My Google alert for Sheffield rocketed in May. Mentions in the Sunday Times, the Daily Mail, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, the independent and countless other media outlets, Channel 4, Sky, BBC and ITN, radio stations galore and that’s not withstanding the local alerts.
From the middle of May onwards something strange happened, the national and international media beat a path to our fair city.
By attempting to engage rather than censure, our new lord mayor is continuing the history of a city that has always enabled its citizens and its press the freedom to publish
Mind you the last few months had been quite high on the Google clapometer with the tree situation apparently the only noticeable story that the nation’s press seemingly find interesting as if Sheffield was the only city in the UK cutting down its trees.
Now we find out that we are not even top of that sorry pile with Newcastle being the worst offender if the report in the Sunday Times is true.
Even the disappointing news that we had once again been overlooked by the Government’s annual beauty parade or as one witty colleague named it the North’s Got Talent, did not factor in this Google upsurge (for those not aware this is when Northern cities are required to bid against each other in a quest for strategic funding or relocated assets be it the new headquarters for Channel 4 or new creative clusters).
Sadly we were once again overlooked for the big prize, but as much of the media outside Sheffield had failed to report that we had even submitted a bid, it would have come to no surprise to them that we were not selected.
So what has caused this rapid acceleration of the name of Sheffield in the online imagination with news reports across the world, Twitter going into a mini meltdown and people from the seven UK cities I have lectured in over the last 11 days greeting me with a smile when I mention Sheffield?
Well the answer is our new Lord Mayor, Magic Magid, a graduate of Hull University in marine biology, a councillor for Broomhill and Sharrow Vale and a recent contestant in Channel 4’s Hunted.
From Hull to Newcastle, Blackpool to Scarborough, Huddersfield to London, the first question I’ve been asked is about our new First Citizen.
So what sets Magid apart from the 121 lord mayors that he follows?
It is not his ethnicity, as befits a multi-cultural city, people of colour have occupied this position before, not that some of the recent racist letter writers to The Star would realise that. Not even his politics, because even though our new Lord Mayor is the first from the Green Party, the position is not an elected position, voted by the people of Sheffield, but one that is ceremonial and apolitical apportioned between the parties that make up the council body and changes yearly.
What sets Magid apart is both his personal story, he came to Sheffield at the age of five with his mother from war-torn Somalia, and the fact at 28 he is the youngest Lord Mayor in the history of the office.
By being our First Citizen, he brings many things to the city of Sheffield but especially the fact that being under 30 he can reach out to a demographic who do not necessarily traditionally engage with local politics.
By representing the future of our city he can help us learn much about where we are and where we want to journey to.
He brings dialogue instead of rhetoric, an invitation to engage with those who fear or hate him because of his ethnicity and religion, a desire to share his love and gratitude to the City of Sanctuary that gave a home to his family and a passion for change.
All of those qualities he has demonstrated over the past three weeks and more.
From the grace and dignity by which he responded to the frankly detestable tone of some of the letters that appeared and the pride and love he shows in the office of lord mayor, Magid has demonstrated the very qualities that makes Sheffield special.
The civility of a good debate, the passion for change and the desire for genuine discussion and dialogue.
By attempting to engage rather than censure, our new mayor is continuing the history of a city that has always enabled its citizens and its press the freedom to publish even if we are not always comfortable with the content.
So that is why in the merry month of May, the new young lord mayor of Sheffield captured the imagination of Google and suddenly everybody was talking about Sheffield and long may it continue.
n Professor Vanessa Toulmin is director of city and cultural engagement at the University of Sheffield.