If you are thinking of buying a converted shipping container and using it as a shop, food outlet, or bar, you will be in good company. These can now be found all over the UK, whether as novel individual outlets or in clusters.

The latter has been seen in many places around the UK, like Hatch in central Manchester or Cargo on Bristol’s Wapping Wharf. However, establishing a similar project in Sheffield has proven difficult. But the failure of one venture in the city has not put off a firm that is setting up another scheme with high hopes of success.

A cluster of outlets in used containers was eventually established on Fargate in the city centre in late 2022 after various delays and red tape, but lasted only three months from October that year until January 2023. Last March, the eight containers were taken away, the whole ill-fated project having made a £500,000 loss.

Some might have concluded that using converted shipping containers in this way was simply a bad idea, but that view would be to ignore the successes seen elsewhere. Sheffield appears to be the exception, not the rule.

That may be why an organisation called STACK is confidently moving in to provide Sheffield with a shipping container cluster that it expects will prove popular in a way the Fargate fiasco never did.

As the Sheffield Star reports, STACK is an experienced company that has already established a container complex in the County Durham town of Seaburn and is in the process of developing another in Newcastle.

More are planned in other north-east towns like Durham, Bishop Auckland, Whitley Bay, and Middlesbrough, while its plans outside the region include not just Sheffield, but also Manchester, Carlisle, Northampton and Lincoln.

Perhaps a key factor in the plans is the location and the additional elements that will surround the containers. The site is not only central (as was the Fargate scheme) but is right next to the Tank nightclub, Odeon Cinema and O2 Academy. It will feature a big screen and a Tipi in winter, as well as being much larger than Fargate, as it occupies two levels.

As such, the plan is for it to act as a focal point amid leisure destinations, rather than just a few more retailers on one of the city’s main shopping streets. Agents Pegasus Group have stated they expect a million visitors a year, at up to 1,600 at any one time.

Explaining the rationale behind this approach, STACK CEO Neill Winch said: “The development will provide a massive boost to the local economy as a visitor attraction but also to other businesses in the area because of the interest and footfall STACK generates.”

The planning application awaits a decision from the city council and no doubt some searching questions will be asked in the wake of the problems that undermined the Fargate scheme. But that may actually be seen as a benchmark in how not to set up a shipping container attraction, whereas the very different STACK plan exemplifies the right approach.

Given that other cities have had success with their container clusters, it may be that, at the second time of asking, Sheffield can have its own flourishing scheme.

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