Kelham Island and Neepsend have a strong industrial history of creation and development.
Recently some of the manufacturing has slowed, old industrial works have been turned into flats, microbreweries, bars and restaurants.
It is people who now form an ever-more important element of the rich melting pot.
But what are their experiences of the area? How does it feel to have lived through the changes it has seen? How do people currently connected to the area feel about its past and its transformation?
Over the past year photographer and participatory artist Laura Page worked with philosopher Dr. Komarine Romdenh-Romluc, informed by her work on cultural identity, as part of the Brooklyn to Brooklynism collaboration between Kelham Island Museum and The University of Sheffield.
Laura ran a series of free photography workshops with people connected to the area and got them to take to the streets with their cameras to show their own unique perspectives.
Laura took her own images of some of the people she met who were willing to share their stories.
Chizaram was born in London to Catholic Nigerian parents. She moved to Nigeria for five years before returning to the UK and living with friends and family in Sheffield. She then moved into the temporary supported housing with her mum and brother where she is pictured here. She has now moved into a house where she is excited to have a garden, a driveway and her own room.
Roy has lived on the travellers’ site off Pickering Road for over 15 years and loved his time there, “living with nature and besides nature”, removing some of the dense overgrowth to make room to live without trying to control it too much. He knows a lot about the history of the site, about the Victorian houses which used to stand there and laments the slums being cleared and communities breaking up. With the development of the nearby ski village area, the travellers’ site is now being closed down and Roy will have to leave. He’s happy to have a reason to move on and do something new. He and the other travellers have been cleaning up the place ready to go. Some of the others preferred the area when it was more abandoned. They feel they were left alone then but that people hassle them or cross the street to avoid them now. Roy says however that he is just grateful for his time there and thinks that, change, overall, is a good thing.
Lewis was the Landlord of the Kelham Island Tavern between 2001 and 2018 and still works there now. In 2002, he and the manager of the Fat Cat, Stephen, were the only people living in the area that he knows of. He remembers there was crime in the area which was then the red light district. Street lights weren’t working and the buildings were run down. He’s glad these things have changed but has had issues. New flats have been built right next to the pub and then inhabitants have complained about the noise. However, he remains humorous about the area going more upmarket and has started an online campaign to call the less affluent area where he lives “Upper Kelham”. He has always felt safe in the area and as one of the originals he feels he belongs.
He is pictured in front of the locomotive which is based outside Kelham Island Museum which he used to work on pulling molten ingots prior to being a pub landlord. He thinks it’s nice to have that connection to his past right next to where he works.
Daniel is developing the historic pub “ The Sawmakers Arms” on Neepsend Lane. He has worked to retain many of the original features like the walls, fireplaces and mosaic tiles. He got the pigeons out, rebuilt the roof and says he used to let musicians practice for free upstairs prior to them going on to open the famous Yellow Arch Studios. He says women used to sell beer in pitchers from the back door to make a living. He’s enthusiastic about the history of the area but fed up with some aspects of developing like people breaking in and spray painting the walls and windows. He’s considering a life of travel and photography instead.
Jo painted one of her famous murals on a huge 14-metre-long wall on Alma Street. She wanted to reflect the pride of Sheffield’s people by showing the roots of the landscape including its industrial heritage and its surrounding countryside, whilst also shining a light on its current state of renewal and change.
Dr. Reverend Jim moved to the area from London in 2007 and it was quite a change for him. He says he could have thought “no way – I’m not moving into a church in the red light district with a congregation of 30 people,” but he felt it was his calling and that the place had potential. The church now has around 200 people attending and people come from across the UK and beyond to visit. Rev. Jim is himself from a mixed heritage background and loves to help bring people from different places together at the church. He says it is exciting to see the way the area is developing.
David works for Sheffield Tree Care which has been based in Neepsend for eight years. He’s seen a lot of changes in that time and thinks it’s progress which is for the best. He says it’s good to see buildings being used and he and his co-workers can go out locally together after a day’s graft to places like Peddlars Market. Although it’s still very industrial where he works now he fears it may not stay that way. He says, at the moment, it is still the poor neighbour to Kelham Island. There is still prostitution in the area. Many of the sex workers have moved there from the area of Kelham Island which has been really developed.
Stan is 93-years-old and has been called the last of Sheffield’s Little Mesters. He is still making knives by hand in his workshop in the walls of Kelham Island Museum. He once made a pocket knife for the Queen and when he got to meet her she took it out of her handbag and said “look what I’ve got!” Stan uses many of the same traditional tools and techniques he used when he started at the age of 14. He says he is in pain now and the doctors say there is nothing they can do but working takes his mind off it. He has a three-year waiting list for his knives so says he must get on and would like to make it to the age of 100.
Tracy opened Mowbray Street’s The Works cafe 10 years ago. Students, young professionals, builders, mechanics, painters and artists regularly troop in for their breakfast and she seems to knows them all. Customers are said to come from Leeds for their spicy chicken. She’s seen the clientele change and the business go through ups and downs but thinks the changes to the area are good. When she first opened, sex workers often used the café. One worker used to come in with her baby and Tracy used to help her look after her. One day the authorities came in and took the baby away. Tracy still often wonders how she is doing. She heard the baby’s mum later died of a drug overdose.
Simon is an artist specialising in sculpture who helped set up Kelham Island Arts Collective (KIAC). When KIAC first took over their exhibition and meeting space the area was still relatively deserted but the artistic community has grown steadily in the past few years. Simon is proud of the area’s large and varied talent pool. He has made connections with people from all walks of life in the area and is Vice Chair of the Kelham Island Community Alliance (KICA) which aims to improve quality of life for all who live and work within the community of Kelham Island and surrounding areas.
Michael is a production supervisor for metal pressworkers, Aircraft and Commercial Tools Ltd. He is pictured having his break just outside the building. He has worked there for nearly 40 years and borne witness to many changes in the area and says he has seen the quality of the products they make improve greatly.
Lisa lives and works in Kelham Island and since taking pictures for this project has gone on to start a photography blog about the local area. She loves the community and finds it a down-to-earth but exciting place to live. She says she sometimes feels as though she has to apologise for living here because of the place’s hipster and gentrified reputation. She feels she must explain that she grew up in a council house with no money and has worked really hard to save up to buy a place to live in an area she loves and which is near her work, which has revolutionised her life since she no longer needs to commute.
Jerry opened the Foundry Climbing Wall in Neepsend in 1991. It was the first of its kind in the world. He struggled at school because of dyslexia but got really into sport and in the 1980s was ranked as the best climber in the world and has since written an award-winning book about his life. He loves to see people using the centre from professional climbers, to socially excluded children. Most people used to come to the Foundry from outside but now new people who have moved to the area are trying it out for the first time.
Cori and Tyler
Cori and Tyler are brothers who were living with their parents and siblings in temporary supported accommodation in Kelham Island. They took their own photographs of their home for this project on the day they were waiting outside the flat, all their belongings in binbags, ready for a taxi to move them elsewhere. They were going to miss their old bunkbeds but happy to move somewhere with more space.
Ed is the owner of the Fat Cat pub which his father opened in 1981. He bought it as it was the only free house for sale in Sheffield and he wanted a place for the local industrial workers with no music and good beer. Ed grew up in the affluent Fulwood area but spent a lot of time playing in and around the pub as a child and he says it opened his eyes to how different the two worlds were. He was welcomed by the punters and has always liked the natural interactions between the varied people who drank there. Now he owns the place there is an even greater range of people drinking in there. He loves to have a place that people from different backgrounds can come together.