I remember when I visited Sheffield for the first time. I came for a short weekend to see my mum who moved here from the Netherlands to work at university, and frankly speaking, I tried to be unimpressed.
I say ‘tried’ for a reason, because despite my reservations (I was wondering whether anyone could ever have fun in a place I had problems to find on the map) I felt immediately that there was something in the city which couldn’t demonstrate anything interesting in terms of architecture, but possessed, how to say it, some sort of aura.
Maybe it was due to the steel and mining past, and having spent most of my childhood summers in a miners’ town in Eastern Ukraine, I felt a nostalgic familiarity, or maybe it was thanks to Sheffield’s people.
Nowhere else in the world (and I lived in four different countries) was I called ‘love’ while talking to a total stranger.
I didn’t know during that short visit that in two years I would actually move here and stay. At that time I was dancing away in posh nightclubs in Brussels, a city I loved and where I thought lay my future.
But fate is a powerful thing.
Sometimes, we end up in places we wouldn’t choose to be, but where eventually we might become happy.
When I became ill in Brussels my mum decided to bring me to Sheffield, putting faith into the healing power of NHS.
And rightly so. Despite having a diagnosis of bipolar for good seven years by then, when I landed in the small psychiatric unit in Nether Edge I was bewildered by the care and support I received.
All members of staff were kind, food was amazing, I got an in-suite bedroom, and even psychiatrists appeared as being compassionate and understanding.
Therefore, when I got a bursary offer to do a PhD in Sheffield shortly after being discharged from the hospital, I breathed with relief. True, I was used to capital cities, Moscow, Amsterdam, Brussels, but Sheffield seemed cosy and very welcoming.
People smile to you on the streets, everyone is polite, and as I soon discovered, the city didn’t lack in anything.
Small family cafés coexist with fancy restaurants, markets such as on Sharrow Vale and Nether edge offer both amazing choice of goodies, as well as a good community spirit (which is disappearing in the rest of the world).
There are hidden places such as Café #9 organise the events that are better than in any other place I’ve been to in big capital cities.
Not to forget numerous parks, Peak district right at the door, and numerous churches where people really help each other.
But it was thanks to Sheffield people that I fell in love with the place. They talk to you on the bus, in the shop, they ask if you are all right and they genuinely care. Take my postman as an example.
We chat every time I am at home and not sleeping, but he never knocks on my door to deliver a parcel, because he knows I need a nap during the day, when I can. Isn’t nice?
Or how about becoming friends with everyone who runs any sort of business on Sharrow Vale, just because people actually talk to you and remember how old your son is and even your name (despite the fact that my name is indeed hard to pronounce)?
Or having a GP who cares so much that can call me on Saturday night to ask how I am doing?
As we all know NHS is facing a crisis, but it still remains the best medical service in the whole world, and hopefully, will stay strong and survive.
And in Sheffield, more than in any other place in the world, one can feel this care, the strong British spirit with which I fell in love already back at school while reading Shakespeare.
Is it due to the spirit of the North, or to the steel and mining past? God only knows, but nowhere else did I meet so many amazing and warm people as here in Sheffield.
And if all places were like that, then we as humans, would all be a little bit happier.