Education: Enmeshing universities in cultural calendar drives Sheffield forward

Students and staff speaking to the public in the Winter gardens in Sheffield
Students and staff speaking to the public in the Winter gardens in Sheffield

The weekend before Easter saw glorious weather. Spring, with its vibrant yellows and greens, burst with life, across the parks and gardens of Sheffield.

And the citizens of Sheffield came out to enjoy it. In the parks and public spaces of the city, families and couples, groups and individuals relaxed. There was a sense of the city re-emerging and you saw, again, the variety and diversity of the city out of doors – this was a great city out of doors.

The best universities are powerful drivers for economic and cultural success. They are assets for their cities and build success for their students.

Cities have always been about their people. Throughout history, this is what cities are – collections of people working, trading, living, enjoying together. And one of the marks of a great city is its great universities. Around the world, cities are shaped by, and shape their universities. Sheffield’s two great universities, at the heart of the city’s ambitions for the future, are as central to its cultural and economic prosperity as they are to the lives of their students.

Cities have always been built around calendars of festivals – as true in ancient Rome, and medieval Europe as much as twenty-first century cities. The cycle of the year has been marked by great public events throughout the history of cities, and this is as true in Sheffield as anywhere.

Sheffield’s universities certainly play a key role in the prosperity of our region through supporting innovation and economic growth. And if that is, rightly, about science and innovation, about technology and manufacture, it is also about the culture and vibrancy of the city we inhabit. There’s good research which tells us that really successful cities are those which are successful culturally and really good, engaged universities, can be powerful drivers of that success.

Sheffield Hallam University is one of the UK’s great cultural assets. It is a platform for arts and science collaboration, working with creative sector partners and the University’s rich cultural resources to benefit society through the creation, application and distribution of cultural knowledge. We have a proud history of being at the heart of the city’s cultural scene – from our roots in the Sheffield School of Design almost 175 years ago through to our new Sheffield Institute of Arts, re-located last year into the fabulously restored Edwardian Head Post Office Building in Fitzalan Square.

But this is only a part of Hallam’s cultural role in the city. We plan, lead and collaborate in a host of cultural events as well as supporting key annual festivals that take place across the city. We use our work as a university and cultural partner to open up our research and expertise to the widest possible audience – our knowledge has relevance to the real world and we aim share it with the region’s people and inspire the next generation of world-leading researchers, by working through our students, with community groups and with schools across the city and region. Our students play a critical role in this – taking advantage of placement and volunteering opportunities at the city’s festivals from Off the Shelf to Tramlines.

Sheffield Festival of Science and Engineering is a two-yearly collaboration between the two universities to bring world-leading science and engineering research to the people of Sheffield. It ran in March this year to coincide with British Science Week, with two great strands of activity – one focused on schools and one on the general public with the aim of bringing science to children and adults alike. Researchers from both universities and partner organisations visited more than 100 schools across South Yorkshire to deliver over 200 free talks and activities to pupils of all ages. The public side featured a wide range of free events, open to everyone, taking place across the region in multiple venues including both universities. More than 6,600 people attended festival events.

Off the Shelf is Sheffield’s literary festival. Last year the two universities worked with Sheffield City Council and Arts Council England to support the event – a creative new partnership between the universities. The festival is a unique institution and demonstrates the vibrancy, creativity and experience that our city is celebrated for and one that is enjoyed by students and staff alike. The festival includes student and research engagement, specially curated programmes by university academics alongside world class writing and literature by the authors. We are proud to help support and enrich such a wonderful event.

Doc/Fest is Sheffield’s film festival, one of the biggest and most prestigious documentary festivals in the UK. It draws together film professionals, the city and the University’s students and provides a window for an exceptional range of documentary film making. Tramlines is one of the biggest inner city music festivals in the country – doing something which too often music festivals don’t do – putting music into the heart of the city. It’s a great example of the ways in which cultural events generate economic gain, cultural enrichment and opportunities to draw students into the life of the city with an array of work experience and volunteering opportunities. There was a time when we thought of universities as something separate from their communities – built behind walls or on the edges of the city. It’s not true. The best universities are powerful drivers for economic and cultural success. They are assets for their cities and they drive the success of their cities and they build success for their students. Again and again, cultural engagement makes for great cities and great opportunities for students. Everybody wins.