22 August 2018

When a city with hundreds of miles of roads is built on seven hills, getting safety barriers and handrails to fit the slopes is not always an easy job.

But when that city is Sheffield, its proud history of steel fabrication puts it in a great position.

Step forward Amey’s team of highways blacksmiths. Neil Booth, Paul Bower and Sunny Gaughan all work for Streets Ahead, the 25-year programme improving Sheffield City Council’s highway network.

From their workshop at Olive Grove Road, they manufacture bespoke steel products from scratch to match the needs of the city’s many road surfaces.

Blacksmith supervisor Neil comes from metalworking stock – his dad was a welder – and has been creating barriers, handrails, gates, grilles and other equipment for the Council for 30 years.

“It’s very varied and skilled work,” he said. “The parts we make have to be of a high standard and when the city’s built on seven hills, it’s rare that we make pieces for flat surfaces. The barriers and handrails you can buy from suppliers are difficult to angle and not strong enough to bend into the right position. That’s why we make it from scratch in the Sheffield depot.”

The team also operates a call out service as one of its biggest jobs is to make metalwork safe after road traffic collisions. Although barriers are designed to withstand accidents, they are usually destroyed or bent beyond restoration on impact.

Cabinet member for environment and street scene at Sheffield City Council, Councillor Lewis Dagnall said:

“For a city that prides itself on its historic steel-making past, it’s fantastic that we still harness the skills of blacksmiths in Sheffield today and that they continue to work on current-day highway contracts, such as Streets Ahead.

“Whilst the type of work may have changed considerably over the years, the role of blacksmiths in our city is still very much needed and relevant.”

Not only is the work of blacksmiths recognised from times of ancient mythology right through to the Iron Age, it also formed a poignant part of the industrial era when Sheffield famously became the main centre of cutlery production in England outside of London.

Nowadays, as well as buying in the steel sheet and sections they need, and welding often large and complex configurations into the items, the team at Streets Ahead also applies the paintwork and any finishing touches afterwards.

They make road signs and install bollards and bins, as well as safety equipment for rights of way, such as horse-hops and A-frames to ensure bridle-paths are kept free of motorised vehicles.

A recent piece of work included manufacturing new barriers and handrails for Chesterfield Road, as part of the £3m scheme underway to widen the road, extend the peak-time bus lane, strengthen a culvert and re-surface the road.

Carpentry such as benches and wooden planters are also being produced by the machinery in the workshop.

To find out more about the Streets Ahead programme, visit: www.sheffield.gov.uk/streetsahead