"Why Sheffield will always be my New York - a love letter to the city centre"

Back in August 2005, a small, scared and very uncool teenager stepped off the train at Sheffield Railway Station.

Thursday, 1st August 2019, 09:55 am
Diving into the clothes selection at vintage shop Vulgar on Division Street Picture: Chris Etchells

Her first journey into the city she was about to make home in passed by historical buildings and venues – from the iconic Leadmill nightclub with its unbelievable music connections and cheap vodka cokes to the 13th century Sheffield Cathedral.

There were shiny fountains mirroring the busy scenes around them and incredible public spaces, like the Peace Gardens. Packed pubs, exciting restaurants and shops were on every corner, or so it seemed.

Trams thundered up and down the streets, connecting pockets of the city centre to one another, from Fitzalan Square to City Hall, and West Street to University.

Ellen Beardmore at Plantology on Division Street

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To that 18-year-old from a quiet West Yorkshire village (Chickenley, anyone? Didn't think so) with barely a corner shop to its name, arriving in Sheffield was like turning up in the middle of New York.

That 18-year-old was me, the Steel City my Big Apple. And I never did go back to the village.

Like so many people in Sheffield, it’s my adopted home for life, even if the accent will never quite be right.

The reason for this indulgent trip down memory lane is that tomorrow The Star will reveal a new retail project aimed at celebrating Sheffield city centre. The full details of the scheme can be found in Friday's edition.

Ellen Beardmore admires the display at Moonko. Picture: Chris Etchells

Discussing the launch of the project with the team meant thinking hard about Sheffield city centre.

If a single topic is more talked of or written about in Sheffield then it generally involves 11 men and a football. It’s something that connects every one of us - we all use it, pass through it, love it or hate it, an ever increasing number of us live or work there - or in some cases both.

I love it. And that's not to say it hasn’t had hard, as well as controversial times.

For the first, fourth and fifth years of my time in Sheffield I lived in various parts of the city centre, and for the last eight I’ve been lucky enough to work there at The Star.

Diving into the vintage clothes at Vulgar on Division Street Picture: Chris Etchells

Going to 'town’ for a drink, a shop or even just a walk has been a constant.

While I can't quite remember the famous Wimpy bar – and more's the pity - I do remember the newspaper vendors who sold The Star on the streets, the huge Gap that stood on the corner of Pinstone Street, the much loved Rare and Racy bookshop.

Shopping for my first flat would involve a call into Blue Banana, then in Orchard Square, for cheap decor with a drink at the Ha! Ha! Bar afterwards.

It's still a source of regret that I never went to the Bluewater pub in Victoria Quays.

The old atmospheric Castle Market was a hotbed of ingredients and quotes for Star stories on anything from changing legislation to St Patrick’s Day celebrations.

Of course it is easy to forget now what a stir moving the market to The Moor actually was, at the time it dominated The Star’s pages for months.

Sceptical I, like most of Sheffield, just could not imagine The Moor becoming the city’s new main high street. Ten, maybe five years ago you just would not have spent much time there at all.

But a walk down there today shows it thriving.

You can catch a movie, eat an authentic Thai lunch or pick up craft materials in the market, shop at big brands like Sketchers. Gap is back and more stores are coming soon.

Then there’s Division Street, a more charming and indie-proud street than many city centres can boast.

Shops like shoe specialist Size? and the tiny independents behind The Forum seemed like unattainable dream shops to me as an apprentice journalist. The West One complex – where I ate my first meal in Sheffield - was a mind-blowing concept.

Today there can be nothing better than a stroll between vintage shops Mooch and Vulgar, a browse in Within Reason and a stop for an ice cream milkshake or an artisan coffee at Steam Yard.

Oh, did I mention the cafes?

If you want an example of how much Sheffield city centre has evolved and improved over the last decade then you only need to look at the cafes.

Kiwi inspired Tamper is a byword for brunch and great coffee, the always-packed Marmadukes a must do for any cake fan.

Eat your way around the world, literally, with the traders at hip hangout Kommune food hall or call into the Union Street co-working space for speciality cuisine that changes daily.

Mind the queues waiting for US-style pancake breakfasts at The Cabin and pick up a pre-office caffeine fix from any number of places.

It’s hard to keep up with the new openings – there's a cereal cafe open all day and night now - and if you prefer a nice scone with a cuppa try afternoon tea at the Leopold Hotel or Lynne's Pantry.

There’s still lots of room for improvement in town, of course there is.

Chapel Walk, home to some fantastic shops like Bird’s Yard as well as the best pork sandwiches, really deserves a break so it can reach its full potential.

And it will be interesting to see what happens next on Fargate; always the beating heart of the city centre, once the subject of a plan to build a roof over it.

We laughed at the time, but look at Trinity Leeds today.

Which brings me to another point.

Sheffield city centre isn't Manchester. It isn't Leeds. The chances are its never going to be quite like either of them – and that's a good thing.

But what it is is ours. It’s home, work and play to thousands and thousands of Sheffielders. It’s the scene through the windo that makes you smile when the train pulls back into the station.

Let's celebrate what we do have and show it a little bit of love.

One lucky Star reader could win £120 prize value to use for a day out on The Moor.

You could treat yourself to a new outfit, visit The Light cinema and eat a delicious meal at one of the restaurants in a fantastic competition ahead of the launch of the new city centre retail project tomorrow.

To enter share a selfie of you shopping in Sheffield city centre with @sheffieldstar on Twitter or @thesheffieldstar on Instagram, using the hashtag #shopintown by Thursday August 8, 2019 at noon.

One winner will be chosen at random and data will only be used for the purposes of this competition. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit www.jpimedia.co.uk for more details.