Sheffield: First UK City of Culture?

Parkhill by Jonathan Wilkinson of We Live Here
Parkhill by Jonathan Wilkinson of We Live Here

Our new Sheffield blogger Joanne Mateer gives us plenty of reasons to head south this spring to see for ourselves whether Sheffield deserves to win first UK City of Culture (what ever you think of there being such an accolade!)  Let us know what you think, or if you live in Sheffield what makes it special for you.

Sometimes it feels like Sheffield is forever the bridesmaid and never the bride. And because we’re a little bit awkward, that’s part of the attraction for us Sheffielders, as well as an irritation. I like to think of us as Yorkshire’s proud underdog, the kid on Sesame Street doing its own thing, understated and industrious.

Attending the Culture Debate at Sheffield City Hall a month ago only confirmed this state of affairs. A discussion about Sheffield’s bid for the UK’s first City of Culture in 2013 saw the assembled audience speak up to define their hometown’s culture: a strong DIY ethic, a long musical history influenced by heavy industry, established arts festivals, an independent visual art scene flourishing in old cutlery works and cultural institutions that natives consider their own. Just not very good at blowing our own trumpet.

And now we’ve made the final four for the UK City of Culture. Norwich, they say is the one to beat, after Birmingham and Derry. While I hear some dissenting voices – that Sheffield doesn’t need this accolade, we’re plenty cultural as we are, thanks – I think we do need a helping hand letting the rest of the Britain know just what our hills are alive with. So that’s what this post is intended to be all about – what makes Sheffield you know, special.


South Yorkshire’s first city is awash with art. Independent spaces thrive alongside some fine museums like The Graves (in the library)  and The Millennium Gallery,  which hosted the Vivienne Westwood exhibition last year.

Art Sheffield
Did you know Sheffield had its very own Biennial, Art Sheffield? This year’s theme is ‘Life: A User’s Manual’. There’s edgy work and events a-go-go all over the place: at Yorkshire Artspace, S1 Artspace and 18, The Moor, to name a few. The exhibition finishes on 1 May, so you’ve still got time to come see.

Bloc Projects
An artist-run studio complex with a great exhibition space. Great for under-the-radar work, and easily the best opening nights in the city.

David Mellor Visitor Centre
David Mellor Visitor Centre

David Mellor Visitor Centre, Hathersage
Pioneering Royal Designer for Industry David Mellor was a Sheffield boy born and bred, and worked out of the city until he moved operations to this disused gasworks in Hathersage, in the Peak District. It’s a fabulous museum, small but beautifully formed, plus you can go on a tour of their award-winning circular working factory. Or sit tight and enjoy exhibits like traffic lights and cutlery designed by Mellor while you sip on your cappuccino in their lovely cafe.

Cupola Gallery, Hillsborough
A charming independent gallery with local and national artists’ work to buy. Good for painting, craft, jewellery and small-scale sculpture. The first gallery I ever went to where I was offered a cup of tea and cake as I browsed. And they still do that on Saturdays!

Social places

Sheffield Tap
So we finally got a train station bar. And it’s no ordinary watering hole either. Think Brief Encounter with a slice of Yorkshire grit, around 300 beers on the menu, and the elegance of a Paris salon. Enough to miss your train for.

Bragazzis, Abbeydale Road
Probably my favourite café in the whole world. An Italian coffee bar with sandwiches straight outta Sicily, you can lounge here for hours and watch the day go by. Laid-back, rumble-tumble decor, great staff, top nosh. And they’ve just opened a restaurant next door. Nom.


We Live Here
Prints and postcards of Sheffield’s (and other northern cities) most beloved and beleagured buildings by Sheffield artist Jonathan Wilkinson. Plain beautiful.

Write for Your Life
A super blog dedicated to writing of all shapes and sizes by Sheffield-based writer and blogger, Iain Broome. Occasionally I guest-post over there.

The Sheffield Forum
Surely the biggest local forum in the UK. If there’s something going off in Sheffield, from a minor earthquake to what’s on special offer at Morrisons, you’ll find it here. Nearly 100,000 members and huge event listings too.


The Clench
Welcome to the Deep South Yorkshire. Dirty blues, dirty rock, just dirty. Tight as Wrangler jeans and sounds as big as Tennessee, these boys are ones to watch. Catch them if you can.

The Big Eyes Family Players
Imagine a sunset over your favourite park at the end of summer, drinking wine with your best mates, some alt-folk and a good dose of Gallic heartbreak. You get the idea. Divine.



Rare and Racy, Devonshire Green
Only Sheffield could have Rare and Racy. A rare music and books emporium, you’ll find untold riches in here. Latterly taken to selling local art too.

The Antiques Quarter, Broadfield Road
OK so I made that name up. Someone needed to. There really is a burgeoning antiques quarter on Broadfield Road, between Abbeydale and Chesterfield Road. Whether you’re into Victoriana or mid-century modern, you’ll most likely find it here. The Antiques Centre is my particular favourite, plus new kid on the block The Antiques Emporium looks promising, and there are lots of other great small shops dotted around Abbeydale Road.

Come up and see us, make us smile
I hope I’ve well and truly whet your appetite now. And that those City of Culture judges read this. But mainly that you do. When are you coming to see us?


  1. A great reminder (as if one was needed!) of all that’s lovely about Sheffield. Being mostly away from the place these days, reading this brought a tear to my eye. Well said Mrs Mateer!

  2. oh come off it, sheffield most definitely does not deserve to win, unless by culture you mean the building of ‘luxury’ flats and apartments. the kind of stuff you have listed can be found in any city. check out for an example of sheffield’s philistine attitude.

  3. Thanks for all your comments – keep ’em coming! And we’d love it if you could help add to this list of cultural things to make and do in Sheffield.

  4. I agree with all Ms Mateer says so eloquently and there’s more….

    Our beautiful Lyceum theatre, the revamped and exciting Crucible and all our independent flourishing small theatre companys, my own favourite being the tiny Victorian Latern theatre in Nether Edge. Built originally for a weathly landowners daughter to play ‘theatres’ in ! Sheffield has culture by the bucket load luv!

  5. thanks for the musical big-up, from meself and the rest of the Big Eyes Family!

    A very interesting read, Joanne, I’d agree with you on pretty much everything! I’d like to champion the splendid art/craft establishment ‘The Old Sweet Shop’ in Nether Edge…and The Sheaf View, the perfect pub…

  6. Big omission – Site Gallery!!! And Sheffield Contemporary Art Forum who run Art Sheffield, and other events throughout the year.

  7. Well me and a friend are doing a North West round up of comic shops of which you have plenty, so I’ll have a gander and see what I think. Let’s put it this way you can’t do any worse than Liverpool did.

  8. Yes, all these have-a-go opportunities, very nice. But most unfortunately for Sheffield we almost never produce art that people will travel for & bring in money to the city. And when we do, Sheffield people too often aren’t interested. The mediaeval exhibition in the Millenium Gallery (couldn’t all Sheffield’s arty creativity come up with a name a bit more enticing??) was wonderful, but almost unseen except by school parties. Occasionally we have superb international dance – seen by a half full audience. The art you all describe is really local community centre stuff – very nice, and apparently popular. Which is all well & good, but it means if anyone wants to see really good drama you have to go to Leeds or Manchester, or London. Yes, Anthony Sher has been twice, bless him, otherwise zilch – musicals & endlessly touring same-old plays. We have loyally put up with theatre refurbs for an inexcusable time in the expectation of goodies to come, to find the seating in the Studio is horrid, those damn lights are still there and the programme looks like it’s trying to compete with City Hall! And even the grass outside has disappeared! The element that makes me angry is the recollection of Mark Elder pleading for the City Hall’s very recent refurbishments to be re-done as the acoustics are now really awful – not only was it staggering to hear that musicians can’t hear what the rest of the band/orchestra are playing on stage, but the conversation, in the main hall, was impossible as everything that was said bounced off the walls and was repeated. Heroically the Halle will be playing this year, but not as often as they used to, or as they’d like to. I suppose I’m saying that unfortunately there seems to be insufficient demand for the kind of art that people will travel for, or even get out of bed for unless it’s just round the corner. So yes, go for it, WEA-style culture rules – fine, but why oh why do we stop at that, why oh why don’t we aim for the very best as well as the local and proudly home made. Maybe because we have a history of building white elephants & are fearful of producing more? Perhaps the Council just doesn’t get it? Is our identity now ‘used to be’?? I fear your description of Sheffield’s culture is all too apt – a diy ethic. Let’s face it – people come to Sheffield because it’s so easy to get out of, in other words for the stunning Derbyshire landscape & its unique rock climbing opportunities & ancient historic buildings, or the glories of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. We seem to have become a city led by a Council of boring & unimaginative, bureaucratic & process-driven functionaries who can’t even see future consequences when they stand up & scream.. The city would never have been built if there hadn’t been entrepreneurialism and imagination, risk taking and daring to dream. I love the place, but I fear it’s sliding slowly but very definitely down the pan. Hey ho.

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