Is Sheffield on the cusp of becoming a global destination? The compilers of the Lonely Planet tourism website certainly seem to think so – having given Marcus Newton’s walking tours of the city centre their very own listing.
“It’s nice – you’re putting something back into the city,” says the guide, taking a breather after completing another of his 90-minute strolls. “You don’t know who’s going to turn up.”
Marcus offers visitors a torrent of facts and recommendations, giving a remarkably comprehensive history of the place, as well as a flavour of what is to come as regeneration work gains momentum.
The aim, as Lonely Planet’s authors seem to have recognised, is to boost Sheffield’s appeal as a holiday option and a place to live and work.
“I work with the council and the business community to give a positive spin on why people should come here.”
Marcus, a lifelong Sheffielder, has been in business since the end of 2013, when he used Enterprise Allowance money to set up the tours.
The 52-year-old, of Parkhead, used to work in central government, inputting data and setting up events, but switched careers as he ‘wanted a change’.
“I would arrange events for people to come to Sheffield, and there was always a negative perception of the city as a destination, which seems strange to me, given the amount of money the council has spent renovating the city.
“I’d been doing walks for people I worked with for a number of years. I thought, if they liked going on walks and they really want to go, why not do this for a living?”
He spent time researching the trade, going on walking trips to different cities and countries, and was both dispirited and encouraged by what he found. “They were using a lot of retired teachers and people to do it. There were some really good ones but a lot weren’t. I thought it wasn’t on – I don’t want to give people money for a second-rate experience.”
Marcus worked on the tour with local history enthusiasts Peter Machin and Ron Clayton, and discussed the route with Wendy Ulyett, Marketing Sheffield’s visitor economy manager.
“We went for a more upscale image of Sheffield.”
Accordingly the walks begin on Surrey Street at the tourist information office, pausing by the memorial to cutler Thomas Boulsover – the inventor of Sheffield Plate – and extolling the virtues of the nearby theatres.
Guests are then taken past the birthplace of Sheffield United on Norfolk Row, along Fargate – ‘the deluxe Victorian shopping centre’ – and down to the Cathedral quarter, following a loop back to the starting point, constantly stopping at interesting spots.
The Old Bank House barristers’ chambers on Hartshead is, visitors are told, the oldest surviving brick-built home in the city – while the cellar of Mama’s and Leonies pizzeria has a blood-soaked floor left by a dubious surgeon said to have once worked there.
Tact has to be exercised along the way. While explaining the Women of Steel statue, for instance, Marcus must avoid giving a biased perspective on the two world wars.
“I purposely neutralise things that will be offensive to somebody.”
The future promises more guided walks. Bespoke tours are available, and plans to revive Castlegate and Fitzalan Square present an opportunity for afternoon walks, perhaps one or two days a week.
Tours leave at 10.30am, Tuesday to Saturday, lasting for 90 minutes and costing £5 per person.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.sheffieldtours.com for further details.