Comment: Working together for a better future for Sheffield

Professor Gill Valentine, Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Sheffield, writes for the Sheffield Telegraph on how, through working together, we can build a better future for Sheffield.

Working together for a better future for Sheffield

by Professor Gill Valentine, 1.3.18, published in the Sheffield Telegraph

A year ago, the leaders of Sheffield’s three biggest anchor institutions – its two universities and its hospital trust – brought together guests from across the region for a special purpose. What they had to offer was something they hoped would stimulate debate and, more importantly, offer a new way of working together. It set out a vision for what the region might look like if we took the long view.

A prospectus was developed which outlined ways we might focus on key areas to deliver a globally connected top UK city region - rooted in its values of innovation and making. Of course, whenever city leaders try to envisage the future, they are stepping out in faith and taking a risk. The opening of The Full Monty famously includes a clip of ‘City on the Move’ – the 1970’s film which meant to promote the Steel City as a place full of possibility and modernity. The joke was that the dream contrasted sharply with the harsh impact of an economy which had been hard hit by the loss of global markets in traditional industries. The only thing which still shone was the warmth and friendship of the characters trying to find their way in tough circumstances.

Today though, Sheffield really is on the move. It isn’t just the news of inward investments from Boeing and McLaren, drawn by a unique combination of engineering research and a focus on education and skills. Nor is it the way the city is embracing tech industries from giants like Siemens, who have chosen to base their first MindSphere hub in the University of Sheffield's Diamond building, or the possibility of attracting tech entrepreneurs to a regenerated Castle House, transforming a struggling part of the city at the same time. Nor the hard work of groups across the creative industries, charity sector or even a bold pitch to attract Channel 4.

No, the real signs of hope come when people work together.

This is, of course, a tough ask at this most challenging time, when communities and political parties are deeply divided on everything from Brexit to devolution. It is so easy to focus on where we disagree and to rally around our differences. So much harder to unite around what we might do together. And yet our experience and history shows us that this is when our city really thrives.

As a social scientist, I’ve seen this ability to rise above narrow identities and focus on a bigger prize can transform opportunities. This is true in my own University – which grew out of a merger of three different institutions: the Sheffield Medical School, Firth College and Sheffield Technical School – and more recently at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, which has thrived because of the way it unites academia and industry, engineer and designer, apprentice and PhD on an ultra-modern shop floor. It is our diversity with purpose which gives us the edge.

Now we need to do the same on a much wider scale across our city and region, and we must concentrate on the fundamentals if we are to make it happen.

One of the most obvious areas where we can and must work together is health. If you or a family member ever needed treatment and care for a neurodegenerative condition such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, you would want to know that your hospital worked with the very best researchers and clinicians, that specialist nurses were trained to the highest standard and that the links with GPs and community facilities worked well. And you would want local services to link seamlessly to the NHS. You would not want a different standard of care depending on where you live or who you voted for.

As a city, we face many challenges, from education to housing to the economy. None of them can be solved by short-term thinking or individuals, companies or local authorities working alone. We need to find ways to listen and talk to one another, to hear ideas and to allow new possibilities to take root. At its best, this is what our city can be. One that our many communities find open and willing to give new ideas a go. One in which the old established ways and new ideas can come together.

How can we make this work?

The city’s anchor institutions care deeply about our city region and our role in it. We are keen to support our elected leaders to make our city and region a truly great place for all its citizens. It is my fervent hope that what we have to offer will be welcomed, and that we will find a Sheffield way to work together to build a better future life.