Even though I’m a relative newcomer to the city, shopping trips in Sheffield form some of my most vivid childhood memories. Growing up in West Yorkshire in the 1980s, a day out to buy a shell suit or a Jason Donovan cassette meant a train to Leeds or a bus to Huddersfield.
So there was a great excitement in the Harvey household when, in 1990, Meadowhall opened its doors. To my eight-year-old eyes, here was a shiny-fronted, glass-domed paradise, home to all the colours of Sweater Shop jumpers and Body Shop soaps I could imagine. I was completely oblivious that Meadowhall could have a knock-on effect for shops in Sheffield city centre - my knowledge of Sheffield stretched to being vaguely aware there was a football team, confusingly, called Wednesday. Oh, and those big towers by the motorway, which always meant I was nearly home from long car journeys down south.
The Christmas Meadowhall trip became an annual family treat. I remember December 1991, when me, my brother and sister were bundled into our red Peugeot 309 for the much-anticipated trip down the M1. My brother and I were singing to Bryan Adams, my sister was snoozing in her car seat and my dad was, presumably, wondering what he’d let himself in for. That day I chose a huge, pink-haired Troll as my Christmas gift. She wore a white sailor suit. I called her ‘Meadow’, after Meadowhall.
It wasn’t until the early 2000s I returned to Sheffield with my then-boyfriend, now-husband, who was a student here. I asked him where the shops in town were. He had very little idea of the geography of the city centre, outside of a vague understanding of how to find Corporation and the Leadmill.
‘But where do you go shopping?’ I asked. He shrugged. Broomhill, Crookes, West Street - he never really went into ‘town’. After I set up home here I realised many people don’t shop in the city centre, preferring Ecclesall Road, Sharrowvale, Hillsborough.
I work in town, and love shopping in the city centre. As well as the chains, there’s an eclectic mix of independent shops and cafes, along with public spaces such as the Peace Gardens and Barkers Pool. But I know there’s so much more that could be on offer.
That’s why I’m taking part in the new public consultation on the proposed retail quarter. Sheffield is a major European city that deserves to have a major retail presence in the heart of the city centre. I hope when the retail quarter plans come to fruition, the next generation will be just as excited about shopping in Sheffield city centre as I was to shop in Meadowhall all those years ago.
* Jeni Harvey, PR, lecturer, shopper and mum