How can Sheffield creatives have more impact in their own city?

Beastie Burgers by Team Cooper
Beastie Burgers by Team Cooper

Factory buildings made into works of graffiti art; architecture that challenges planners to push the boundaries of greener design; dancers who bring kids and communities together through hip hop… this was just some of the creative work which featured at the recent Sheffield Culture Club event, Impact. Held at Site Gallery and attended by a range of city creatives, it was the first of three events exploring the city’s cultural strategy and it’s three strands – Impact, Excellence and Participation. It was organised by The North Marketing Agency and stellamedia with support by Sheffield City Council. A series of speakers from across our creative and arts scene explained how they base themselves in the city, but much of their business is elsewhere in the likes of Leeds, Manchester, London and the States, meaning that much of their impact doesn’t touch Sheffield.

So why might that be the case? The most obvious reason is because that’s where there’s need, hunger or the cash to pay for what we’ve got to offer. Flash Developers Team Cooper illustrated this point with major clients such as Sky Movies and Sky Sports. Production Manager, Emma Cooper explained how they bridge business and entertainment, ‘we take the serious things in the world and make fun of them’. With over four million plays world wide of their game, Beastie Burgers, that’s some serious fun and impact.

Eco home Bolsterstone
Eco home Bolsterstone

Many of the speakers and organisations seemed to balance impact elsewhere with impact in Sheffield – from sleek apartments in Spain to new style back-to-backs near The Wicker and an eco-home in Bolsterstone (north Sheffield), Coda Studios have decorated the architectural landscape with their mission ‘to make it special’.

On the other hand, Rationale Productions seem really connected to home, reaching communities in South Yorkshire with hard-hitting stories through hip-hop theatre. Theirs was a strong message against gang culture but they also highlighted that impact is not just about making money; we can use art and culture to galvanise our communities and inspire young people. Ironically, Human Studios were billed for the event but couldn’t make it, as they were busy making impact elsewhere!

With distribution to major galleries in cities including Leeds, Manchester and Edinburgh, Article Magazine is fast making an impact as the Art and Culture mag of the north. The guys running it aren’t from Sheffield, nor in fact the north of England, yet explained the only place that it seems to be an issue is in Sheffield. So is there an element of parochialism that creates barriers to connections within the city?

Many of the creatives presenting talked about their work at home and abroad with a sense of achievement, it’s also testimony to the fact that things designed or made in Sheffield are still a great export. They seemed passionate about the city too, but there’s clearly a balance to be struck between what they can offer Sheffield and what Sheffield can offer them. I looked round the room and wondered how many creatives attending the event have chosen, like me, to live here for the vibe, people and quality of life, but not necessarily for the work opportunities. How can we best make an impact in the city without Sheffield being a charity case or will we always be the poor commercial relation to Leeds and Manchester?

Laura Sillars, Creative Director of  Site Gallery pointed out that recession is an interesting time as it forces us to think differently. Although it was great to see many familiar faces from our creative scene, I’d have also liked to see different ones too, from other Sheffield sectors in business, education and the community.  To realise any ambition to create more impact in Sheffield, we need their brains, expertise and local knowledge. For example, the event took place on the same night as the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce annual dinner, surely they and we, missed an opportunity?

I come from a digital and design background where multi-disciplinary working is a must for every creative project, because the results are more effective in terms of beauty, functionality and added value. Similarly, having recently interviewed some of the top female leaders in retail (an industry with serious cut and thrust), those at the top of their game are tackling the recession using collaboration and a cross-functional approach that massively boosts their teams’ morale and gets better results. I say let’s have some of that for Sheffield.

Moving out of our silos and cliques might be challenging, even painful, but surely it’s worth it to find those on our doorstep that not only appreciate art and culture, but also have the means, desire or need to invest in what we’ve got to offer. In any case, whether we like it or not spending cuts in Sheffield will continue to change the landscape and we can ill afford to stay in our garrets. The Sheffield Culture events can’t solve the problems and barriers to making more impact, but the dialogue they provoke can help us make a start, so it would be great to know what you think about what’s stopping us and how we can work it out. Here’s hoping that the second and third events, Excellence and Participation, will help us uncover new opportunities to inspire, connect and spread the word about Sheffield’s undeniable creative talent.

Next event: Thursday 21st September, when they’ll be linking up with University of Sheffield.


  1. It’s a really interesting point Lucy, after the event talking to people in the pub I realised even those I know well didn’t really know what it is that we do. As I’m really passionate and excited by what we do I feel like I talk about it all the time – but – maybe not in the right way and not always in the right directions. It’s definitely going to effect how we approach our marketing and PR from now on.

    1. Thanks Emma. I’m sure you talk about Team Cooper in the right way. As for the right direction I guess its driven by your business needs. The question is how to facilitate that happening more in Sheffield – what are the barriers, what would help you, is making an impact in Sheffield high on your agenda?

      Methinks the next event could ask specific questions like that to get feedback and ideas flowing on twitter, an online version of an old school suggestion box if you like.

    1. We’d love to see you down here. I think there’s plenty both cities can learn from each other, about joined up thinking and collaboration. We can all be Yorkshire together (says the manx lass to the southerner)!

  2. As an exile from Sheffield I’ll have a go at throwing a little light on it. Sheffield is well-known as the country’s biggest village and people don’t even go as far as Barnsley never mind Rotherham. My parents who’ve lived there all their lives see Hillsborough as some distant exotic land (they live in Gleadless on a direct tram route).

    So from my point of view Sheffield has some amazing qualities, culture, food, shops, art, pubs and is amazingly friendly. It just likes to keep itself to itself even withing the city. Now that doesn’t help at all I know. So how can the city change? Well it’s trying but it needs to break a lot of its bad habits first.

    The thing is after living in that Leeds for a few years you could easily swap ‘Sheffield’ for ‘Leeds’ in this comment. Maybe its a Yorkshire thing?

    1. Thanks for shedding some light on this Rich. I’m not from Sheffield but have spent almost half my life here. Yes there are some bad habits and I’d say parochialism falls into that category but I’ve generally found it an easy and open city to live in. It’s the working here and by extension having impact here which are more complicated. For example, I’ve chosen to do so probably at the expense of some the bigger career opportunities (my background is in journalism and languages). Having recently set up my own business already I’m finding my biggest opportunities outside of the city. Fortunately the Culture Vulture and the Sheffield Food campaign (a project to support food produced in Sheffield) have inspired me to have impact in Sheffield, but it’s pretty much on a goodwill basis and a constant juggling act with other projects which pay the bills.

      I know you work in Leeds, was that for work opportunities?

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