Comment: What makes a great Sheffielder?

Professor Sir Keith Burnett, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, discusses the profound impact the Chinese community has had on the city of Sheffield and the importance of being open to the world.

What makes a great Sheffielder?

by Professor Sir Keith Burnett, 6.4.17, published in the Sheffield Telegraph

Let me tell you about a great Sheffielder: his name is Jerry Cheung.

If you haven't heard of him, don't worry. You will have seen his impact on our city skyline with the emerging New Era development rapidly rising near Bramall Lane, bringing jobs and new business to our city.

VCJerry has been in Sheffield for 40 years. He came here as a young man and had a dream of building a China town in Sheffield. He has been the leader of the Chinese community in Sheffield for decades, and that community has grown way past London Road to include 5,000 Chinese students in our universities and now the largest Chinese investment in any city outside of London.

Of course, there are other great Sheffielders who were not actually born here. Some of them work in our hospitals. My new dentist, for example, is from Iran.

They are some of the most intensely loyal people you will ever meet. Listen to Jerry speak about his city in a Sheffield-Chinese accent is a joy. You will find no greater gratitude or determination to make a city work. His new development will include apartments and restaurants, but also incubation space for new businesses.

These will in turn bring more jobs and vitality to our city centre, which is supported by Chinese spending power. Along with the new Moor Market and the new Retail Quarter, international students alone make up at least a tenth of the total inward investment in our city.

Think of another example made possible by Sheffield residents - albeit temporary ones - which is helping to develop our city. You may have seen the new Diamond building at the University of Sheffield. This is a place of beginnings and possibility, but now the international student income which has funded one of the best teaching spaces in the country is attracting major investors like Siemens. This great company wants to put a key research demonstration centre into this space. Microsoft is also partnering with us, inspired by our international ambitions. We couldn't have done this if we hadn't been international.

All of this is part of what allows us to make our city and region great. The City Council and Local Enterprise Partnership along with our Chamber of Commerce, Creative Sheffield and the ancient Cutlers Company have backed us in this vision of what kind of city we can be. One where Made In Sheffield is a brand known all around the world.

I see the power of our city's openness and desire to trade as I travel to other countries for our university. Just last week I spent time with one of our city region's casting companies to meet with their client, one of the leading manufacturers in China which makes parts for helicopters, planes and the nuclear energy industry. This visit was about more than looking for orders - it was about the possibility of future collaboration. They want to work with us and to create educational opportunities for young people both there and here, to invest in ways which build jobs as we make products together.

This is what it really means to be open to the world. Just as Brearley invented stainless and sent it around the globe, we are determined to draw on our research and innovation to give us the advantage which will make it possible to create wealth. We want to bring commerce back to Sheffield's Commercial Road.

We cannot do this by looking inwards. In the future there will be more great Sheffielders making jobs for our whole community, some born here and others who began their lives far away but who have found a welcome in this city and made it home. People like the first PhD student who worked at Technicut in Attercliffe, whose applied research with industry was the twinkle in the eye which inspired our Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre. A young women who came to the UK as the child of a Vietnamese boat person. Part of our Sheffield story.

And this is not new. If you go to Crookes Cemetery, you will see tombstones with Chinese characters of those Chinese who came to Sheffield many years ago, who lived and loved in this place and whose children are still part of our community. There is part of our city that will in this sense be forever China. And we are changed and made more than we could ever be without them. They are ours and we are theirs.