The Big Challenge: Making decisions for Sheffield’s future

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Luke Wilson’s organisation, Sheffield Renewables, is part of a distinct movement within the city, he says - a concerted drive to build a fairer, more environmentally-friendly place to live.

Formed and still run by a group of volunteers, the group is ‘all about working together to make a difference’, said Luke, director of the not-for-profit social enterprise, which oversees renewable energy schemes from development to operation.

“We are proud of our city, and enjoy living and working here. Alongside shared concerns about climate change, fossil fuel depletion and the sustainability of the city, we recognise there are opportunities for building a fairer and more inclusive society.”

Luke said there was a ‘wealth of passion and commitment’ to bring about transformation in Sheffield.

“There is so much potential to tap into, but it can only be realised with engagement, empowerment, support and resources, and most of this can only come from Sheffield Council. Unfortunately the supporting structures which would help tap into and develop these local strengths has been significantly weakened through a lack of investment in staff and resources over six years of austerity.”

The recent council-led Green Commission - a ‘positive initiative’, said Luke - recognised that Sheffield faced a variety of challenges around social justice, resources, infrastructure and the economy.

“However despite all the talk there has been little action so far,” he added. “The recommendations in the commission report will remain only a vision if no commitment is made by politicians and council officers to provide resources and support to make them a reality.”

If Luke could make one change in Sheffield it would be to persuade people to ‘make decisions with more of a long-term perspective in mind’.

“Progressive leadership from politicians and local authorities as well as businesses and civic society is essential to make strong decisions and investment which may be difficult now but overall will be beneficial for society, the economy and environment,” he said.

“For example, the council’s recent decision to oppose fracking is a great position to take - this should be further built on by a commitment to support a move to a totally fossil fuel-free city and investment and support for renewables at all levels, including the work of Sheffield Renewables.”

He ‘fully supports’ the efforts to promote Sheffield as the ‘Outdoor City’, but emphasises: “We should further recognise the value of the outdoor spaces in our city for their purely environmental benefits. If anything, initiatives like the Outdoor City should further recognise and advocate for increased spending and resources provided to the establishment, management and protection of our priceless green outdoor public spaces.”

And Sheffield is already a ‘cycling city’, he thinks.

“I’ve seen a noticeable increase in the number of cyclists on Sheffield’s streets over the last few years. Improvements are slowly being made to make it easier for cyclists to get around, however there’s definitely a lot more that can be done to encourage cycling within the city including improving road design and layouts.

“Will Sheffield ever be a true cycling city like Amsterdam? No, not unless you can flatten it’s seven hills - but that’s the attraction of it.”

Luke is ‘proud of the feeling of independence’ that runs through Sheffield - his favourite local producers include The Depot bakery in Neepsend, and he has milk delivered from T & JM White at Trickett Edge Farm, Bradfield - and hopes the renewables group can ‘build on its successes to date’.

A second share offer has just been launched, giving residents the chance to invest in and benefit from community-owned solar energy, and there is an ambition to raise £70,000 to pay for two more solar panel schemes.

“The solar schemes will help make Sheffield a greener, more sustainable, pleasant and fairer city, as well generating funds for future renewable energy and efficiency schemes in our community.”