Telegraph Voices: Why has Shefield become such a hotspot for creativity?

It's people who make this city what it is, and always has been

Thursday, 16th November 2017, 9:05 am
Updated Thursday, 16th November 2017, 9:07 am
Little Mesters offer grinding gear to Sheffield Museum - 2nd January 1979

Professor Vanessa Toulmin, director of city and culture, office of regional engagement and partnerships

Sheffield has always been a radical and innovative city - in politics, in manufacturing, in education with the founding of the university by the people in 1905 and the way it has always embraced individualism but also the collective.

The creativity continues today through the spaces, the artists, the musicians and the beer makers, the poets and writers who told their stories at this year’s Off the Shelf and the fantastic galleries, museums and theatres providing cultural vibrancy for the city.

But I would say it’s more than that – it’s a spirit of independence that embraces those who want to try something different, but grounded in practical skill and craftsmanship that goes back to John Ruskin and The tradition of the little mesters.

Where artisan craft and the ability to dream come together.

Everyone in the city seems to have two identities, by day an office worker or a civil servant but by night an artist, a musician, a brewer, a writer or a publisher.

Sheffield produces the content that other cities would yearn for – we don’t buy in large anonymous events but create our own. From Tramlines to Off the Shelf to Doc/Fest, our festivals are big and bold but also cosy and intimate.

We often seem to berate the city for not being ambitious or lamenting the lack of big shiny edifices that shout our achievements but why should we when all around us shouts out what we are – a city of makers, of doers and artists.

Where the old Mothercare on the Moor is transformed into a fantastic theatre space, Theatre Delicatessen, where the People’s Theatre is part of the world class performances produced inhouse by the Crucible.

This is a city where colleagues at the Octagon and drama studio at the University of Sheffield, not only provide a venue for writers such as Robert Webb and international artist Grayson Perry but also curate and take a gamble on new innovative theatre through the Enable US Festival, which is bringing 11 new shows to the drama studio throughout October and November.

Sometimes it’s difficult to see beyond the bling and noise of other cities to understand the creative revolution that is taking place within our own city – but look around, take a second look at the venue you pass by every day because all is not always what it appears to be.

And you think you know the person sitting next to you in the cafe or on the bus, but don’t be surprised to see them on one of the many venues at Tramlines, or Off the Shelf or appearing in pop up venues throughout the city.

So what makes Sheffield such a creative hotspot – well, the people of course.

We have always been a city of artisans, Artist Pete McKee

Sheffield has always been a city of artisans.

Be it fret work on a large ornate Victorian fish knife or the neck of a guitar, craft is in our blood and that DNA is infectious as new arrivals to the city feel compelled to take on the mantle of self expression and entrepreneurialism.

We are a city of little mesters, beavering away in our little rooms, creating works of beauty and magic, driven by a desire to stuff it to other cities that get more recognition and attention.

Like most urban cities our street walls are covered with graffiti but by enlarge ours is more artistic.

Our bands all share a self deprecation that is Sheffield’s default setting, but gives us not only cooler bands but bands that are also incredibly successful to boot.

Our media hub hasn’t been created by the BBC, its been built on the strength of individual talent that then inspires others to join in.

We have some of the world’s top creative design companies all born in Sheffield’s boot strap mentality of doing it for ourself because no-one else is going to do it for us.

Rundown parts of the city are now being revived not by a council initiative but by the initiative of the individual.

I’m extremely proud to be a part of this city’s creative community which is full of the most wonderfully creative artists and graphic artists around. It’s been a joy to witness the flourishing of the country’s greatest independent city.

I remember as a lad, one winter’s school morning, seeing my dad come home from his night shift at Laycocks, cold and tired and I realised that that life wasn’t for me.

I knew I had to do what ever I could not to follow in my father’s footsteps and that is basically the root of the creative origins of Sheffield.

None of us wanted to end up working in a factory covered in cuts and bruises, lathered in lathe coolant. Basically we creatives are nesh.

Sheffield is a great match for Channel 4, Mazher Iqbal, Sheffield Council’s cabinet member for business and investment

Digital innovation is in our DNA. We have genuine reason to be digital leaders in the north – with innovators like Sumo Digital and The Floow working here. That’s why Channel 4 makes sense in Sheffield.

Sheffield is a great match for Channel 4. We fit together. We take risks. We do things differently. We’re not like other cities and we’re fiercely proud of that.

Bringing Channel 4 to Sheffield could see the broadcaster develop a national screen industries institute that puts it at the heart of new and emerging digital technologies.

Bringing the broadcaster to Sheffield could build on Europe’s largest research-led manufacturing cluster, home to Rolls-Royce, Boeing and McLaren Automotive.

Our creative digital sector is characterised by a huge number of individuals and small independent organisations working across the city, often collaborating, with a DIY feel and a high degree of creativity and innovation.

Warp Films, the production company behind several BAFTAs including ‘This Is England 88’ is based in the iconic Park Hill flats in Sheffield, overlooking Sheffield train station.

Doc/Fest, the UK’s premiere documentary film festival and the third largest in the world, was started and grown in Sheffield.

Not only does Doc/Fest attract some of the best known names in literature and the media from over 50 countries, millions of pounds worth of deals are done during the six festival days.

Sheffield’s Children’s Media Conference attracts over 1,100 delegates and speakers from radio, television, film, interactive media, games, licensing, toys, publishing, museums/galleries, theatre and the digital education sector to shape the entire range of media, entertainment and educational experiences available to kids.

Move to city results in artistic freedom, Stefan and Tara Tobler, publishers and editors at ‘And Other Stories’ publishers

When changing circumstances allowed us to think about moving our literary publishing house from High Wycombe, a little west of London, we said: ‘Where to?’

Looking at each other, we both knew: Sheffield.

Sheffield has an independent, creative, DIY spirit that most places would die for. As newcomers here, we don’t claim to understand Sheffield better than Sheffielders, but two things strike us immediately as part of the city’s creativity.

Firstly, people know their minds, in personal and political matters. Sheffielders are willing to stand up for what they believe in. You can see it in the ribbons and cards on condemned trees, in a front window poster calling for justice for the strikers at Orgreave, and in the crowds attending the ‘radical’ strand of events at this year’s Off the Shelf festival. People here have ideas and make their voice heard. That’s vital for a creative city.

Secondly, a practical concern helps: the cost of living and space here is nothing like it is near London. So people have a chance to get exciting projects off the ground, whether that’s one of the city’s many independent businesses, social enterprises and co-operatives, like Regather, or an experimental theatre company like Forced Entertainment, or ambitious arts project like the expansion of Site Gallery and the development of S1 Artspace.

Most fiction publishers are based in London with its higher costs. That’s one reason a lot of publishers have to be cautious in what they publish – opting for safer bets. Lower costs in Sheffield mean artistic freedom for us.