Art for the people

At home in the cafe: Sara O'Connor at Tinsley
At home in the cafe: Sara O'Connor at Tinsley
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AS venues to host art exhibitions go, it is a little unusual to say the least.

Most galleries don’t have formica tables lined with ketchup bottles; nor the smell of bacon hanging in the air; nor several truckers sitting around in muddy boots discussing the derby.

But then most galleries don’t have anywhere the number of visitors, or the history of this place either.

Because next month, for one day only, Tinsley Transcafe – the legendary Shepcote Lane diner which has not only fed generations of steel workers but also become a favourite with both Brendan Ingle’s boxers and Steelers ice hockey players negotiating new contracts – is to be transformed into an exhibition space.

The show? An archive of photographs and oral histories documenting this iconic cafe’s 60 year past and present.

“This place is a real time-capsule,” says Sara O’Connor, the 21-year-old academic behind the project, which was exclusively revealed in The Star last December.

“These days there are so many generic chains but the cafe has so much history which deserves to be preserved.

“The fact it is in the steel belt and has been used by so many sports stars makes it a real institution, and that’s why I wanted to capture it.

“Now, the chance to display what I did in the place itself is so exciting.”

What she did, then, was spend a month capturing the sights and sounds of the diner through pictures of and interviews with both staff and customers – a motley collection of anglers, Meadowhall workers and those in search of a to-Hell-with-the-waistline breakfast.

Meanwhile one old diner provided historic photos including one of the building from the 1930s when it was a grocery store, and one of the original owners, the Burgoyne family.

And, although the project was initially undertaken as part of her Leeds Metropolitan University graphics design degree, such was the standard of her pictures Sheffield Archives has now expressed an interest in storing them for posterity.

Those bottles of sauce and formica tables are all captured, of course, as is the old-school serving hatch, the sports memorabilia lining the walls and the chipped mugs of over-mashed tea.

And so too are Rotherham-born owners Ron and Margaret Adams.

“It is a shame there’s fewer places like this,” says 66-year-old Ron. “You get a real mix of people in here. It tends to be labourers and truck drivers because they like a place they can come in their muddy boots and relax, feel at home, have some food and a chat – but we do get the odd businessman in a suit coming in.”

And there’s more than the odd sports star too.

Sara was just four-years-old when she was introduced to the cafe by father Mike O’Connor, the Sheffield Steelers player who signed for the club in 1994 – in, typically, the diner itself.

“My dad loved it,” explains Sara who now lives in Leeds but grew up in Spinkhill. “I think that probably rubbed off on me.”

The exhibition takes place all day on March 29.