Birds Yard on Chapel Walk, Sheffield

Independent emporium Bird’s Yard chooses Sheffield over Leeds

Sheffield Unchained contributor Paige Ardrey explores the story behind Bird’s Yard and why the independent emporium came to Sheffield.

Sheffield is a city remarkably loyal to itself. Residents, businesses and local authorities alike take great pride and pleasure in supporting all things homegrown. Independent emporium Bird’s Yard is a strong testament to this. 

Originally hailing from Leeds, the idea behind Bird’s Yard is a simple one; get the best independent retailers in the city together under one roof and let them shine. The Sheffield store is a bustling concession of vintage and contemporary clothing, homewares, art work, jewellery and local produce all sourced and created in the city.

Bird’s Yard was initially brought to the city by savvy Sheffield councilors, who recognised the success of the Leeds branch and fancied something similar for Sheffield shoppers. Bird’s Yard’s visual merchandiser, Paris Beardsmore, explains more about the store’s beginnings in the city:

After the success of the store in Leeds, the owner Michelle was approached by Sheffield City Council. They funded the store completely for the first year it was open, to help us find our feet and to introduce shoppers to us. It was obviously incredibly helpful to have that level of funding, but now we’re standing on our own two feet and things are going really well.

Sheffield’s ‘wealth of indepenents’

Things are going so well in fact that the focus has been shifted to the Sheffield branch of Bird’s Yard, unfortunately leaving the Leeds store to close. Owner Michelle Walton explained:

“A chain of shops with similar principles opened in central Leeds, however I didn’t have the time or funds to relaunch. We had been broken into twice and I made the decision to close the Leeds shop until the funding had been allocated for the shop and the area.

“I have recently spoken with the landlord and plans are still very much to have Bird’s Yard back in its home on Kirkgate in Leeds city centre. The Sheffield shop is much more central and the customer footfall has been tenfold but so is the rent and rates so I am currently doing all I can to stay on chapel walk.”

Michelle still has a lot of plans for the Sheffield shop however, and is very grateful for all the help she has received from the Sheffield Council:

“I think Sheffield council are streets ahead in relation to supporting independents. Not only was this shop funded to secure cheap city centre spaces for many local designers, but I’m still attending meetings on information for lots of exciting new plans for more pop ups headed up by Common People.

“Going back to Leeds won’t be because of Leeds council support but more because of the landlords innovative way of renting which hopefully sees a shared profit rather than a risky rent and rates policy.”

Birds Yard’s visual merchandiser, Paris Beardsmore

Birds Yard’s visual merchandiser, Paris Beardsmore. Photo by Paige Ardrey

Independents certainly seem to thrive at Bird’s Yard. Every inch of the store is bright and bursting with unusual merchandise, with brands ranging from The Sheffield Honey Company produce to the delightfully kitsch Mellor Ware crockery. Visual merchandiser Paris came to Bird’s Yard as part of an apprenticeship scheme, studying retail and visual merchandising, and found a happy home at Bird’s Yard.

It’s an amazing environment to work in and I’ve definitely learnt a lot whilst working here. It’s so interesting to see how each of the designers work and to get to know such creative people, it’s been an amazing experience and I’m very happy to be continuing to work here.

With business booming, thanks to support from the council and encouragement from grateful shoppers, Bird’s Yard is currently undergoing exciting new developments. On 29th March new expansions on the ground and upper floors will introduce new contributors; with a high-end boutique taking pride of place upstairs and a luxury designer retailer – specialising in revered fashion labels such as Dolce & Gabbana and Diesel – nestling happily downstairs.

Defying the vandals

Current changes to Bird’s Yard aren’t limited to their ever increasing stock and remarkable litany of contributors. After vandals destroyed the store front sign last year, Bird’s Yard is finally getting a makeover. The already pretty exterior of Bird’s Yard is at present being plastered with a remarkable vinyl print, which is to be expanded on to their ornate window display. Owner Michelle explained the store’s issue with vandalism soon after it happened, and how they are moving forward positively:

We had a beautiful sign above the door, designed by Our Kid Apparel, but unfortunately we were victims of vandalism. Somebody decided to rip down the sign. Obviously we were extremely upset about this but we are trying to put a positive spin on things. We recently commissioned a local artist to create an even better sign which will hopefully attract some new business while giving her some well-deserved exposure.

Birds Yard on Chapel Walk, Sheffield

Birds Yard on Chapel Walk, Sheffield

As we consistently hear news of the failing British high street, lack of interest in British-made products and online retail sales reigning supreme over independent local stores, it seems remarkable that a store such as Bird’s Yard would flourish in the way it has. With an optimistic attitude and a loyal band of contributors, Bird’s Yard is determined to support Sheffield’s creative side for many years to come.

See Paige Ardrey’s review on Bird’s Yard here.