Harmony Works, in Canada House on Commercial Street, will be rocking to the sounds of youngsters from all over the city practising, composing and performing potential hits.
The hugely ambitious project will see the five-storey Grade II*-listed city centre building extended, conserved and modernised to create a new permanent home for the city’s musical talent.
It is set to open by 2026 after a successful Levelling Up bid submitted by Sheffield City Council, with cash from three other big pots and 50 smaller ones, according to project manager Emily Pieters.
She believes the building’s heritage and scale will boost creativity, its position makes it ‘one journey’ away for every child wherever they live and its many spaces will benefit styles from jazz in the brick-vaulted basement to a chamber orchestra in the expansive old boardroom.
Canada House was built in 1874 for the Sheffield United Gas Light Company and has a stunning main room with huge etched glass dome, neo-classical stone arch and intricate plaster cornicing. Upstairs, a ceiling has a frieze with a quote from Horace's 'Ars Poetica': Ex Fumo Dare Luceum - ‘From smoke let light break out’.
Less grandly, the ground floor was last used as an all-you-can-eat Oriental buffet 11 years ago. It could so easily have gone the way of the Old Town Hall but was maintained by its owner, Sheffield lingerie firm Panache.
Emily praised the company for being ‘responsible custodians’ and maintaining it in good condition, including putting the heating on in winter and keeping (most of) the water out.
She added: “This project is hugely fun and rewarding, it’s amazing to see it go from the germ of an idea to something real.
“It has taken time, but what sustains me is the thought of it fully occupied by children playing music and learning, and what that will do to their lives, and doing it in a heritage building.
“The legacy will be huge, it will help revive High Street and Castlegate. It’s also the right thing to do in terms of sustainability.”
Sheffield architects Hadfield Cawkwell Davidson designed Canada House in the Italian renaissance revival style. As well as the dome, in some rooms the decorative ceilings are 18ft high and come with impressive fireplaces and detailing. Outside, there are four paired granite columns on the ground and first floors. Two statues of Greek god Atlas flank the main door.
Emily said: “It was where ladies in crinoline would come and see new fangled gas fires and persuade their husbands to buy them.”
It remained as offices for the Gas Board until 1972 and designated Grade II*-listed after developers tried to have it demolished.
In the early 1980s the lower floor was ‘Turn Ups’ nightclub but through the early 1990s the building deteriorated and rain entered through the damaged roof. Period fireplaces were stolen.
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The building was eventually acquired by English Partnerships and restored. It became the headquarters for the Panache lingerie company until the business moved out in 2008.
The firm tried to sell it for years for £1.5m. It has now taken it off the market in anticipation of Harmony Works taking possession next summer, Emily said.
The three years after that will be spent realising the vision. Suspended ceilings and some walls will be removed to reveal the heritage and create ‘specific acoustic spaces for music’.
The need is great.
At the moment out-of-school music provision in Sheffield has no permanent home and is ‘camped out’ at schools scattered across the city, but skewed towards the south west.
Harmony Works is the joint vision of Sheffield Music Academy and Sheffield Music Hub.
The academy is one of 15 government-funded ‘centres for advanced music training’ for young people with ‘outstanding ability, dedication and potential’.
The hub is led by Sheffield City Council and partners with schools and community groups – principally through outreach – to provide music education to young people from all backgrounds.
Currently, through the hub and the academy, 15,000 children and young people benefit from weekly engagement in musical activity.
Harmony Works will double that number to deliver music education to 30,000 children and ‘strengthen the support to musical lives of all 80,000 of our children and young people’.
Other partners include Music in the Round - and maybe pop stars.
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Emily said: “We would love to talk to them. Our ambition is to get them on board and, who knows, this place could produce the next Pulp. Sheffield has a great reputation for music but at the moment there’s no permanent place for young people’s music education. This will be a national beacon.
"A good provision of music can help with health and well being, particularly post Covid, as well as confidence, creativity, team building and be a safe space where they can be themselves.”
Emily, who is also a lecturer in architecture at the University of Sheffield, says she was approached by Sheffield Music Academy in 2017 to look at Canada House.
Today she is talking to and leading tours for organisations including The Star, Historic England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Architectural Heritage Fund, private trusts and foundations and community stakeholders.
And as a charity, donations are welcome.
She added: “There has never been a more important time to invest in our children and the skills they develop from studying music.
"Through the restoration of Canada House, we will have a city centre home in Castlegate to support the musical lives of children and young people from every corner of our city.
“Harmony Works will be transformational, saving a unique heritage building and positioning Sheffield even more firmly as a city of music.”