In August, I popped over to Sheffield to meet up with some of the people involved in setting up the new Sheffield Salon. Over several pints of summer ale on a balmy evening in the beer garden of the Kelham Island Tavern, I found out a bit about them and their ideas and motivation for setting up Yorkshire’s latest debating forum.
How has Sheffield Salon come about?
A few of us who lived here and who regularly went to the Leeds Salon and the Battle of Ideas festival down in London got together and decided we wanted something similar that we didn’t have to commute to.
We’re a mixed bunch, people who work in town, at the university and a few students.
How will the Salons work?
The Salon’s format will vary from debate from debate, but they’ll generally have a speaker or a panel kicking off a discussion on a contentious or interesting topic, allowing the audience to get stuck in to the issue.
What is the Salon’s philosophy or outlook?
Most of us would probably describe ourselves as liberal in the broad sense. A lot of people see mainstream politics as pretty boring nowadays (we wouldn’t disagree), and we’re hoping to provide a forum for thrashing out some of the new dividing lines in society today. We’re in favour of freedom of speech, and want people of every perspective to come along to get involved. We want to promote a culture of debate, where people can disagree strongly with each other and still go for a drink afterwards.
Who do you hope to attract?
Anyone really! Young, old, from all walks of life. People who are serious about getting to grips with issues, whatever perspective they come from. It’s certainly not going to be an academics-only zone (although they’re very welcome!).
What type of topics do you aim to cover?
Some things will be “political”, such as the first debate we’re holding on tuition fees and the meaning of education; but we’re hoping to bring a deeper discussion than just the accountant’s question of how high fees should be. Others will be more social and cultural; in the New Year we’re looking at holding debates on the rise of China, and the changing role of the family.
Where do you hope to hold the Salons?
We’re hoping to hold the salons at venues that are a little classier than your usual above-the-pub public meeting. We’re also looking to tie in our activities with what venues in town are up to. For instance we’re looking at holding debates in conjunction with some of Sheffield Museums and Galleries’ exhibitions in the coming year.
How do you feel the Salon format differs from other public discussion forums?
The big selling point of the salon format is the level of audience engagement. Whilst we’re aiming to have great speakers, we’re not putting them up there to just be talking heads – we want them to kick off a discussion with the audience. People won’t be there to just ask questions, but will be an integral part of the debate.
The first Sheffield Salon will be on Tuesday 8th November, when Thom Arnold (President of University of Sheffield Student Union), Dennis Hayes (Professor of Education, University of Derby) and Anthony Arblaster (recently retired Reader in Politics, University of Sheffield) will be discussing ‘In the age of the £27,000 degree, is higher education still worth the candle?’, at The Exhibition Space, Jessop West Building, University of Sheffield, 1 Upper Hanover Street, Sheffield S3 7RA, 6.30-8.30pm. Admission: £4/£3 concessions. All welcome!
This will be followed early in the New Year by a debate on China (details tbc).
For details about Sheffield Salon and to join their mailing list visit their website here.