"If we believe the vaccine is a proven success then why would we not look, optimistically, to the future?"

Well, here we are - a year on - just over 12 months since the first lockdown and the somewhat ambiguous message of “Stay at Home".

Thursday, 1st April 2021, 12:00 am
John Lews in Sheffield City Centre is set to close. Picture: Chris Etchells

We were blessed, as I hope we will continue to be, by the most wonderful spring. As I write, the sun is shining, and the birds have started to sing. Despite the gloom and doom merchants, (all of them, by the way, on good salaries) constantly appearing on the broadcast media to cast doubt on our ability to return to socialisation, my heart is lifted by both the natural environment and the science.

After all, if we believe that the vaccine is a proven success – and it is - then why would we not look, optimistically, to the future?

Of course, for those of us who support football – and this encapsulates both United and Wednesday-ites – the situation is dire. Not only is it bad for our emotional and psychological health, but it is also not too brilliant for the city. Because football clubs that are in the top two leagues get television coverage and often world-wide recognition. This all helps in terms of defining Sheffield as the great city it really is, and its part in the educational, economic and social life of the country.

Which is also why the decision of John Lewis to pull out of the city centre is deeply disappointing.

Even if campaigners are successful in persuading the board to change the decision it will, post-Covid be necessary to have a whole new strategy for breathing life into the city centre.

But I'll depress myself if I go on any further.

There is, in truth, a lot to be glad about. It is not to denigrate the recent past to be able to celebrate the energy and dynamism that is becoming evident from the new leadership of the city.

This is crucial because it harnesses other key players: business, voluntary and community sectors, educational, health and, of course, policing - in the endeavour to speed the recovery from Covid 19 and the regeneration from years of austerity and economic downturn.

The shift in policy to move decision-taking down to community level wherever possible, and coordinate a variety of services and initiatives to focus on working with, rather than on, the community is, from my point of view, extremely welcome. It makes, from my standpoint, the referendum on May the 6th to change the structure of the operation of the city council redundant. Those who initiated this demand for change have actually substantially got their way, although, as I've learnt over many years in politics, it is sometimes very hard to persuade people that they’ve scored a goal. Oh dear, there I go again with a reference to football!

As we've seen throughout the pandemic, so much can be achieved by people pulling together at a very local level - albeit that they need the backing and support to sustain any lasting change - and there are many things that can only be done by large-scale organisations with the time and resource.

A good example of people coming together was the consultation process in Stocksbridge and the surrounding area to put together a bid for what is known as the Town's Fund. The money (from government and from the city council) will be very welcome.

Nevertheless, whilst Rishi Sunak's constituency in Richmondshire, North Yorkshire and, for that matter, Derbyshire Dales, had been placed in Tier 1 for the so-called “Levelling-up Fund”, Sheffield and Barnsley find themselves in Tier 2! Now, if anyone can explain that to me, I would be very grateful.

So, we are, in the near future at least, back to depending on ourselves. Working as a city with the combined authority under the elected Metro Mayor. With the programme of resourcing and borrowing for investment that Dan Jarvis has put together, we can make an enormous difference to the future of our children and grandchildren.

After all, we have all the ingredients of a quality-of-life if only we can create greater equality, overcome the injustices and living conditions that bedevil parts of our community, and recreate the innovation, entrepreneurship and enterprise of the past.

This will involve all of us in thinking through what contribution we can make in dealing with the “cliff edge" in the autumn, of the end of furlough, the end of the uplift of Universal Credit and hopefully, the readjustment to a post-Covid era. After all, we are the safest major city in the country, have the greatest area of woodland, parks and countryside of any urban area, continue to possess a sense of identity and caring about others, and, quite simply, “we are Sheffield".

A happy Easter to you all.