Universities help to spark Brexit debate

Politics students and academics from Sheffield universities brought the Brexit debate to the streets of a predominantly pro-Brexit part of the city.

Tuesday, 2nd April 2019, 10:52 am
Updated Friday, 5th April 2019, 6:37 pm
Photo by: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

The Brexit on the Valley outreach event took place at Gleadless Methodist Church and the John O’Gaunt pub, Gleadless Valley.

Ahead of the event students knocked on doors in the area to hand out invitations and chat to residents about the UK leaving the European Union.

Participants discussed a series of questions including ‘what does Brexit mean to you?’ and ‘what do politicians need to hear?’

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Dr Knut Roder, principal lecturer in politics at Sheffield Hallam University, said: "We wanted to flip the classroom, reach out to members of the Gleadless community and find out more about the concerns and issues people face in Gleadless. We wanted to talk about the all-domineering topic of Brexit but learn what it means to locals and how universities can support the residents there.

"The questions were debated one after another with plenty of engagement and always in a positive and respectful way, even when disagreements were clearly voiced.

"We would like to see more conversations going on between the people of Sheffield and the universities so that we can serve everybody in the community by amplifying local concerns and doing our bit as a civic university to help address local needs."

He added: "It was a great experience to engage with the people of Gleadless in a two-way dialogue and we hope this is the beginning of a new level of engagement."

They also discussed issues in the area, people said they were most concerned about the financial problems caused by Universal Credit, reliance on the food bank, increasing poverty, lack of infrastructure development and lack of job opportunities. Dr Roder said some linked these issues with the EU.

Matthew Wood, lecturer in politics at The University of Sheffield said: "Organising this event was a real eye-opener for me. Sheffield is so divided in terms of the areas that voted leave and remain, and we wanted to let people have their say who we don't usually talk to in our 'remain-heavy' part of the city. We worked with The Friends of Gleadless Valley to design a flyer and distribute it to as many residents on the estate as possible.

"At the event we made sure local residents got to speak their minds on a broad set of questions, while university staff sat and listened for most of the hour and a half session. I saw people angry and frustrated with Brexit, feeling they don't have a say about all kinds of issues ranging from jobs and health to local democracy and food banks.

"The people who came weren't uninformed or uneducated, but they did speak about feeling patronised and side-lined by politicians. One local resident even suggested there should be a 'people's parliament' to give the public a more direct say in decision making.”

William McGahey, BA politics student at Sheffield Hallam University, said: "It was a privilege to have the opportunity to be involved in a project that aims to enable their voices to be heard. I hope this will be the start of a long-term relationship between the universities and communities in Sheffield, so we can develop a two-way relationship based on listening and learning from each other."

Fellow student Szilvia Mattinson said: "I really enjoyed being part of this event…It was great how well everyone got on, regardless of their differences. It felt like a bit of a counselling session, facilitated by the universities. I think it was beneficial for everyone who was there, the locals and university staff and the students."