Globe reborn as a tribute to the past

Towering concrete, glass and steel business developments have filled Sheffield's skyline in recent years – but discerning firms can also relocate to sites with a bit of history.

THE classical facade of Globe Works has stood facing Penistone Road for almost 200 years and the site is one of the oldest remaining factories of its kind in the world.

But it's been lucky to survive a tough few decades.

In 1970, Sheffield Town Planning Committee called for the former cutlery works to be taken off the register of listed buildings so it could be bulldozed to make way for an urban motorway.

Later that decade, an arson attack destroyed a third of the roof and the building, at the time home to little mesters' workshops, sat decaying until the late 1980s.

It was not until the end of the decade that restoration began, initially by arts charity the Leadmill Association.

Globe Works was taken over by Velocity Estates in the mid 1990s, and the company spent 18 months completing refurbishment of the site at a cost of several million pounds.

Today, the renamed Globe Business Centre is a hub of activity, home to around 22 companies. There is 22,000 feet of offices, broken down into suites ranging from 200 sq ft to 2,000 sq ft.

And they're not your typical accommodation.

What was once home to the steelworks' founder, William Ibbotson, in part of the front building, is now the reception and a number of offices. Grand ceilings, old fireplaces and a period staircase have all been lovingly preserved.

Elsewhere, above tenants' 21st century office furniture, flatscreen computers and laptops, are exposed beams and even old pulleys, with hooks still attached, once used to haul supplies into the old workshops.

There's no entrance lobby, lifts or spacious corridors to get around the site. Instead, a labyrinth of stone-flagged passageways leads off from the central courtyard.

You have to climb old wooden staircases to reach many of the upper floor areas.

Suzanne Wright, lettings manager for Velocity, said:

"We manage a lot of the new properties around the city centre, so that's what most people associate our company with. But it's nice to show people there are other properties they can locate to."

She added: "It's been quite a transformation. When we took over, Globe Works was still partially derelict. A lot of the floors were missing and the roof needed repairing.

"We've managed to keep as many of the original features as we can."

Philip Marsh, maintenance man at Globe Business Centre, likened looking after the site to "painting the Forth Bridge".

"You start at one end, then, once you've got all the way round, you have to start again. But, apart from that and some damp problems we have had to tackle, it's not bad maintenance-wise for a historic site.

"It only involves a little more work than a new building."

It survived the 2007 flood with only the basement of the front building affected, although it took months to bring rooms back into use as they had to be dried out and refurbished.

The unique surroundings are appreciated by the firms based at the site, which range from designers to pub firm Hallam Taverns and an agency providing supply teachers.

In keeping with its recent past as a base for little mesters, there is also a workshop still based at Globe, Joinery Services.

Marc Etches, of Blue Strawberry Elephant Design, housed in an upper floor unit, said: "We were in Attercliffe but moved here about five years ago. It's nice to work in somewhere with character."

One of the oldest tenants is High Places, a company providing climbing holidays, which has been at the works since 1994 when it was managed by the Leadmill Association.

Director Paul Adams said: "It was in a terrible state.

"At one point we were the only tenant. We thought it would end up being sold for apartments.

"Velocity repaired the roof, painted and carpeted the offices but it still has character.

"We like it here compared with a bland, modern office block."

Suzanne added: "Globe Business Centre is undoubtedly one of the most interesting properties in our portfolio. The building is steeped in history, character and charm which ensures its broad appeal."

The site is still almost full despite the credit crunch, with just a handful of offices available.

The success of Globe Works since its renovation means the site could provide an example of how other old metalworks around the city centre could be brought back into use.

Globe Works factfile

GLOBE Works is a Grade II* listed building, making it one of Sheffield's most important historical sites.

Completed in 1824 by Sheffield merchants and steel manufacturers William Ibbotson and Co, Globe Works was one of several factories established around the Kelham Island and Shalesmoor area as the metal industry grew.

At the time, Globe Works was surrounded by green fields on the fringes of the city – so pleasant a site that Ibbotson had a family home incorporated in the development.

It was from Globe Works that he established his global trade links, most notably with America. His firm manufactured everything from scissors to sheep shears.

The complex later became home to many small workshops in the mid-to-late 20th century but there was little money available for maintenance and it deteriorated rapidly, worsened by damage from the arson attack in 1978.

Its 1990 partial revamp, costing 1.5 million, included a cutlery shop, visitor centre and even a pub, The Rattener's Rest. But the Leadmill Association ran into financial problems and fell into insolvency in 1994 - after which Velocity stepped in.

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