Sheffield’s iconic Old Town Hall, in Waingate, has appeared for the first time in the annual Buildings at Risk list, a national list published by independent heritage charity SAVE Britain’s Heritage. It is one of only two South Yorkshire buildings to be included in the list. SAVE focuses on finding practical ways to restore historic structures and bring them back into use. Recent targets have been Wentworth Woodhouse, now in the hands of a trust which is working on its preservation, and Smithfield Market in the City of London, a historic complex of buildings saved from demolition and soon to be the home of the Museum of London. In Sheffield SAVE joined in 2012 with the Victorian Society in what sadly was an unsuccessful campaign to save the Grade 2 listed Edwardian wing of Jessop’s Hospital.
‘We’re pleased to see the Old Town Hall on SAVE’s list, but sad for the reasons it got there’, says Brian Holmshaw, joint honorary secretary of the Friends of the Old Town Hall. ‘This backs up what we’ve been saying for the past 3 years, that the building can have a future if it’s restored before it falls to pieces. We know there’s a huge amount of damage inside after years of bad roof leaks but we also know it can all be fixed – though it’s going to cost a lot of money’. As SAVE’s list notes, the Friends have raised grants to commission professional work on what could be done with the building. They now have a business model that has been tested and shows there is a sustainable future, provided that grants can be found to fund the costs of restoration. ‘We know from our architect who carried out a condition survey that the repair cost is so big that we can’t see any commercial future’, adds Brian. ‘A developer might just be able to make the numbers work if they were allowed to strip out all the historic features inside and radically alter the look of the place – basically, ruin it. That’s the professional advice we’ve had. But if that happens the city will have lost a major historic asset’. The Friends know there is a better future for the Old Town Hall as a community asset, and are planning to offer community shares to raise money to buy it.
The Friends are looking to the City Council to partner with them on a project to rescue the building, which is owned by a company in London and has been empty and neglected since 1995. They point out that the Council has powers to compulsorily purchase neglected historic buildings. ‘With the community raising the cash and the Council using its powers’, says Brian, ‘we ought to be able to do a deal that will benefit Sheffield. We’re looking forward to discussing that with leading Councillors and officers’.
Photo taken 2015.