The Diary: Exchange and art: landmark to reopen

Hambleton House,Exchange Street
Hambleton House,Exchange Street
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It is one of Sheffield city centre’s most iconic buildings, a six storey landmark once described as among the finest structures of its kind in the country.

Back when Hambleton House, in Exchange Place, opened in 1927, it housed a reading room at the bottom, a cafe at the top, and four floors of unrivalled stationery retail in between. All of which were connected by a new innovation, an electric elevator.

Now this historic building, which has stood empty behind Castle Market for four years, is to be transformed into an artists’ studio and gallery complex. It will contain 40 units and a huge ground-floor exhibition space.

“As buildings go, it could almost have been designed for this purpose in the first place,” says Kate Dore, director of Yorkshire Artspace, the Sheffield organisation behind the scheme. “The huge windows not only offer inspirational views over Sheffield city centre and Victoria Quays, they also flood the place with natural light. It’s perfect. And that’s before you consider the fact this will regenerate one of our most beautiful buildings.”

That beautiful building, then? It’s had quite a history.

Originally constructed as a WHSmith wholesale store, it was bought by the council in 1966 and used as transport offices. The South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive was based there until 2009.

Now, after threats of demolition caused a public outcry in 2011, Kate reckons this regeneration as Exchange Place Studios will prove an exciting new chapter.

“The building itself will be left almost exactly as it is,” she says. “It will be made safe and we will put up a couple of partition walls here and there but the renovation work will cost us no more than about £40,000 .”

Studio space will range form about 200 square foot up to 2,000. The gallery will show off temporary exhibitions beginning with a display on the plans for the remains of Sheffield Castle once the next door market is demolished. The first artists should have moved in by September. They will include everything from painters to print-makers, jewellers to photographers.

“We’ve already had about 30 expressions of interests from word of mouth so we’re certain people want to work here,” says Surriya Falconer, chairwoman of the board of Yorkshire Artspace.

The organisation, which is based at its own Persistence Works studio in Brown Street but also runs complexes in Parson Cross and Manor Park, has taken on a five-year lease.“It is exciting,” says Kate. “We can’t wait to move in.”