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Plan for million-pound classical venue at Sheffield studios: “There’s a proven need – it’ll just be awesome”

Andy Cook, director of Yellow Arch Studios, in the large storeroom destined to become Sheffield's new classical venue. Picture: Andrew Roe
Andy Cook, director of Yellow Arch Studios, in the large storeroom destined to become Sheffield's new classical venue. Picture: Andrew Roe

A former factory that is now one Sheffield’s leading music facilities has been earmarked as the site of a new arts venue for classical performance, theatre and education costing up to £3 million.

Yellow Arch Studios in Neepsend – where Arctic Monkeys first practised and albums by the likes of Richard Hawley, Jarvis Cocker and Kylie Minogue have been produced – is working on a feasibility study with the city council and Sheffield University as plans for a concert hall are firmed up.

The proposal follows a report published in February that called for a new venue, a dedicated recording studio and a resident orchestra to cement Sheffield's reputation as a home for classical music, building on the success of local group Ensemble 360, formed by Music In The Round, and the International Concert Season at the City Hall, built around the Hallé which is shared with Manchester.

Classical events make a 'significant contribution' to the city's night-time economy, said the university-commissioned study. In 2016, income from ticket sales and performances amounted to just under £900,000, and the sector supported more than 200 jobs from managers and composers to piano tuners. But further support was required ‘economically, politically and culturally', the report concluded – with a new centre for live, acoustic music pinpointed as the most important step.

Yellow Arch started life as a nuts and bolts factory for the bridge and shipping industries in the Edwardian era. After being rediscovered in the mid-1990s in disarray and ruin, the studios team set about redesigning and refurbishing the complex on Burton Street, which opened in its present guise in 1997.

Today it offers rehearsal spaces, recording rooms, three bars and a stage for gigs and events such as Hubsfest, the Sheffield Music Hub’s festival for young people. “We are one of the only buildings in Europe where people can write, rehearse, record, perform and film, all finished off with a pint, under the same roof,” its website proudly proclaims.

“At the moment we’re putting a steering group together which involves the city council and the university, because it’s been highlighted that we’re desperate for a performance area for classical music, and children’s development and nurturing,” said Andy Cook, the studios’ director.

In the daytime, schools, colleges and universities would use the area to train in lighting, filming, photography, design and performance – this would be made viable through paid-for commercial activities in the evening.

“We’ve been developing this now for two years,” said Andy.

The venue would cover 3,500 sq ft, incorporating the existing live stage, a smaller room already used for classical recitals and – in the middle – a cavernous, high-ceilinged, 2,500 sq ft store that is presently unused.

“This is where all the nuts and bolts came to go in their boxes and then be shipped off,” said Andy, who explained how the three sections would be knocked through. “The entire building is all linked together because it was a factory. Then it was all boarded up and we’ve slowly been unblocking it.”

There would be seating for at least 450 around the walls – “A bit like Music in the Round,” said Andy, referring to the group’s concerts in the Crucible Studio, where the audience surrounds the players on four sides – with a stage jutting out by five metres ‘with one underneath that comes out even further’.

Music could be recorded on the live stage’s 24-track digital system.

“Now we’ve got everyone on board with the idea, it’s gaining momentum,” said Andy. “But we firmly need some funding now.”

The cost is now being added up – the bill for air conditioning alone would be £96,000, with the price of seats coming to £50,000 for each side of the hall. Yellow Arch, understood to be the biggest commercial creative concern in Sheffield, is trying to set up a trust and charity to become eligible for grant money.

“Depending on who and how – because it will depend on the fit out – we can do it for £1.5 million,” said Andy. “But if we were to put in what we’d like to do – beech-cladded walls, baffles, the lovely oak dancefloor and unbelievable lighting – we could get up to about £3 million.”

He pointed out that this was a small sum compared to other schemes. “The infrastructure exists, it’s not like we’re building it from the foundations up.”

An opening date has not been pencilled in yet but Andy is confident the project will come to fruition. “It’ll happen. When a community needs something, they will come together. There’s a proven need. It’ll just be awesome.”

The university report argued Sheffield could emerge as the principal location for large-scale orchestral and session recording outside London. There has been a rise in the number of instrumentalists and music business professionals who have moved to the North from the capital, it said, adding: "This trend will only increase."