“It is enormously confusing,” says Matteo Bragazzi, sipping his espresso by the portrait of his late father Giovanni, an Italian immigrant to London in the 1970s.
“You get all these contradictory flyers through the post, and there seems to be no cohesive argument about ‘If you do this, you will get this’. In the end I don’t think you should be swayed by all this dross, you should make your own decision.”
To help us in our confusion, let’s go to the head of Sheffield Hallam University’s High Power Impulse Magnetron Sputtering Technology Centre. Professor Arutiun Ehiasarian says a good scientist should be able to explain complex matters to a lay person in simple language. More on Magnetron Sputtering later, but here he is on the referendum.
“I’m a little surprised we’re having this debate,” he says.
His own institute has received 15 million Euros of EU grants over the last 10 years to help develop better turbine blades, medical implants, solar panels, microelectronic components and linings for the CERN particle accelerator. “And that’s one institute in Sheffield Hallam. If you multiply that by all the institutes in all the universities in the UK it’s quite clear we’re getting out a lot more then we’re putting in.”
(The HiPIMS technology has been developed by Arutiun and colleagues as an improved method of applying coatings to make things more durable and reduce friction. It is a big deal.)
The EU grants allowed Sheffield Hallam to collaborate with experts in various fields around Europe to improve the new technology, and then develop ways for it to be used in industry.
“But without the EU funding, the project might not have been economically feasible,” Arutiun says.
Ciarán O’Shea has similar views about European collaboration, but uses more colourful language. “I’ve never heard so much codswallop in my life,” he says of the suggestion that hundreds of millions would be transferred to the NHS if the UK left Europe. “And the idea that all these people are gonna come and take your jobs, it’s just scaremongering.”
Engineers from Ciarán’s NPrime company travel across Europe to test engineering and vehicle components, so companies can be sure their tanks, planes and wind turbines don’t unexpectedly fail in the field. His staff need to be ‘hands-on academics’, he says. “And it’s exceptionally difficult to find people like that.” Migration needs to be controlled, Ciarán adds, but the current ease of employing highly skilled staff from across Europe helps companies like his.
If the UK left Europe, he adds that around half the company would probably have to relocate, perhaps to Holland, so staff could travel and deal with safety certification from within the EU.
His fellow Irishman, Phil Andrews, also runs a high-tech product safety business, Tribosonics, using sound waves to test components.
“At the moment,” he says, “we’re hearing a lot of big voices saying outrageous things not backed up by facts, that are disingenuous at best, and downright lies at worst. For me, the debate should be about what sort of future we’d want to live in. Is it about looking after number one and I’m not going to care about those around me? For me, I want to take care of my employees and be of value to the city in which we live. Being part of Europe makes it easier to run your business that way, I think.”
Research professor Daniela Petrelli has lived in Sheffield for 16 years and says she has ‘never looked back’ after moving here from Italy.
She currently works with a dozen colleagues around Europe on new technology for museum visitors to better understand exhibits and displays. “I’d like the debate to be about what kind of nation do we want to be in future, not just about the economy and migration. We have a shared history where we have often fought each other for centuries, but now we have found a stable solution. For me when I travel across Europe I feel it is a common land, a common idea.”
Dr Kate Pietryka was recruited to come to Sheffield from Poland 12 years ago due to a shortage of pharmacists.
“Polish people come here to work, all want to assimilate and to be part of the community, they pay taxes and spend money here. I see the pressure on the NHS, it seems there are not enough places, but then another side of it is that a lot of people from Europe work in the NHS.
“English people are very tolerant, England is the most tolerant of any country I know. But recently we find people are segregating more, asking: ‘Who is British and who is not?’ I think that is getting worse.”
Sandor Horvath has worked as an engineer for NPrime for over three years. Originally from Hungary, Sandor takes pains to say he has never claimed benefits, and has always worked to support himself. But, like many Sheffield Europeans, he is fearful.
“As this date is getting closer, I feel the hatred of the people against immigrants, and I feel they want me out. I don’t feel I can live safely now, at the doctors I was treated differently and you hear it on the street.”
Prof Ehiasarian, who is in the process of creating jobs for Sheffielders and improved technology for the world, experiences this too since he is from Bulgaria, and still has an accent.
He is an Armenian, and notes that the genocide of a million of his people 100 years ago was partly due to a perception of their relative prosperity.
“European culture has been a beacon for many countries around the world, on progressive thinking and human rights. It has shown how you can prosper and still have the goodness of humanity in mind,” he says carefully. “I think it’s important to keep that going for the future.”