A former Sheffield department store could be getting a new lease of life.
Balraj Johal, who runs a vintage clothing and furniture shop called The Thrifty Store in Castle House in the city centre, is contributing to plans for a ‘creative hub’ in the top two floors of the building.
The venture would provide a space for digital technology firms to grow, alongside traditional businesses such as food producers and a barber’s shop.
Balraj, who is working alongside North Point Development, the firm looking after Castle House, is holding a ‘makers’ market’ next weekend to generate enthusiasm for the scheme.
The event will take place in his shop, and 30 stalls are lined up so far.
“There’s a massive making movement within Sheffield, there’s a real appetite for it,” said Balraj.
“We really want the area to regenerate. At the hub, rents will be really cheap, offering people the opportunity to grow their business.
“We’re talking about how we make it happen, and we have access to a creative team to develop the look and feel of the actual space.
“What we’re doing is marrying the new world of digital with the old world of makers.”
Balraj said he would like to create a version of Affleck’s Palace - the alternative market in Manchester city centre - for Sheffield.
Castle House, built in the 1960s, once housed a large Co-operative department store, but has stood empty since the shop closed.
It has been briefly reopened in recent years for temporary events, such as Sheffield University’s Festival of the Mind.
“There’s a lot of social enterprise in Sheffield,” he added. “I’ve lived in Leeds, which is very corporate and shiny - Sheffield has always been in the shadows to a certain degree.”
The market will be a ‘mixed bag’.
Stallholders already signed up include clothing company ReHash, urban fashion label Up North Mate, the Hantu Collective, which works with unemployed people to make products out of reclaimed wood, and Watermade, a charity selling shirts and jewellery to provide clean water in Africa.
“It’s quite refreshing that all of these industries are coming out of Sheffield. It’s really inspiring that people are doing these things and they see the benefits for future generations,” said Balraj.
“We’re giving these cottage industries a platform for them to get their wares on to the high street. As a nation we throw away something like 20 tons of clothing every 10 minutes which is absolutely scandalous.”
The Thrifty Store opened in October, and represented a fresh start for the father-of-two, who previously worked in the corporate world as a growth strategist for Barclays and Groupon.
“This is something I’m proud of, I think it’s the future,” said Balraj, who also runs a store in Huddersfield. “We’re building something which, evidently, people want.”
n Visit https://goo.gl/VCd3ZR for details of the market, which runs from 10am on Saturday, February 27 to 5pm the next day. Admission free.