How Sheffield’s Man of Steel is taking shape

Artist Steve Mehdi with his Man of Steel in the Snuff Mill Body shop in Sheffield. Picture by Chris Lawton
Artist Steve Mehdi with his Man of Steel in the Snuff Mill Body shop in Sheffield. Picture by Chris Lawton
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STAFF at a back street body shop have taken a break from their usual work repairing crash-damaged cars to help Yorkshire’s Man of Steel on the next stage of his journey towards 35m-high stardom.

Mechanics at Sheffield’s Snuff Mill Body Shop have spent many hours working on the prototype of the sculpture, which is planned for a hillside site overlooking the M1 near Sheffield’s Meadowhall.

Business owner Nick Wardley and his team got involved after hearing about the project from its creator Steve Mehdi, and agreed to help out with the massive body building effort in his workshop.

Mr Wardley took delivery of the three-metre model of the Man of Steel, which is roughly one tenth of the height of the finished project, several weeks ago and finally finished his work this week.

Getting there was a painstaking process involving both Sheffield universities and the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) in Catcliffe, Rotherham, where the base model was made.

Mr Wardley said he and his team had logged a total of 72 hours work on the Man, and added his fingertips were raw after the repeated sanding.

He said: “Each coat took a day and a half. At first I thought they should have done it in silver leaf but looking at it now it looks great.

“After a couple of days on it I had to take a break. I had rubbed my fingertips off nearly. I have sanded a lot of cars but this was different.

“So far we have had huge amounts of help, including from Sheffield Hallam University, which helped with computer 3D modelling which allowed us to map out the protoype.

“That was then taken to the specialists at the AMRC, where their expert John Halfpenny, who has worked on projects for Rolls-Royce and Boeing, got involved with making the actual man.

“We wanted to go with a process called arc spraying, which would have seen him coated in stainless steel, but the only expert we could find was at Pinewood Studios, and we didn’t want him to travel outside the Sheffield City Region.”

The Snuff Mill Body Shop, behind the Berkeley Precinct on Sheffield’s Ecclesall Road, is named because it is on the site of the city’s Wilson’s Snuff Mill, which still makes snuff to this day.

Mr Mehdi got in touch with Mr Wardley after Vince Middleton, managing director of Rotherham’s Newburgh Engineering, also a partner in the Man of Steel project, said he had used his services.

“Nick and his mechanics were blown away by the project when we talked about it and when we got the Man of Steel in there surrounded by classic cars he was working on, it just seemed right,” said Mr Mehdi.

“It gives the latest stage of the project that local provenance, we have got firms and institutions from all over South Yorkshire involved and that is a big part of what we are doing.”

The Man of Steel has been coated with a two-part epoxy adhesive, which provided a suitable base for a coat of silver paint which was sprayed on and then buffed up to a shine using very fine grade abrasive papers.

He was moved back to the AMRC yesterday in readiness for the Global Manufacturing Festival, which will be held at the venue between April 17 and 19. The sculpture will be on display to delegates.

Mr Mehdi said the next stage would involve negotiating for funding for the full-size man. It is estimated that around £2.7m will be required which will include all the building and legal costs.

The former landfill site where the Man will sit on top of a coal-black column overlooking South Yorkshire lies in Rotherham, and the council has already granted the project planning consent.

Exploratory talks have also been held with the regional director of the Heritage Lottery Fund Fiona Spiers and the European Regional Development Fund, although Sheffield Council is still “considering its involvement”.

The authority was given £500,000 by energy firm Eon for a replacement sculpture after it demolished the city’s famous “Tinsley towers” to make way for a biomass power station.