Sheffield and Balsall Heath: the real march of the makers

julian dobson2The observations of Julian Dobson (Living With Rats blogspot @juliandobson), strike a welcome and hopeful chord after reading the dismal question: “Will Chancellor Osborne cripple the ‘makers’?”

A search revealed JD’s substantial localist credentials – as director of Urban Pollinators, which helps to make sense of regeneration and the editorial director of New Start, the national magazine for regeneration practitioners. He is on the editorial board of the journal Local Economy and writes think tanks and publications such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Centre for Local Economic Strategies and Res Publica. He is helping to create Our Society, a social action network, and Revive Our Town Centres, a network for people involved in rethinking local high streets.

george osborne 2 smallerChancellor George Osborne closed his 2011 Budget speech by eloquently setting out his aspiration for “a Britain carried aloft by the march of the makers”. But recently he caused consternation by closing down the Business Growth Service, including the Manufacturing Advisory Service and the Growth Accelerator programme.

Julian observes that if there’s going to be a march of the makers, it is more likely to take the form of developments such as Portland Works in Sheffield, a stone’s throw from Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane ground, a development born of “a local determination to see Portland Works kept in use as a place for making”.

He relates that a community trust was formed when the previous owner wanted to cash in and convert the premises into flats: more than 500 people bought into a community share issue, reflecting the groundswell of support both for the works’ heritage and the trust’s vision of the future”.

portland works

Portland Works currently has 32 tenants with a wide spread of interest, including a knife maker, engraver, forge operator, several artists, a rug maker, a window maker, a distiller, bike-makers, woodturners, musicians and jewellers.

Though both are beset by the difficulties of maintaining an old building, a similar pattern can be seen in Birmingham (below, rear view) at The Old Print Works in Balsall Heath – first mentioned on this site in 2013 – where ‘makers’ work in low-cost spaces.

old print worksFollowing his account, Julian Dobson concludes:

“If there’s going to be a march of the makers, it is more likely to look like this than the kind of projects favoured by central government and its placemen in local enterprise partnerships, obsessed with projects that rejoice in titles like Catapult and Accelerator.

“It is likely to be a much slower march than the periodic stampedes of real estate and financial services speculators, too. But it has the potential to last far longer and to create more useful stuff in the process.

“And while there’s no doubt that the makers of Portland Works are having to rough it far more than government ministers and their acolytes might be used to, I’d hazard a guess that their work is both more creative and more fulfilling”.