Sheffield's heritage strategy 'must be inclusive and workable'

Sheffield heritage strategy conference held at Sheffield Hallam University.
Sheffield heritage strategy conference held at Sheffield Hallam University.
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A strategy for Sheffield's heritage must be inclusive and allow all city residents to tell their stories.

That was the key message from a conference designed to kick-start work on a plan to better promote and co-ordinate attractions, events and exhibitions.

Sheffield heritage strategy conference held at Sheffield Hallam University. Speaker Malcolm Cumberbatch.

Sheffield heritage strategy conference held at Sheffield Hallam University. Speaker Malcolm Cumberbatch.

And those working on Sheffield's heritage strategy were left with plenty to think about from conversations covering a wide range of topics.

Among the speakers at the conference was Muna Abdi, a lecturer of psychology education at Sheffield Hallam University, where the conference took place.

Speaking about the best way to discover the stories of Sheffield residents, she stressed the importance of creating spaces where people were comfortable talking about themselves and their communities.

Bringing up her background as a British-born child of Somali refugees, she referred to a sense of 'placelessness' suffered by many first and second generation Sheffield residents.

Sheffield heritage strategy conference held at Sheffield Hallam University.

Sheffield heritage strategy conference held at Sheffield Hallam University.

"I had never seen Somalia but always thought I didn't belong here in Sheffield," she said.

"I'm now working with young people who are second generation Somalis. When the idea of heritage comes up the only thing they know is colonialism. The narratives that they are hearing are negative. So their heritage is symbolic of a place they have never visited.

"For them to have a space here that they can call home, they need to have a sense of heritage. But they don't see anything in the city that represents them."

Referring back to the heritage strategy and how to build it, Muna said it was important to have 'continuous interaction' with people all over Sheffield in order to find out what was important to them.

Sheffield heritage strategy conference held at Sheffield Hallam University. Dr Robbie Aitken

Sheffield heritage strategy conference held at Sheffield Hallam University. Dr Robbie Aitken

"There needs to be a system where communities can come out of their little silos and interact, and be encouraged that they belong," she added.

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Darnall-based community worker Lloyd Samuels said the city's young people found it particularly hard to align themselves with Sheffield's heritage and history.

Sheffield heritage strategy conference held at Sheffield Hallam University. Jon Bradley.

Sheffield heritage strategy conference held at Sheffield Hallam University. Jon Bradley.

"The African Caribbean community here are attaching themselves to the American gangster lifestyle rather than playing on their own heritage, because they haven't got those layers of history they can identify with," he said.

"We have to talk about the top to the bottom. We have to give them all these layers."

Lloyd mentioned Arthur Wharton, widely considered to be the first black professional football player in the world, who played for Sheffield United and Rotherham in the 1890s, as a figure who can inspire the city's young people.

"What kids don't realise is he was part of their history," he said. "He played for Sheffield United but he also fought for local causes. But he died a sudden death and was forgotten very quickly.

"What that did for these young people was to give them something to attach themselves to.

"History is really important to young people. The most important thing is it gives us the pride and the stories of individuals who have gone through the hardships and made it out and pushed things forward."

Teacher and mediator Malcolm Cumberbatch said history was being made every day, but it was important to consider whose history was being reported and prioritised. The conference was linked to Black History Month, but Malcolm said that meant black history was absent for 11 months of the year.

He said: "What we are looking at is if it's not white history, it's not valuable.

"It's our history. It's white and black and all colours. But people don't see that because there's a hierarchy of value in history."

Malcolm pointed to the programme for Sheffield's Off The Shelf literary festival, which featured 'hardly anyone' from a black background.

"We have got a lot of people in Sheffield that want to do something at Off The Shelf. A lot of festivals in the city don't have the requisite reflection of other minorities. And there's a problem there. It's got to be dealt with."

Dr Robbie Aitken, reader in imperial history at Sheffield Hallam, presented some of his research into the history of black people in Germany. He echoed the theme of 'placelessness', which he said had affected African people in Germany after the First World War.

"I am trying to make this research not just accessible to academics but educationalists, post graduates, undergraduates and even schoolchildren, " he said.

The city's heritage strategy is due to be launched at a follow-up conference in a year's time. Jon Bradley is part of the Joined Up Heritage group trying to put that strategy together, and said there was plenty to think about after the most recent event.

He said there were increasing numbers of 'different views and perspectives' emerging as work went on.

"There has been a lot of passion expressed throughout this strategy process," he said. "It just emphasises the responsibility that we have in terms of delivering to different people's expectations.

"We have got to ensure that the framework we have for this strategy isn't overly complex and is workable. Maybe we need a bit of an independent view to craft all that material into workability."

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