I recently spoke at an event. The brief was fairly simple – speak for five minutes and keep it upbeat. The audience was a mix of friendly Sheffield faces and many new ones who would not know our city.
The invitation to the event boldly stated on its cover that the planning system in Sheffield –the process by which building developments are approved, or not – was busier than at any time since the Second World War.
An interesting fact and no doubt included in the invitation as also a surprising one. But then I thought “why should we be surprised?”.
Equally, why should we let other people think that we are surprised when we hear impressive facts about our city.
I therefore built my speech around the simple resolution of “let’s stop being surprised”. I then gave the audience ten facts about our city – positive, good and – as facts should be - true ones.
Good things happening in our city are now so numerous that they should be seen as the “new normal”. So, here’s my ten chosen, by the way, from a much longer list.
Let’s not be surprised that we are, still, the safest of the big cities of England when it comes to violent crime. There is no complacency on this one but despite the challenges we have a strong position.
Number 2 on the “let’s not be surprised” list is that, despite the gloomy mood music about the British high street the number of people in our city centre is up, and that’s before the next phase of new shops on The Moor opens. By the way, have you been to Kommune yet?
The Castlegate bounce back has begun.
Kelham Island is currently the UK’s official “Best Neighbourhood” as judged by the Academy of Urbanism, a national body that knows about these things.
Add to that the fact that Public – it’s under the Town Hall for those that haven’t found it yet – is The Observer’s best bar in the country and you start to see a great city lifestyle offer.
So if they were numbers 3 and 4 on the list, number 5 is that we are the base for the country’s newest government regulatory body with Social Work England choosing Sheffield as its home.
This is a proper HQ with the Chief Executive and all of the head office functions being run from here.
Any Sheffield list these days would not be complete without something to do with advanced manufacturing.
Given that research and innovation is the heartbeat of that sector, it is great to see not just one but three new leading research centres opening in 2018. That’s what happens when you have two excellent universities committed to the city.
For number 7, how about the fact that of the big cities only Bristol and Leeds have a higher employment rate than Sheffield?
Next, let’s not be surprised that Sheffield Theatres has sell-out shows here in the city and in London’s West End, and that Sheffield Museums has a massively acclaimed exhibition in the heart of the City of London.
Even the Financial Times has it down as a “must see”.
At number 9 there is a choice.
We could go with the fact that 3.5 million square feet of new industrial buildings were occupied in Sheffield last year, or we could go with the impressive over-representation of Sheffield in the RIBA’s best architecture awards shortlist for Yorkshire.
Sheffield has six of the 15 top spots in that shortlist.
And finally at number 10, one of Britain’s leading business banks has analysed the growth in office rents in the UK’s biggest cities outside London over the last ten years.
No surprises to learn that top of that league is Sheffield massively outpacing Birmingham, Edinburgh, Manchester, Leeds and the rest of the kingdom.
Now I know that it is not in Sheffield’s nature to boast which is probably one of the reasons why we all love this place.
All I am suggesting therefore is that there is so much good stuff about the city that we have no cause to be surprised when great things happen and that’s because they just keep on happening.
Here’s to Sheffield – a mainstream success and a surprise no more.
John Mothersole is the chief executive of Sheffield City Council.
For more reasons to shout about Sheffield, see Favourite Things, featuring Ian Cracknell of Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust on page 37.
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