This year has been a year of great highs and lows and I suppose also for me a building sense of frustration.
The mood re heritage groups has been buoyant. The workshops in conjunction with the National Trust has created a focus for Joined up Heritage and a direction to be heading. Meetings continue to be well attended. Several I have attended have been packed with more seats having had to be brought in. The two day conference was full of vitality and enthusiasm. As it was Joined Up Heritages 3rd conference and not such an easy time slot that has to be pretty indicative of the growing enthusiasm for networking and collaboration across the city.
On the 6th of May the Green Spaces Forum was officially launched. This organisation born out of the 90 odd friends of Parks organisations aiming to unite these organisations under a green spaces forum umbrella organisation to allow a much clearer line of communication throughout the sector in Sheffield, also empowering Groups to support each other and to create new partnerships. Their aims are much the same as Joined up Heritage and indeed many members of the Green Spaces Forum are also involved in Joined up Heritage.
The Cultural Consortium was set up in 2010, The Consortium is not a representative body, but aims to provide strategic leadership for the sector. Since January 2014, additional members have been invited to join, to better reflect the range of cultural activity in the city. Through the Festival of the Makers events starting in 2016 links have been formed between Joined Up Heritage and the Cultural Consortium. From the commercial side of the city links have been made with Joined up Heritage , independent traders and the Federation of small Businesses. The Sheffield Civic Trust has taken on the Heritage Open Days over the last few years and won a National award for it and Sheffield HOD is now held up as an exemplar to other cities.
It is difficult to assess how many people are linked together across the city. It is a sign of several things. Frustration due to previous poor lines of communication. A drive to make dwindling funds go further by prioritising and avoiding duplication, and a push to make voices heard before any planning decisions are made that could damage Sheffield’s ability to market that which makes the city unique.
Events and visitor numbers to heritage events has exploded in the last 4 years. Partly due to the quality of event now being held, and the better communication online. There is still a way to go but HOD and Museums at Nights and the Big Draw in 2017, are getting events known outside Sheffield. With the loss of funding for tourism with the closure of the regional enterprise boards it has been an uphill struggle. Two great festivals have had an impact on increasing outside and overseas visitors, Docsfest and Off the Shelf, but as yet advertising in conjunction with big events like this and the major sporting events does not seem to be happening in any consistent way. There is also no real statistics re day visitors. business visitors, conference visitors and tourists. Unlike other Northern Cities Sheffield Council does not have a specific committee for tourism and culture. On the contrary Sheffield Council has announced the closure of the tourism office saying that it was not necessary. I think this is more a reflection of how little Sheffield is seen as a potential tourist destination by the Council, rather than it not being needed.
A lot of interesting partnerships have been formed, some permanent, some temporary. They have brought together funding and volunteers creating great relationships and fantastic events.
Here’s some examples
Heeley Development Trust, Friends of Meersbrook Park, Friends of Meersbrook Hall, Ruskin in Sheffield and the St George’s Guild (John Ruskin’s trust) Walkley Community, Rivelin Valley Conservation Group, Manor Field’s Park, Manor Lodge, and Museum Sheffield. Together they ran the Great Draw event The Ruskin in Sheffield 2017 programme of events focussed on drawing, which John Ruskin believed helped people to see the world clearly, and care for it. The Big Draw Festival events in Walkley, Manor and Meersbrook included free drawing, sculpture, walks and other creative activities. The collaboration was part of the world’s largest drawing festival, the Big Draw Festival, as well as the John Ruskin Prize in 2017, both of which are supported by the Guild of St George.
The main organisers were the Canal and River Trust and SIMT at Kelham Island. This was a two day event including the River Stewardship Company, CMS, Born and Raised and the Hilton Sheffield Hotel and Friends of Blue Loop and a host of small heritage groups. It turned out to be the biggest festival of its kind in Sheffield with over 5’000 visitors over the two days.
Wardsend’s 160th anniversary
Wardsend Cemetery has stood on its site by the River Don for the last 160 years. This cemetery is the last resting place of nearly 30,000 Sheffield and district people as well as military personnel from the nearby Sheffield (Hillsborough) Barracks. A collaboration with Blue Loop, Sheffield University, Loxley Brass band, Sheffield College, and many others. saw their first big event, a dramatic increase in visitor numbers, a full and varied programme of activities including themed tours, nature events and the first drama performance in their outdoor theatre in the woods.
The story should be one of positivity. English Heritage has found that heritage is a vital part in an area, economy and tourism and leisure creates jobs and boosts the local economy. The Sheffield Networks are vibrant and enthusiastic. Other cities are looking to Sheffield because Joined Up Heritage is breaking new ground in that no other Heritage promotion organisation has been founded by grassroots organisations not the local Council. There is a new Chief of Planning in the Council with a knowledge and enthusiasm for industrial heritage and the person in charge of Council properties was formerly working for Historic England. The National Trust has greeted Joined up Heritage with enthusiasm and has helped by running workshops. Sheffield BID published a beautiful guide to some of the great independent businesses in the city centre, many of which are housed in Sheffield’s historic buildings. In December a Sheffield Guide book was launched by poet and writer Michael Glover. The guide book by a German publisher is in a series of guides of prestigious cities across the world. David Templeman having wrote the first definitive history of Mary Queen of Scots years in captivity in England has traversed the country far and wide spreading the message of Sheffield’s key importance in that. In the Spring the first exploration of the Sheffield castle site for decades is set to begin. Friends of the Old Town Hall have been working on an exciting business plan that could not only bring the historically important building back into use but provide a positive focus for the regeneration of that area of Sheffield.
Sheffield is a city rich in culture too in a variety of ways, folk tales, folk dancing, carol singing, brass bands and incomers who introduced their own cultural contribution that created the uniquely Sheffield mix. Some may mock but Morris, Brass bands are the culture that the miners brought and kept. Though Sheffield has many aspects similar to other Northern cities it is not a carbon copy and should not be thought of as such.
We have a citywide network, many experts in their field. Experts in the normal run of things that would cost £thousands in consultation fees offering their services for free. Organisations that are good at finding funding in areas frankly that the Council is not. Volunteers that already save the Council £thousands in the environmental protection work they do, the social services they supply, and the promotion of the city as a whole. However only the Heritage Champion has attended any joined up Heritage conference or meeting. Promotional videos by the Council miss out the heritage related areas. The enormously successful Victorian Christmas Market at Kelham Island is not mentioned as part of the list of nationally important events. This year the council permitted the demolition of a historic building within the Kelham Island Conservation area. They promoted the idea of a several stories high 5* hotel as part of a grade 2 listed building in a Conservation area full of listed buildings. Other Conservation Areas have been damaged by the removal of historic trees, and nationally Sheffield’s Hillsborough Park Conservation area is on the Historic England’s at Risk Register. It would also appear that the Council are planning to lose much of the historic character in the city centre, despite research indicating that the historic character of a city is a major asset commercially, and that national trends point to a halving of retail space required by the big national retailers. New traffic schemes discourage pedestrian and cyclists in favour of polluting cars. Many community assets especially pubs are being lost as the demand for more student accommodation by overseas investors creates a demand for central areas to build on, and Sheffield Council refuses to list many of these pubs. We now have more student accommodation than we could possibly need, and an acute shortage of housing in all price ranges. The present Flood protection plan put forward by the Council will destroy archaeology, and may also damage the ecology of the riverside in some areas, but no discussions have been had with the experts despite many invitations to do so.
A strategy to protect that which is important to the economy and the community seems sadly lacking, and will continue to be so unless real consultation is carried out with local experts in conjunction with research into how similar plans worked elsewhere if at all, so we can avoid making costly errors. As frankly we don’t have the money to waste. Sheffield’s industrial history is famous worldwide and we should be utilizing that. The change in fortunes of Ernest Wrights scissor manufacturing, and the comments made by Boeing and other high tech companies shows that Sheffield’s heritage is something that matters to investors and tourists.
So my hope for next year would be for Sheffield Council to invite people in to talk. To not allow the demolition of any historic building till an assessment is made of the possible impact of its loss. To protect Community assets wherever possible and work with the community on ways of doing so, before any decision is made to sell or demolish or alter such an asset. To promote Sheffield’s Heritage and look at ways of presenting it to tourists as well as using it for the good of the community. To take the 33 Conservation areas in our city seriously.
My hope is also that Sheffield can get together to create a local list of the buildings and historical assets, and that we can expand on our knowledge of pre-industrial Sheffield as well as collect the stories of the many communities that make up the story of Sheffield, especially the mining communities, before their stories vanish. Hopefully we can share with the outside world what makes Sheffield Sheffield and celebrate it, not try to hide, demolish or ignore it. Hopefully many of you are going to help us do that.
Books you may enjoy.
111 Places in Sheffield that you shouldn’t miss by Michael Glover .. printing and publishing CPI Clausen & Bosse; Leck Printed in Germany 2017
Mary, Queen of Scots, The Captive Queen in England 1568-87 by David Templeman Printed by Short Run Press Limited 25 Bittern Road, Sowton Industrial Estate, Exeter EX2 7LW