THE parish church of St Mary’s has no ploughed fields in its immediate vicinity, situated as it is on Sheffield’s inner ring road.
Neverthless, like many of England’s clergy, vicar Canon Julian Sullivan and curate Rev Karen Cribb were determined to mark the traditional time of the harvest festival.
“The harvest tradition of ‘we plough the fields and scatter’ has rural connotations so we wanted to celebrate the harvest of this area and what’s produced and made locally,” said Karen.
“We wanted to celebrate the people who live and work here. There are the schools at Porter Croft and Lowfield, the cultural side of things at the Showroom, the workshops of the little mesters coming back to life at places like Portland and Persistence Works, and lots of shops.
“So to celebrate the whole of local life we asked local groups and organisations and industries to bring us something that might be representative of the ‘harvest’ in this area.”
The result is the Urban Harvest exhibition on display at St Mary’s for two weeks. It opened last Sunday.
St Mary’s is an urban parish extending over much of Sharrow, Highfield and as far into the city centre as Leadmill Road.
Karen and Julian visited shops and businesses to explain the idea of celebrating the parish’s urban harvest.
Researchers and photographers Yo Tozer-Loft and Giles Morrison followed up with notebooks and cameras to record a snapshot of the parish in 2011.
The exhibition depicts hairdressers, shops selling bread, sandwiches, comics and gifts, local community centres, the office of Paul Blomfield MP, dozens of menus from takeaways and restaurants selling food from all round the world, along with displays from Sheffield Archives (situated in the parish), The Showroom and the myriads of small businesses in places like Persistence, Portland and Scotia Works.
“We walked up Shoreham Street with our cameras and we were surprised how keen people were about the idea,” said Yo Tozer-Loft.
“Some businesses have been there 20 or 30 years. People here work really hard, it’s really vibrant, and we wanted to say we’re thankful for what people do here and what a rich, diverse place it is.”
Abdool Gooljar from the Islamic Society of Britain often works with staff from St Mary’s and was very supportive of the exhibition’s aims.
“There is real diversity in this area and if you look at all the business on London Road, for example, we are all getting together to create employment and getting to know one another.
“There’s also a diversity of many faiths in this area and celebrating the local harvest in this exhibition means we can all come down and get to know one another.
“All those coming down will have something to learn and hopefully in the future will have something to contribute.”
The idea of the harvest festival in the past was always actually about economic wellbeing, said Canon Julian Sullivan.
“They were celebrating the fact that they had brought in the harvest and the work that had gone into it, their prayers for good weather etc, but it was really the economy they were celebrating.
“They were saying ‘we’re going to eat in the winter and survive and prosper.’ So we’re taking that principle and saying what are we celebrating today? What is the work and who’s doing it? In the old days it was the farmer and the labourers, but now it is totally different.
“You set off down the road and come to the Robot Works, Persistence Works, then Radio Sheffield, the archive office, the Showroom, then all the businesses up and down London Road. So we’re celebrating all these different ways people make a living.”
Karen listed the restaurant menus: “Vietnamese, Chinese, Caribbean, Mexican, Turkish, African, Japanese and a whole load of different Chinese and curry houses representing different regions. It’s not a rural harvest her but we wanted to give thanks to God for it.”
“The exhibition is reflecting that we’re thankful for what people do and what a rich diverse place it is,” said Yo. “The hard-working local businesses, I take my hat off to them. “
“The area is buzzing, especially now all the students are back,” said Karen Cribb. “It feels like it’s thriving but but it is a lot of hard work and people work really long hours to keep things going.”
“The shops on Shoreham Street said they need more local people through the door,” said Yo. “We have fantastic skills in the local businesses around here and the message is to use them so we keep them.”
The plan now is to hold a similar exhibition at next year’s harvest festival time, focusing on the people of the St Mary’s parish.
“Looking at the lives of these people and what they give and invest in the area resonates with a traditional harvest festival,” said Julian Sullivan.
“What I think this exhibition is saying is that the sum of the creativity of the people who live and move and have their being here has a local, a citywide and even an international significance.”