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South Yorkshire's steel city is showing its softer side, as Jo Haywood discovers Photographs by Joan Russell
Paris has its tower, Edinburgh has its castle and New York has its statue. But what has Sheffield got?
We might not have a Leaning Tower of Sheffield to tempt people in, but weve got an amazing cultural offering that keeps people coming back again and again, said Councillor Isobel Bowler, cabinet member for culture, sport and leisure on Sheffield City Council.
We dont have a single big draw, but we do have this wonderful city. And my ultimate ambition is to get more people to recognise Sheffield as a cultural destination in its own right. Its not just about snooker and The Full Monty.
Transforming the capital of South Yorkshire into a city destination is a relatively new ambition, stemming from its failed City of Culture bid and the subsequent formation of its Cultural Strategy, a consortium of diverse stakeholders with an interest in media and the arts.
Is it true to say then that losing the City of Culture bid to Londonderry in 2010 actually gave Sheffield an unexpected boost? The process of putting together a bid was really positive for Sheffields cultural partners, said Eric Hildrew, communications manager at Museums Sheffield, which includes Millennium Galleries, Graves Art Gallery, Weston Park Museum and Bishops House. Though we didnt get the prize, the bid formed the basis of the new Cultural Strategy and promoted the benefits of working together more closely, which are still being felt despite the difficult economic backdrop.
Traditionally Sheffield has perhaps not been seen as a city destination in its own right, but I think that perception is starting to change. There is a real spirit of independence here, and as other city centres start to become more and more homogenous, with the same chain shops and bars, originality and character which Sheffield has in spades are being valued by visitors more and more.
While other Leaning Tower cities might be dismissed as one-trick ponies when it comes to their cultural offering, Sheffield has a much richer, more diverse set of gifts. Sheffield Theatres comprising the Crucible, Lyceum and Studio is the largest theatre complex outside London offering everything from big-name shows to challenging new works.
The city is home to myriad festivals throughout the year including Doc/Fest, now recognised as an international film industry event attracting more than 2,500 delegates from around the world. And Sheffield is also the countrys greenest city with a record number of awards for its parks and gardens a rare boast for a city that was once regarded as the industrial heartland of South Yorkshire.
I relocated to Sheffield from London eight years ago and I have to admit I was surprised by the breadth of the citys cultural offering, said Councillor Bowler. Im sure my friends from London used to visit because they missed me; now I think its more about the city. If Id moved somewhere else, Im not sure Id see them quite so often.
Unlike London, Sheffield is a city with much to offer in a compact central space, making it possible to walk from one highlight to the next. Along the way, visitors also get a fascinating insight into the citys history with former industrial buildings sitting comfortably alongside cutting-edge urban regeneration zones.
But a city, no matter how many sights, sounds and happenings it offers, cant survive and thrive without the backing of its own residents.
And Sheffield is no exception. Sheffield people have always been very proud of their city, said Councillor Bowler. And their pride is reflected in the time, money and effort invested in their city centre.
I know its a bit of a clich, but people in Sheffield are just so friendly and welcoming. I used to get impatient when I first moved here because the bus drivers would stop and talk to everyone. But now I see just how wonderful that is.
Im an outsider but Ive never been made to feel like one. But thats just the way people in Sheffield do things. Theyre pleased that you like their city so much you want to move here, and they appreciate it when visitors make the effort to come and see whats going on.
So, what is going on? Among the highlights on Sheffields busy cultural calendar for the remainder of the year is Dominic Wests return to his home town as Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady at the Crucible. He won huge critical acclaim in last years production of Othello and looks set to bust the box office again (who wouldnt want to see Detective Jimmy McNulty singing with a consonant-challenged, sooty-faced street urchin?).
Also on the arts agenda for the rest of 2012 are Off The Shelf, a dynamic, distinctive and diverse festival of words (October 6th to 27th); Sheffield Comedy Festival, which will see top flight comedians flocking to the city throughout October; Sheffield International Concert Season, celebrating 80 years of classical music at City Hall; and masses of big-name gigs at the Arena, including George Michael, Cheryl Cole, Michael McIntyre, Kelly Clarkson and John Bishop (and thats all in one month).
Who needs a leaning tower when youve got all that?
Which is your favourite Sheffield attraction? Share your tips and opinions by emailing email@example.com, tweeting @Yorkshire_LIFE or writing to Yorkshire Life, PO Box 163 Ripon, North Yorkshire, HG4 9AG.
Spotlight on Hillsborough
The thriving suburb of Hillsborough, which sits on the A61 Penistone Road three miles north-west of Sheffield city centre, was named after Hillsborough Hall, built in 1779 for Thomas Steade, formerly of nearby Burrowlee House.
He named his new home in honour of his patron, Lord Downside of Hillsborough in County Down, and the surrounding area soon adopted it too.
The 20 hectares around the hall is now a popular public park, offering numerous facilities including a walled garden, fishing lake, playground and pavilion.
But this is not all Hillsborough has to offer. As well as being home to Sheffield Wednesdays 40,000-seater stadium, it also has a large leisure centre, a dog track, casino, library, doctors surgeries, dentists, opticians, a golf club one of Sheffields top courses with, reputedly, the toughest opening three holes in the country and good tram links.
Sound tempting? Properties in Hillsborough range from around 90,000 for a one-bedroom apartment to 540,000 for a substantial family home.
Getting there: Sheffield is just a few minutes off the M1. It also has the benefit of bus, tram and rail services, full details of which can be found at travelsouthyorkshire.com.
Parking: Its a great idea to make use of the citys Park & Ride scheme, but if you want to take your car into Sheffield there are long stay car parks at Wicker Lane, Willey Street, Blonk Street and Castlegate.
Where to visit: When youve exhausted yourself at the myriad museums, theatres and festivals, why not kick back with a bit of therapeutic shopping in the Devonshire Quarter, cool your boots at Ice Sheffield or take a dive off the top board at Ponds Forge?