How £3.6m revival of old Sheffield factory will bring more bars, offices and jobs to Kelham Island

Eagle Works at Kelham Island. Picture: Dean Atkins
Eagle Works at Kelham Island. Picture: Dean Atkins

At Eagle Works in the heart of Sheffield’s Kelham Island district, workers in the 1800s once toiled to make files and refine steel.

Now, with the area transformed from a place of heavy industry into a fashionable area populated by cafés, modern businesses and new housing, the former metal trades factory has been brought into the 21st century.

Tom Battley, of Citu, at Eagle Works at Kelham Island. Picture: Dean Atkins

Tom Battley, of Citu, at Eagle Works at Kelham Island. Picture: Dean Atkins

The substantial, five-storey red-brick building overlooking the River Don has been converted by developer Citu into a £3.6 million centre for businesses, containing offices and commercial units.

Part of Citu's £65 million Little Kelham scheme, which chiefly comprises 241 eco-friendly homes, Eagle Works is characterised by its huge arch windows, original timber beams, wrought iron columns and large, high-ceilinged rooms filled with natural light - the 'ultimate spaces', the sales brochure enthuses, for 'creative thinking and making'. 

It has already attracted attention. In the run-up to its opening, which will be marked with open days next Friday and Saturday, it has been used as a venue for events such as live music and weddings with a contemporary edge.

"We definitely wanted to keep the heritage of the building and retain what it was known for," says Kevin Gillespie, Leeds-based Citu's sales and development director. "We want to attract creative organisations and agencies, small start-ups, SMEs – people that make things for the 21st century. That could be anything digital all the way through to brand agencies."

Tim Bottrill, who is letting the workspaces through his Colloco agency and is a board member of the Sheffield Property Association, agrees. "Eagle Works is our trophy building down in Kelham Island. It is a stunning building, and beautiful inside."

The Star is focusing on the mission of the SPA – which aims to be the ‘collective voice of property in Sheffield’ and was the first organisation of its kind outside the capital – through a series of features looking at major schemes supported by its members, a diverse group including developers, the universities, planning consultants, solicitors and commercial agents.  

The works was built in 1835; in 1864 WK Peace & Co left the premises and moved across the Don to a new factory. They took the name Eagle Works with them and the old site was renamed Horseman Works.

The revamped building's first occupants are expected by the end of November. Both ground floor units are under offer for a Sardinian restaurant and a craft beer venue.

A focal point of the makeover, Kevin says, is the original lift shaft which has been kept, updated and wrapped in a glass box, enabling people to peer in and see the carriage travelling up and down.

"There's so much history, which is really great. If you actually look at some of the organisations that started in Eagle Works, and what they are today - a few combined way back and they are now one of the biggest submarine manufacturers in the world. We only found this out when we start researching everything."

There are five offices, ranging in size from 2,810 to 3,810 sq ft with names reflecting their old uses, such as The Lathe Hall and The Engine Room on the first floor and The Cutting Room on the top two levels. Since the lettings went live a few weeks ago there have been six viewings. Rents are all-inclusive, paying for internet access, electricity and service charges, and tenants can leave with six months' notice, where usually they would be confined to a fixed-term lease.

"It gives smaller businesses that opportunity to grow and contract without the burden of a full-on lease," Tim says.

Citu's environmental credentials are to the fore; the offices are heated with biomass energy, a zero-carbon heat source.

"We build differently," says Kevin. "We're very much about tackling climate change, that's our purpose as an organisation. One of the biggest carbon emitters in the UK is buildings - if we really want to hit the 2050 targets that have been set from the Paris agreement, we radically need to change the way we design. Because if we don't do it now, it's going to be a little bit too late in 10, 15 years' time. When it comes to retrofitting buildings, it won't be the property world that pays for that, it'll be the people living within them. And it'll cost quite a lot of money which most people don't have."

Homes at Little Kelham follow the Passivhaus standard, a voluntary benchmark for energy efficiency that has been embraced in Scandinavia and Germany. "It means you don't need to use fossil fuel - you don't actually need to use any heating, because your house is so airtight. All you need to do is make sure you flow fresh air in and out, and that's it."

The first two phases of Little Kelham will be finished by 2020, but Eagle Works, which sits next to the striking Wedge residential building, adds a mixed-use element to the wider scheme.

"If you can live in close enough proximity to where you can potentially work, you can ditch the car," Kevin says. "You're always connected - you can walk and cycle to work. Every decision we make is driven by helping people to reduce their carbon footprint."

More homes are on the way in front of Eagle Works, between the completed houses and Green Lane Works, another historic property that has been restored. Unusually for a site so close to a city centre, these addresses will have gardens and garages.

"Most property developers' profits are driven from getting value out of land," Kevin says. "With values quite pricey at the moment, developers need to bang in a lot of units on these sites so they can make it worth their while. Hence why you end up with all these massive blocks of apartments that don't really look great. We've been very fortunate. We work well with Sheffield Council and we've been able to not do that."

Green Lane already has a café bar, Stew & Oyster, next to its distinctive listed clock tower and gatehouse where the works' name is spelled out in shiny gold lettering. 

"We worked with Historic England on that closely," says Kevin of the tower. "That is a labour of love. It took a long time but we got there."

An original plaque has been kept behind Green Lane Works, at the entrance to an area called Horseman Square.

"About a year ago someone came down and they were looking for the plaque," Kevin says. "And they started crying because the plaque had their great-grandad's name on it. And we'd kept it, and it's still there. There's little nods to the history and heritage we hope people will discover."

Open days at Eagle Works are happening from midday to 8pm on Friday, and 10am to 6pm next Saturday, October 26 and 27. The building will be given over to art exhibitions, craft stalls, street food and drinks, and a virtual reality viewing space. Prosecco will be served to visitors on arrival.