Converting the Mill
Today it is easy to see that SCDG got a bargain when it bought Aizlewood's Mill for £1, but at the time the building had a negative value.
It was derelect and rapidly deteriorating. Thieves had removed lead and slates from the roofs and steel joists from under some of the floors. Vandals had smashed doors, windows and partition walls. Whenever it rained, water cascaded down through the building causing even more damage.
In this state the cost of restoring the building was far more than it would be worth when it was completed, so traditional sources of development finance were inappropriate.
Having fought off attempts by Sheffield City Council officers to have the building demolished as unsafe, it took almost two years to complete the purchase of the building. The process was considerably slowed down by the absence of old records showing ownership title and the lack of urgency by the owner who was not galvanised into action by the prospect of collecting the £1!
And the purchase almost came unstuck when a rival bid of £19,000 was made by a developer wishing to demolish the building and redevelop the site. Fortunately, the owner, having already verbally agreed to the sale, felt unable to abandon that commitment.
The biggest boost to the project was the discovery by SCDG employee Mike Powell of a little-known grant scheme operated by the European Regional Development Fund, which offered up to 50% of the cost of developments converting old industrial buildings into workspace facilities.
The grant scheme required that the local authority should underwrite the project and guarantee to repay the grant to Europe if the project failed or changed in such a way as to make it ineligible for the grant.
By this time the projected building costs had risen to over £1.6 million with fees and finance costs taking the total development costs to over £2.1 million. These costs were covered by the ERDF grant, a grant from English Heritage towards the restoration of the historic fabric of the building, a grant from the Department of the Environment through Sheffield City Council's Urban Development Fund, and commercial borrowing.
The project had to be completed by 31 December 1989 to qualify for the full European grant, but work could not begin on site until May 1989. Miraculously for such a large project it was substantially completed by the end of the year. This achievement reflects the determination and co-operation of the main contractors, Shepherd Construction Ltd, of York, and the professional team which was put together to undertake the work.
Aizlewood's Mill fully opened in April 1990 and was officially opened on 16 July 1990 by Gordon Brown MP, who was at the time Official Opposition Spokesman for Trade & Industry. Introductory speeches were also made by Richard Caborn MP and Mike Bower (who later became leader of Sheffield City Council.)
Aizlewood's Mill is now recognised as one of the region's leading business centres, independently owned and operated under the guidance of Director and General Manager Michael Sharpe.