Business is booming for the diverse range of pubs, clubs, restaurants and culture spots that make up Sheffield’s award-winning city centre.
The success, which includes Purple Flag status and national night-time economy awards, is in part down to a policy of collaboration, rather than competition.
But it is important for the city to shout about what makes it such a great place, and not try to echo or emulate the style of rivals such as Leeds or Manchester.
So says Nick Simmonite, manager of the Frog and Parrot in Division Street. Nick is a Sheffield BID – Business Improvement District – board member, and is working with people from all sectors to give the city centre a ‘shot in the arm’.
“It’s only very recently that we have been able to put a stamp on the city centre,” he said. “The city centre never existed in Sheffield 50 years ago. It was purely a ribbon development as much as anything.
“We don’t have quarters like Manchester. It’s not like London. It’s different. It’s the biggest village in the world.
“We are already a tourist destination. We don’t market ourselves loudly enough overseas. Instead of resting on our laurels we need to market ourselves beyond the city limits. But we also have a lot of people within the city who haven’t been in town for ages.”
Nick’s involvement in the BID group came through his work with Unight, which he calls a ‘rag-tag collection of bars and nightclubs that operate late into the night’.
The group has been meeting monthly for about a decade, sharing best practice and working to improve the city centre as a whole rather than focusing on individual businesses.
Nick said: “We have guest speakers from Trading Standards, the Security Industry Authority, the Performing Arts Society, the Sheffield Drugs and Alcohol Co-ordination Team. For example, the latest initiative is the anti-begging campaign.
“We try to drive standards by sharing best practice and really getting behind the Best Bar None scheme. The Sheffield scheme itself is the best scheme in the country. We trotted off to Westminster a couple of months ago to pick up that award.”
Best Bar None is a national project supported by the Home Office. The idea behind it is to promote the responsible management and operation of licensed premises. Sheffield is one of 75 UK cities to have its own Best Bar None scheme.
Bars, clubs and pubs can apply to be accredited by the scheme, which is managed by Sheffield Drugs and Alcohol Co-ordination Team – DACT. So far 40 premises within the city centre ring road, on Ecclesall Road and Sharrowvale Road have joined. There is an annual award ceremony where prizes are given out in a variety of categories.
But the scheme also allows Sheffield to share best practice nationally. The city was recognised at the 2015/16 Best Bar None UK ceremony with the best overall scheme and most innovative scheme awards.
This was followed by night-time economy and vibrancy awards from the Association of Town and City Management.
These awards go a long way to retaining the city centre’s Purple Flag accreditation. The Purple Flag works similar to the Green Flag scheme for parks and Blue Flag for beaches.
And the police, door staff and other organisations and groups such as the city centre ambassadors are heavily involved, keeping the streets safe while people are out enjoying their night.
“Sheffield without a doubt has the greatest and safest night out,” said Nick.
“We don’t treat each other as competition, we complement each other. We can only take a little piece of the pie. It’s far easier if you just grow the size of the pie.
“We plan our policies and procedures together, whether it’s the easy stuff like how we deal with lost property to staff training, spreading the anti-begging campaign, significant charity funding and working closely with the universities. We want to work with them to make damned sure we take care of our student population.
“The Purple Flag assessors were all very impressed by the age range of our customers within the city centre. This is not just a student town. The age of customers actually is 18 to 80.”
A key part of what sets the city centre apart is its culture. From hard-hitting plays at the Lyceum and snooker at the Crucible to indie icons at the Leadmill and bigger events such as Tramlines, Sheffield is alive with entertainment. Again, says Nick, this is because people work together.
“Tramlines is a great example of how each of us step up,” he said.
“It’s an expensive time but it’s a great weekend. You can probably watch close to 50 different acts in the Frog and Parrot that week.
“Catfish and the Bottlemen played here a few years ago for free. All of a sudden at Tramlines they blew up.
“The city centre is so close to the heart of the creative industry that we don’t quite realise what’s going on. You have to step away.”
He added: “I’m not aware of any other city, bar say Liverpool, that musicians give that city stamp. Sheffield has a fantastic musical heritage that far outshines any other city I can think of.”
Another feather in Sheffield’s cap came from a report calling it the real ale capitol of the world, with one brewery for every 23,991 people – nearly five times as many as in London.
According to Nick, this is not new information. But it’s another thing Sheffield needs to shout louder about.
“Beer is the glue that holds it together, that fuels that creativity. Slowly but surely we are becoming a tourist destination,” he said.
Sheffield BID is a five-year project to improve the city centre, comprising more than 500 businesses. It uses a levy raised from businesses on various schemes.
Nick said: “We have decided as a group we are doing to do that and spend the money there to go over and above what’s already been done. We have an agreement with the council that says existing services can’t be touched. We can’t substitute, but we can supplement.
“It’s about a tangible feeling of a great city centre.”