Famous Little Mesters renovation keeps industrial spirit alive

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.

Photos of Leah's Yard were taken by Pedalo Photography.