Sheffield’s branding as The Outdoor City is already reaping rewards by uniting passionate groups and bringing talent and money into the city.
The council’s attempt to give the city a new, memorable identity was launched in October.
The aim was to use Sheffield’s glorious surroundings and green spaces, combined with the wealth of outdoor enthusiasts and businesses, to sell the city around the world.
The Outdoor City umbrella covers major events such as this weekend’s Cliffhanger festival, which featured some of the world’s top climbers and bikers, right down to casual woodlands walks for anyone to take part in.
But the name is more than just a promotional tool.
“Cities prosper by their ability to attract talent, but also by creating their own talent and keeping it,” said the council’s deputy leader, Leigh Bramall.
“Quality of life is a massive point as to why people want to live in a city. If we get this right we have probably got a better sell on that than any other city. Then we have got a city that looks attractive on any level.”
The Outdoor City is not just a marketing exercise. But part of its aim is to change the way people think about Sheffield and banish the Full Monty image of industrial decline.
Coun Bramall said: “It seemed to me that Sheffield had the Peak District and culture of outdoor activities engendered in the city. Everyone thinks about it and how lucky we are, we know it plays a significant role in keeping people here. It’s the quality of life.
“Why don’t we put it all together and then built on that?”
Local authority projects often attract scepticism, particularly in the current climate of cuts and austerity. So councillors were keen to bring on board as many of the passionate outdoor groups and businesses as possible that have been making the most of Sheffield’s outdoors for decades.
Coun Bramall said: “This is a non-council kind of project, because we are coming together with a lot of partners nationally and potentially internationally, but also locally. We need to build on it further to get funding to push it, and that’s a challenge.” He added: “We’ve got advanced manufacturing, creative and digital industries, medical health services.
“This is about helping to attract, retain and develop the skills base to drive advanced manufacturing, creative and digital industries. It’s not the whole thing but part of the mix.
“We are building on something that’s known and real. We are not making this up. We’ve got credibility. And with everything else going on it all starts to add up.”
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The council brought Creative Sheffield on board to help create and promote The Outdoor City brand. Head of economic strategy Diana Buckley has already overseen measurable success. “We completed the website in October. That’s doing really well, particularly when we hold key events,” she said. “Not all users are local. At one point 40 per cent were looking from London.”
A group called The Outdoor City 100, made up of businesses, brands, organisations and community groups, was created to push the project forward.
Diana said: “We used them throughout the development of the strategy and listened to them. That’s why it’s been so successful, because we have got the city behind us.”
Events such as The Outdoor City Weekender, held in March, have also taken place. “That was a great success,” said Diana. “We started a new cycling event called the Magnificent Seven. We’re going to grow that. It will really act as a showcase for The Outdoor City.”
And earlier this year the team won a £100,000 grant from England Athletics to create more than 20 running routes across the city. The first seven opened earlier this month, and the reception has been excellent.
“When the site went live we got the most shares on Facebook and Twitter than anything we have done before,” said Diana.
Sheffield’s many innovative outdoors firms are heavily involved, and have been offered the support of the council’s business advisors. Through The Outdoor City 100, a network is being created to promote best practice and share expertise.
Diana said: “We want to keep going with what’s new, really establish the brand, get it out nationally and internationally. The ultimate aim is to make some large-scale city-wide bids. To come together as a city, led by all the partners.
“It’s about being authentic. Being led by people in that sector. It fits really well with culture, vibrancy and heritage in the city. There’s such an overlap between some of the city’s greatest distinctive assets.”
There are still challenges ahead and plenty of work to be done. Coun Bramall said he would know the project was a success when he mentioned Sheffield to someone elsewhere in the country, and they recognised it as The Outdoor City.
“Sheffield doesn’t shout about itself enough but this is us going out and doing that,” he said. “We have to continue to be the best.”