How former Victorian workshops at Leah's Yard are set to support a business community of around 150 people in heart of Sheffield

A disused collection of Victorian buildings in the heart of Sheffield could support a business community of around 150 people when it re-opens in 2023, according to the entrepreneurs who will run the site.

The bosses behind the revival of Leah’s Yard, which has appeared on Historic England’s ‘Buildings at Risk’ register, have received more than 100 applications from small business owners who are interested in establishing a base in the former collection of small industrial workshops.

Once completed, Leah’s Yard will be run by Tom Wolfenden, CEO of SSPCo, which manages the Cooper Buildings on Arundel Street, and James O’Hara of the Rockingham Group, which runs bars such as Public and Picture House Social.

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Proposals to revive Leah’s Yard off Cambridge Street and create a social hub for creative independent businesses were approved by the planning authority earlier this month. The building should be ready of occupation in the summer of 2023, according to Mr O’Hara.

The bosses behind the revival of Leah’s Yard, which has appeared on Historic England’s ‘Buildings at Risk’ register, have received more than 100 applications from small business owners who are interested in establishing a base in the former collection of small industrial workshops.Picture: FCBStudios

Mr Wolfenden said he wanted the building to be fit for use by future generations.

He told The Yorkshire Post: “We’ve picked up an asset that’s 150 years old and we need to make it work for the next 150. That’s one of our core ambitions.”

Mr Wolfenden and Mr O’Hara have had an ambition to combine their respective skillsets in a venture like Leah’s Yard for some time.

Mr O’Hara said that although they worked in different business areas, their interest did dovetail, “especially in Leah’s Yard where you have a public facing ground floor with food, retail and beverages, and then upper floors where you have businesses”.

Once completed, Leah’s Yard will be run by Tom Wolfenden, (left) CEO of SSPCo, which manages the Cooper Buildings on Arundel Street, and James O’Hara of the Rockingham Group, which runs bars such as Public and Picture House Social.

He added: “The way that city centres are changing, there probably will be opportunities to do similar schemes.

“One of our ambitions is to prove ourselves with this project and we are definitely open to doing projects of a similar nature. Our backgrounds segue quite nicely.”

Mr Wolfenden added: “We’re going to have 30 spaces in Leah’s Yard and we have had 106 applications for space so far, so there is clearly a disconnect with the current commercial property market.

“We’ve got vacant retail around the city, as do other cities, but we have found this pent up demand from our independent sector, which is thriving and we are looking at other ways we can accommodate them. We’re exploring that, because we don’t want to say ‘no’ to 70 other businesses.”

Mr O’Hara said that these businesses already exist, although they are hidden from public view.

He added: “Ten years ago, you would have started with a physical store, and developed your online offering. I think the reverse is happening now.

“Someone is developing a business, getting an online following, but then people still want a physical place that people can go to.”

“There will always be, despite the well-publicised decline in retail, space for experiential retail; things you can’t get online.

Mr O’Hara added: “When we look through a lot of the businesses that are applying, they are providing tangible things you want to visit. There’s a natural entrepreneurialism in the city of people just cracking on and grafting.”

Submitted in July by Sheffield City Council and its Strategic Development Partner, Queensberry, the plans are the latest to be approved as part of Sheffield’s transformational Heart of the City development scheme.

The approved plans, which were designed by the architect FCBStudios, will see the existing complex refurbished largely in its current form.

In the revived Leah’s Yard, a central public courtyard will be surrounded by small boutique shops, while the first and second floors will host independent working studios.

New-build structures will adjoin the southern side of the development.

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As part of the wider Heart of the City programme, which is creating a new central hub for Sheffield city centre, Leah’s Yard will sit alongside Cambridge Street Collective and Bethel Chapel.

Both of these developments are already under construction and will deliver a contemporary food hall, cookery theatre, fine dining restaurant and a live entertainment venue.

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James Mitchinson