters, announced it was being nationalised to secure its role as a key supplier to the Ministry of Defence. In recent years, Forgemasters’ main profits have come from specialist forgings and castings for submarines and Navy warships.

In September, the UK took a big step towards a ‘safe, sustainable, low carbon source of energy’ at the launch of a £50m research centre near Sheffield.

The Fusion Technology Facility will play a key role in developing nuclear fusion - the holy grail of clean power.

The site, on the Advanced Manufacturing Park, cost £22m to build and is set to install £28m of equipment as part of an international effort to crack the problem.

It comes as the UK battled another energy problem: soaring natural gas prices which could spell much higher bills for millions of people this winter.

In October, booming Sheffield hydrogen specialist ITM Power announced plans to spend £250m on two new factories and create hundreds of jobs to meet ‘exponential demand’.

It is building a second factory in Sheffield and a third overseas.

It also wants to invest in ‘semi-automation’ of its electrolyser factory at Bessemer Park in Tinsley, investing £50m in new technology aimed at reducing manufacturing costs and £45m on new jobs and training, including expansion of its Hydrogen Academy.

The firm says global electrolyser capacity of 3,585 gigawatts is required by 2050 to achieve ‘net zero’ carbon emissions. A year ago there was only 0.2 gigwatts installed.

In November, The Star revealed a global sports brand had drawn up multi-million pound plans for a ‘home of football’ in Sheffield’s John Lewis building – including pitches on the roof.

The household name wants to create ‘Sheffield Rules,’ with a museum celebrating the city’s role in the origins of the game, have-a-go football experiences with celebrities, community pitches on the roof and bars and restaurants on the ground floor opening on to Barker’s Pool.

The building would be revamped with ‘football architecture’ including a central column to represent a halfway line and a tunnel leading to the roof.

The proposal could also see the John Lewis car park replaced by a residential tower.

The iconic store closed for good in June after the firm made a £500m loss. The building is owned by Sheffield City Council.

The same month, Sheffield tech company Zoo Digital announced it was moving 160 staff into Castle House, the former Co-op department store on Angel Street in Castlegate.

It joins another top Sheffield tech firm, WANdisco, which made the building home in October 2019.

Castle House is also home to popular food hall Kommune and a Barclays tech accelerator.

The move is a boost for an up-and-coming tech quarter of the city centre.

Then in December Transport Secretary Grant Shapps promised rail electrification was definitely coming to Sheffield - after the project was axed twice to save money.

He said he was ‘aware of the history’ but insisted he ‘absolutely, fully’ intends to complete electrification of the Midland Main Line to the city by 2030.

It will allow HS2 trains to reach Sheffield and cut journey times to London to just under 90 minutes.

And new infrastructure and digital signalling would improve reliability and allow more services.

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Debenhams closed on The Moor in Sheffield city centre and at Meadowhall on Saturday May 15. As of today, neither has been re-occupied.
Transport company Newell and Wright reopened a historic rail terminal in Sheffield to cut the number of trucks on roads.
In June, the Old Town Hall on Castle Street was put back on the market after ownership passed to receivers.
This Fargate building will become ‘Event Central,’ a six-storey flagship for the city’s burgeoning creative sector. It is hoped the site will also breathe new life into the area after a long run of shop closures.
In November, The Star revealed a global sports brand had drawn up multi-million pound plans for a ‘home of football’ in Sheffield’s John Lewis building – including pitches on the roof.