Businesses and tradespeople from across Sheffield are bringing a Grade II* Listed former Little Mesters workshop back to life in the true spirit of its original occupants.
RF Joinery, together with a trusted local supply chain, is carrying out transformative work on the historic Leah’s Yard in Sheffield City Centre.
Leah’s Yard dates to the early 19th century and was once home to up to 18 Little Mesters workshops producing the finest cutlery, handles and silver stampers that helped to put Sheffield on the worldwide map.
Now, as part of the £470m Heart of the City masterplan, the complex is being redeveloped with its original cobbled central courtyard surrounded by small boutique retail units. The first and second floors will host around 20 independent working studios bringing the building’s rich heritage back to life.
Working on the historic project, together with new business opportunities arising from the prestigious appointment, has also been transformational for Sheffield-based RF Joinery. The business, which was founded in 2007, has seen turnover leap from under £1m to £6m.
Initially, RF Joinery was appointed to bring the Cambridge Street building back to a safe and viable condition. This included structural work, roofing, repointing and new windows throughout. The business was then extended to complete the final phase of the project.
“As a local SME contractor, the Leah’s Yard project has had a huge impact on our business,” said Director Paul Roberts, who runs the firm with business partner Ray Fowler.
“We’ve delivered specialist public sector projects in the past such as re-roofing work at Sheffield’s Kelham Island Museum over the working steam engine. We’ve got a love for interesting projects and our unique expertise helped us win a very competitive contract process.
“We have built up a team of multi-skilled people who are all so passionate about the project.
“As a small, dedicated team, we can stay very flexible and provide real continuity on site, which is so important on these kinds of restoration projects. Heart of the City has been a game changer for us and taken us to a new level. We are thankful to Sheffield City Council for giving us the opportunity.”
Seen as a key social and cultural anchor in Heart of the City – led by Sheffield City Council and its Strategic Development Partner, Queensberry, Leah’s Yard will also feature a complementary new-build structure to the southern side of the development, greatly improving pedestrian access.
The sympathetic extension includes a sloped ramp for wheelchair and pram users, lift access and modern accessible toilet facilities that couldn’t be incorporated in the old building.
Also working on the project is Masterfit based in Walkley. Together with RF Joinery they’ve installed 100 different types of heritage windows and even had to make special tooling to do the job.
A staggering total of 2,500 panels of glass were hand-putty pointed using traditional linseed oil putty by the in house RFJ skilled team.
Paul Roberts added: “Timber that was functionally sound had to be kept, regardless of appearance, and all but one of the five roofs re-uses the original roof trusses.
“We even had to make one new truss on site but have reused all the previous bolts and bracketry. It looks brand new, but the bolts are centuries old.
“The cobbles in the courtyard had to be removed one by one and the ground raised up, before all being re-laid again, providing improved level access whilst retaining the original historic values.
“With a building like this, new problems and challenges occur every day. It has been almost a daily negotiation between the structural engineer and the conservation team – ensuring we find the balance between the heritage and character, versus modern building regulations.”
Cllr Ben Miskell from Sheffield City Council believes the work of RF Joinery and their trusted supply chain of SMEs has been a real local effort and reflects the ethos of Leah’s Yard as a former Little Mesters space.
“This is one of the reasons we invested in Heart of the City,” said Cllr Miskell.
“Leah’s Yard brings the city’s rich history back to life and will be a stunning addition. But the impact goes beyond the aesthetic. Heart of the City is helping to stimulate economic activity in the region and helping companies like RF Joinery grow its supply chain and secure its future.
“Leah’s Yard is a unique scheme which reflects Sheffield’s identity. It’s a fascinating blend of creativity, heritage, and historic and modern craftsmanship.”
Once completed in the first half of 2024, the venue will be run by Tom Wolfenden, who manages the Cooper Buildings on Arundel Street, and James O’Hara, who runs acclaimed bars such as Public and Picture House Social.
The duo plan to breathe new life into the site by transforming it into an experience-led destination for local independent retailers and businesses, creative workshops and social events. A bustling central public courtyard will be surrounded by small boutique shops, while the first and second floors will host around 20 independent working studios.