Sheffield is the steel city. It’s famed for its cutlery, steel work and industry; its Yorkshire spirit; Henderson’s Relish; and being the only city where Sean Bean’s family run a Fish and Chip shop. But slip behind its industry coating, and you’ll discover that Sheffield is also one of the most vibrant and creative cities in the North of England, featuring the largest regional theatre outside of London and new creative communities springing up all the time.
No list would be complete without the addition of The Crucible, The Lyceum and the Studio theatres. These three spaces encircling Crucible Square are the undisputed heart of the Sheffield theatre scene. Not only do the larger two building produce in-house musicals and host touring companies, but their seasons also offer creative help to new playwrights in the studio, put on new and devised productions, and are the home to resident touring companies including the incredible Third Angel. If you visit Sheffield and don’t visit one of these theatres, I can assure you that you’ve missed out.
The Winter Garden
Completing Crucible Square’s ironic circle is The Winter Garden which, believe it or not, is the largest urban glasshouse anywhere in Europe. It boasts over 2,000 different species of plants and is a recipient of the Royal Fine Art Commission’s ‘Jeu D’esprit’ Building of the Year Award. The glasshouse also backs onto the Millennium Galleries within the same complex, where you’ll find an ever-changing host of different exhibits: from Ruskin, to Steelwork, and everything in between. It also has its own shop where you can buy pieces of locally produced art and crafts, and a beautiful little café to pass the time in as well.
Bank Street Arts
Hidden just away from the city centre at the back of the imposing cathedral, you’ll find the indefinable Bank Street Arts. Bank Street is an innovative, multi-disciplinary arts centre that provides a venue for site-specific performances, has an affordable and excellent quality studio space for the use of local artists, and consistently creates opportunities for anyone of any age who’s interested in contemporary art, craft, performance or writing. Their space is immensely collaborative, providing not only the building and the art exhibitions themselves, but also an opportunity for artists to meet, work on and fund new projects.
Rare and Racy
Rare and Racy is a book and music store that has existed in its home on Devonshire Street since 1969. It caters for lovers of the kind of music and literature that’s not usually found in standard shops, with specialities including free jazz, contemporary poetry, local artwork, and anything else glorious and unusual. Visitors over the years have included the Human League’s Phil Oakey; Richard Briers and Jools Holland; and Jarvis Cocker. Currently, this hub of Sheffield history and creativity is under threat from a much-contested development that’s threatening to flatten the irreplaceable store, in favour of a collection of soulless flats for young professionals. Protests and plans to block the move are still under way, but who knows how long it will be here? Visit soon, and lend your voice to preventing the demolition.
The Lantern Theatre
Going off the beaten track a little to explore the Nether Edge region of Sheffield will earn you the reward of the city’s oldest surviving theatre. The Lantern is over 120 years old and a grade II listed building, with only an 84-seat capacity that gives it an historical and atmospheric air that’s hard to replicate. The resident company produces four shows a year, and they host an annual New Writing Festival and share their wealth of experience – and props and costumes – with young and upcoming theatre companies around the area. If you’re looking for an evening of theatre that’s a little bit out of the norm, then you could do far worse than the Lantern.
The Creative Arts Development Space, or CADs, is a former cutlery factory that now serves as an eclectic and inspiringly odd collection of studio and event spaces, for a host of resident artists, creative gatherings, and music shows. They used to host the infamous DLS club night run by Party for the People, but now both organisations have collaborated to create the revered underground venue, The Night Kitchen. They now host everything from theatre, photoshoots, art exhibitions, club nights and poetry slams – so there’s sure to be something going on that’s worth visiting.
Theatre Deli as a company exists to support theatre-makers and artists to create the work they want to make. Their building on The Moor contains a large shop floor which once housed the Sheffield branch of Woolworths, and is now used as a café, a shop for local art, crafts and writing, and a comfortable discussion space filled with sofas and blankets. The rest of the building is home to various performance spaces ideal for site-specific work and immersive theatre. They have a number of resident artists who receive unlimited use of the space for the development and rehearsal of new work, and they also commission brand new performance pieces. Once a month they host Theatre Deli meets, where artists, performers, producers and writers from around the city can get together, and discuss the creation of new ideas and collaborations.
The Picturehouse Social
This wonderfully restored venue is housed in the former ballroom and billiard hall of Abbeydale Picture House, and has been refurbished by the same people who run The Great Gatsby on Division Street. Probably one of Sheffield’s most unique buildings, The Picturehouse Social is now an independent music and performance venue, featuring a cocktail bar, craft beer, some of the best pizza you’ll find in the city, a monthly market for local traders, street food, a games room, and a cosy mini cinema. What more could you want?
Weston Park Museum
Part of the Museums Sheffield collection which includes the Millennium Gallery and Graves Gallery, Weston Park museum has probably the largest collection of Sheffield historical items than anywhere else – and it’s completely free. Their metalwork collection is one of the finest in the world, and their collection of 20th Century British Art is also world-renowned. They host talks on history and the local community, collaborate with the University of Sheffield on a number of projects, and just happen to be attached to one of the more beautiful green spaces in the city.
The Drama Studio
This is my own personal, slightly sentimental addition to the list. The Drama Studio is, in fact, a stunning 200 seat theatre with three studio spaces, housed within a converted church on Glossop Road. It’s owned by The University of Sheffield, and around 70% of the 40 or so productions a year are put on by student companies. My own time at university was shaped by SuTCo (Sheffield University Theatre Company), and I can vouch first-hand for how versatile a space it is. When it’s not playing host to student companies and collaborations it’s home to a number of community theatre groups, and so arguably has the most varied performance listing in the whole city.
So, there you have it. There’s far more to Sheffield than steel and Sean Bean – and even with this list, drawn up from five long years working in the creative Sheffield scene myself, I’m sure I’ve barely scratched the surface of what else there is to still be discovered.
What’s your favourite creative space in Sheffield? Let me know in the comments!