Sheffield Hallam University will lead the way for the city after signing a sponsorship deal with the Tour de France.
The world’s biggest annual sporting event has its Grand Depart in Yorkshire this summer and the second stage will finish in Sheffield on July 6
It will provide the city with an opportunity to showcase itself to the world with conferences and exhibitions planned for the run up to the action beginning.
Leeds has garnered most of the headlines since it was announced the race would be coming to Yorkshire for the first time.
The presentation part of the Grand Depart - the Tour’s name for the opening stages of the race – and the start of the first stage will be in West Yorkshire.
But Sheffield Hallam University Vice Chancellor Philip Jones is determined that Sheffield benefits from the investment by tourism body Welcome to Yorkshire and the city council by bringing the race to the region. He told The Star: “Businesses in Sheffield are looking for an organisation to come forward and take a bit of a lead.
“We think by sponsoring the Tour we’ll do that as a focal point for businesses in the Sheffield city region.
“There is a huge thirst for it. There’s people in a range of businesses who have approached me and said we must be doing something for the Tour.
“This is our way of making a contribution.”
Professor Jones is a keen sportsman and has been a driving force in ensuring that sport plays a big part in students’ lives at Sheffield Hallam.
He said sport and self development go hand-in-hand: “I’m a cyclist and a rock climber who took up biking because me knees were getting dodgy.
“I race cyclo-cross and mountain bikes, but I’m not very good. I just enjoy it like I enjoy running and rock climbing. I find it a way of relaxing and providing an interest outside work. It’s a fantastic community to be part of. The fact I’m a keen sportsman means it’s good when I see the university involved.
“I think sport provides a really vital dimension for students, whether they’re elite level competitive or whether they play for their local team.
“Sport is a brilliant way of developing skills, working as a team. Our sports research centre has shown that graduates who play sport typically earn more than other graduates. Sport adds to your curriculum vitae. It’s something that employers look for.”
The university is set to provide unique volunteering opportunities at the Tour for its students.
And Professor Jones’ view is echoed by 22-year-old Sport Development with Coaching student Jessica Russell, who has used the university’s links with major sports events such as the London Olympic Games to gain valuable experience.
Jessica from Suffolk, who is hoping to become a teacher, said: “I’ve always really enjoyed volunteering. It’s a great way to get to know new people and the chance to try something I’ve never done before. I want to get into teaching and, although volunteering at major events isn’t necessarily the route to take, meeting new people and doing different things and learning new skills and coping under pressure will all help in the future.
“I’ve taken advantage of every opportunity Sheffield Hallam have offered me. I was in Tanzania recently coaching community football and working in schools, doing leadership training with students aged 18-21 for two months. I’d never been abroad before so it was the most amazing opportunity. I think it all builds you as a person.
“When I had my interview for my PGCE school direct placement I could draw on every experience.
“Working the Tour de France will offer even more than working on the London Olympics because it’s in Sheffield where I have been for the last three years. It’s where I want to stay, so as far as benefits of Sheffield go it’s immeasurable.”
Jessica is also confident that the city will be a big hit with visitors who come to watch the race.
She said: “Sheffield has a buzz. As soon as I came to Sheffield I felt at home – it’s hard to explain. It’s just one of those places that is buzzing but is also homely.”
The sponsorship deal by Sheffield Hallam is a canny bit of business by the university. Not only will they receive the benefit of local exposure they will also be part of the publicity caravan that precedes each Tour stage.
The partnership is the first time an academic institution has sponsored the race and Professor Jones believes it will be a success.
He said: “When I heard about the race coming to the region I thought I’d cycle the three stages and raise money for charity, which I may still do.
As vice chancellor I thought we could raise quite a bit of money. But when I spoke to people within the university they said we can do something much bigger than that. We can use it to showcase the work we do across the university.
“We identified sport, health, management, product design, engineering – all of which can be exemplified from the Tour. There’s a range of activities we can do which will showcase what we do. We’re already using it with schools and colleges, working with young people to tell them what you can do at university, and will use the Tour to illustrate that.”
Leading the way
Sheffield Hallam students have been able to benefit from unique volunteering opportunities at major events, including the Beijing Olympics and Delhi Commonwealth Games, with over 200 Sheffield Hallam students taking up key roles at London 2012 – more than any other university.
This new partnership with the Tour de France means that students will once again be able to benefit in this way, with a range of volunteer roles exclusively on offer to them.
The university has a long-established reputation in sport, running one of the UK’s largest ranges of sports degree programmes.
It is also home to three world-class sports research centres, which have worked with governing bodies such as UK Sport and football’s Premier League, and with a variety of national teams and elite athletes on sports science programmes.
Researchers recently won the contract to test goal-line technology in the Premier League and used their engineering skills to build a sled for daredevil Guy Martin to break the land speed world record.