28 April 2020

Comment: Sheffield is falling behind other regional centres in funding terms

Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Director of City and Culture at the University of Sheffield, discusses the need for more funding to continue the urban and cultural regeneration of the city centre.

Fargate Sheffield

Originally published in Sheffield Telegraph.

Following Sheffield's successful bid in the first stage of the Future High Street Funding, Professor Vanessa Toulmin discusses the need for more funding in Sheffield.

We are a city of dreamers inspired by the fabric of the urban setting we live and work in and the strength of our creative ecology that sustains us.

Our post-industrial landscape shapes us as a city. Over the decades, former Little Mester’s yards and cutlery works have been transformed into modern-day creative workspaces, food halls and design studios.

Through the Future High Street Fund, Sheffield Council and The University of Sheffield are hoping to win funding to transform Fargate and High Street. This intervention would be necessary and continue the urban and cultural regeneration leading up from The Moor. But expanses of the city centre remain untouched, our greatest historic assets need attention and the future of the original heart of the city, and the future of our cultural and historic assets are unknown.

I am constantly inspired by the creative encounters I have daily in Sheffield. From the artisan bakers of Cawa in Broomhill, the opening of the new Marmadukes café, to the dedication of the volunteers and staff at Foodhall who have recently been awarded a Heritage Lottery grant for their pioneering work, Sheffield people never cease to amaze me.

Professor Vanessa Toulmin

Director of City and Culture

Sheffield is falling behind other regional centres in terms of funding from national bodies, despite the national reputation of our cultural institutions, and our diverse and radical heritage. We constantly praise our resilience as a city, our ability to punch above our weight and our authentic independent spirit. But if we can spin gold from straw, what could we do if we had investment on the levels of other Northern cities? What if our historic assets were restored, repaired and our cultural bodies reinvigorated and given the investment they deserve?

Martin Mckervey, Sheffield Property Association chairman, recently stated that we face a challenge. The funding we get from national bodies is a pittance compared to that enjoyed by other UK Cities. Sheffield gets £5 per person, Leeds gets £40. Liverpool gets £67. We need to look at ourselves. Are we being bold enough and clear enough about our priorities? Are we being bold enough as a city? Where is the support for culture, for our beautiful Graves building, our declining historic buildings in Castlegate and endlessly over performing under invested cultural institutions?

Sheffield has many tireless campaigners who shout loud and proud about their city. The Friends of the Old Town Hall and the Friends of Sheffield Castle have campaigned tirelessly to bring the history and heritage of Castlegate to light and local entrepreneurs have opened pop up shops and produced cultural events on the former site of Sheffield Market.

Joined up Heritage has published its draft strategy which calls for a recognition of the sustainable, long term value of heritage in regeneration projects.

The Culture Collective has been formed through alliances of major Sheffield public private and voluntary sector bodies to highlight the importance of culture, heritage and the arts for the future investment and ambition of our city. They need to be listened to, engaged with and involved in the future of our city.

In times of austerity, some local authorities choose to reduce their investment in culture and heritage claiming they have no choice, but there is always a choice. Other Northern cities with equally difficult budgets have elected to invest in their cultural strengths and prioritise those assets and so should we. Old buildings should not be left to decay through neglect or absentee landlords, but should be the crucible for new ideas, new investment and true collaborative thinking. Cities should be a mixture of eco-systems not planned restricted models of planning and regulation, with defined quarters and laborious masterplans that are out of date before they are eventually published. They should respond to the aspirations and desires of its citizens and the ever growing needs of its population whilst respecting and investing in the historic fabric that shapes and defines it.

Let us breathe new life into our city by defining our assets, emphasising and investing, but not pickling our heritage in aspic and make brave decisions that will shape the landscape of our city for generations to come.

What do the people of Sheffield want for their city? I think they want action, decision and change and a vision and strategy that encompasses all. Most of all they want to be part of the conversation.