Sheffield's heritage is no longer a battleground, but a playing field where we can all win

Sheffielders love their history and their heritage.

Tuesday, 23rd February 2021, 8:59 am
Heritage Strategy for Sheffield on which Joined Up Heritage Sheffield and many supporting individuals and organisations have been working on. Mural Backfields. (J Robin Hughes)

The Sheffield History Facebook group, with over 22,000 members, is one of many.

When the Central Library was built, it featured a special Sheffield Collection room, to meet the demands of local people.

Star and Telegraph articles on times past are popular today, but both were printing items about "Old Sheffield" even back in the nineteenth century.

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Heritage Strategy for Sheffield on which Joined Up Heritage Sheffield and many supporting individuals and organisations have been working on. Sheffield Castle dig.(Wessex Archaeology)

Stories and reminiscences linked to place are what make us feel that we belong, and we can't wait to share them with any visitor or recent arrival.

So we appreciate heritage, but why do we need it? The economy, for a start.

The heritage sector in England contributes £31bn annually.

Add to that the more creative, productive businesses that the historic environment brings in, and increased property and rental values.

Heritage Strategy for Sheffield on which Joined Up Heritage Sheffield and many supporting individuals and organisations have been working on.

Visiting heritage sites improves wellbeing as much as playing sports, and heritage activities can underpin all five of MIND's five ways to wellbeing.

Let's not forget the environment.

The fastest carbon savings are achieved by re-using historic premises: the greenest building is the one that is already built. And heritage is a rich resource for learning, not just about our past, but about each other.

All these will be essential as we struggle to find our feet amongst the economic and social fallout of a global pandemic.

Heritage Strategy for Sheffield on which Joined Up Heritage Sheffield and many supporting individuals and organisations have been working on. Vintage Sheffield bus. (J Robin Hughes)

That's why Joined Up Heritage Sheffield brought together people from across the community to create a Heritage Strategy for the city.

We believe that Sheffield is the first place to build a strategy from the grassroots, not top down. We need this for decision-makers to see the benefits and make heritage a central concern. We need it to show heritage funders that Sheffield wants and merits investment. We need it to bolster the great wealth and variety of heritage activity pursued by Sheffield people every day. We need it, to bring out that character and distinctiveness that makes it the best place to live, work, relax, study or invest.

Many strategies focus only on historic structures and landscapes. In another first for the city, our strategy takes a broad definition of heritage, tangible and intangible, relating to all people and cultures in Sheffield.

Diversity and inclusion are critical, so that we all benefit by sharing what is valuable and meaningful to every group, to every community.

This means telling everyone's story, looking afresh at the places and ideas that make them feel at home. It means asking everyone what "heritage" means to them.

It means re-examining our history to see which communities and groups found themselves forgotten or sidelined. The city needs to make its heritage accessible to all, in a way that spans the spectrum of race and ethnicity, gender, orientation, physical ability, and age. It needs to fill the blank spaces in the map of heritage.

That is how we create a fairer city for those who live here now, a more welcoming city for visitors and investors. Our health, wellbeing and prosperity depend upon it.

Above all, the strategy is practical. It has a ten-year, 36-point action plan, and proposes a Partnership of local stakeholders - major city organisations and voluntary groups - to deliver it.

We want to create a community-generated list of local heritage assets - the People’s Heritage List - spanning all areas, cultures and communities, all types of structures, landscapes, artefacts, with the best on a Local List recognised in planning decisions. It could even include intangibles: stories, customs and traditions. We want a more accessible Historic Environment Record, so anyone with information can contribute.

We want to research visitor markets, and how Sheffield can use its amazingly rich heritage to market itself to the world using a heritage information hub. Better understanding is needed of how heritage promotes physical and mental wellbeing in this city, and can be used in "social prescribing".

In a city awarded little more than half the National Lottery Heritage Fund money per capita of London, we must improve our profile with national heritage and funding bodies.

The most important actions are to build relationships, bringing together heritage volunteers, the Council and other decision makers, cultural organisations such as the Cultural Collective, the business community and the city's educators. Together we can make these aspirations into achievements.

Sheffielders value their heritage, but ask them if the same is true of everyone and you may get a sceptical response. There will be grumbles made about developers, and fingers pointed at the Council.

Yet Sheffield City Council have warmly welcomed the strategy, committing to working in partnership. They want to champion the role of heritage, and enable it to play a fuller role in the future of the city’s economic, social and environmental wellbeing.

The Sheffield Property Association is even more enthusiastic. Both universities have been invaluable in bringing the strategy into being. There is huge ambition and goodwill to move forward and realise the potential which we all knew was there. All that was needed was to bring people together and make common cause.

The work starts now. The partnership must be set up. Priorities must be set.

The paper action plan must become a real plan of action.

Much time and effort will be required, voluntary and professional. We cannot be complacent, but we can be optimistic.

Heritage is no longer a battleground, but a playing field where we can all win.

You can find the full strategy at https://www.joinedupheritagesheffield.org.uk/news/a-heritage-strategy-for-sheffield/.