It’s eight years since a community effort saved the dilapidated cutlery factory at Portland Works in Sheffield. On February 28, 2013 the building was bought by a social enterprise of more than 500 community shareholders. Since then, this iconic grade2* listed building has been undergoing a transformation.
As it marks its eighth anniversary on February 28, there have been lots of amazing milestones along the way. Crumbling brickwork, leaking roofs, rotting windows and woodwork have all been restored to conserve Portland Works as a community heritage location, thanks largely to the fantastic volunteers who have worked on its renovation.
They have created the beautiful Makerspace which is used for events, exhibitions and workshops and constructed workspaces for small manufacturing, independent artists and craftspeople, providing affordable premises for more than 30 small business from knife makers to cabinetmakers and joiners; jewellers and silver platers; artists; guitar makers; photographers and even a gin distillery.
“We could never have anticipated celebrating our 8th birthday during a national lockdown,” said John Rouse, chair of Portland Works’ board of directors. “It’s thrown up some huge challenges, delayed our building work and hampered our fundraising efforts. Our committed volunteers have had to down tools and we’ve missed welcoming visitors on our regular tours.”
“But we’ve worked hard to adapt in this fast-changing situation. We’ve increased our online presence and kept in touch with the community through our website, social media updates and regular newsletters. We’ve engaged both existing and new audiences with online events, lectures, guided tours and video interviews and even held an online Christmas market.”
The Works was determined to take part in Heritage Open Day – usually an important chance for it to throw open its doors and celebrate its heritage. For 2020, Portland Works created a week-long programme of virtual events for visitors to view its restoration progress, learn about its history and meet its volunteers and tenants.
Some 500 people visited the online tour, photography exhibition and films on the Portland Works website. On YouTube, people watched 47 hours of video.
Putting its popular local history lectures online has had unexpected benefits – they’ve attracted bigger audiences than could be accommodated on the premises and those from further afield are able to join in. They have become important income-generating events when other fundraising activities have been curtailed.
During this time, it also successfully bid for a grant of £134,400 from the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage to help it develop new revenue streams and educational resources.
“It may have begun as a rapid response to a crisis, but these new ways of working have been an opportunity for us to learn lessons and become more resilient,” said Rouse. “We’re looking forward to restarting construction and conservation work, making the premises safe and attractive to a wide range of potential occupiers and playing our part in rebuilding our community.”