Sheffield’s industrial past shapes its creative future

In partnership with Sheffield Hallam University

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The Independent Online

Sheffield has changed significantly in the last 20 years. The city that was once famous for steel and coal is now home to thriving creative and digital industries.

Large-scale regeneration of the city, supported by private investment and funding from the European Union and Yorkshire Forward, has led to ambitious building and regeneration projects across the city in recent years. There's the tropical Winter Garden, the cultural wonderland of the Millennium Galleries, and the much loved and respected Sheffield Theatres complex.

And now one of Sheffield's most iconic buildings, the old Head Post Office - which opened in 1910 but has been empty for the last 15 years - is being redeveloped for art and design students at Sheffield Hallam University (SHU).

Sheffield Institute of Arts (SIA) at SHU recently acquired a long-term lease on the Grade II listed building, and after it is sympathetically refurbished by its owners it will become an impressive new home for SIA by the end of the year.

Established in 1843 as the School of Art, SIA now attracts more than 2,000 students of nearly 20 different creative disciplines including art, design, animation, architecture, fashion and photography. The revamped Head Post Office building will include a public gallery for student work to be shown, as well as a café and other exhibition spaces. It will also host the Institute's annual degree show, one of the biggest in the country, bringing all those creative disciplines together under one roof for the first time.

Sheffield City Council have also pledged to spruce up the area around the Post Office – Fitzalan Square – which was home to the city's main market area until the 1930s.

Professor Sally Wade is director of SIA. She says: “The Head Post Office provides an opportunity to locate our excellent teaching and internationally-recognised research in art and design in the heart of Sheffield city centre.

“We have a very strong heritage of producing talented artists and designers like David Mellor, George Shaw, Godfrey Sykes and Harry Epworth Allen, but we can also claim a role in shaping much of the creative talent here in Sheffield.

“Jarvis Cocker studied here in the '80s. During the day he was sitting in lecture theatres and at night he was writing songs and performing with Pulp. Warp Films producer Mark Herbert studied film here, Nick Park made his first animated short while studying here, and Marina Lewycka wrote her first book while she was studying creative writing here.”

Alongside the University's investment in art and design, companies have set up home in the city and gone onto great success. A key player in the city's thriving creative digital industry is Sumo Digital, one of the biggest names in games development in the UK. Sumo takes placement students from Sheffield Hallam's games development courses every year, and some of them go on to work for the company.

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Corin Mellor of Sheffield-based David Mellor Design

It's a similar story with many of SIA's talented graduates. David Mellor Design's factory, founded by SIA graduate David Mellor, is based in nearby Hathersage, and creative director Corin Mellor is proud of the company’s Sheffield roots.

Corin says: “I grew up in Sheffield and have seen it change considerably. Creative subjects have become more important to the city, and have played an integral part in Sheffield reinventing itself.

“It's fantastic to see so many different disciplines being brought together,” he says. “It's also really good to see so many students finding their own direction, and to see professional young talent emerging here in Sheffield.”

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