Sheffield - A proud city of culture

PUBLISHED: 11:32 05 January 2011 | UPDATED: 12:57 26 December 2014

Sheffield - A proud city of culture

Sheffield - A proud city of culture

It might have lost out to Derry in the official title race, but Sheffield is still a proud city of culture, as Jo Haywood discovers

Sheffield isn’t known as the Steel City for nothing. While others might have buckled after losing a hard-fought bid to become the UK City of Culture for 2013, it has reacted with renewed strength, pride and optimism.

Michael Palin, who was a strong supporter of his home town’s bid from day one, summed up the underlying positive vibe of the city in four simple words: ‘Our time will come.’

Words echoed by Paul Billington, the city’s director of culture: ‘It has been a really positive experience for Sheffield, something that has given us all a renewed pride in the culture of our city. We’re famed for hiding our light under a bushel, but this process has shown us that we have something to shout about.’

Sheffield beat 29 applicants to make it to the final City of Culture shortlist alongside Derry, Norwich and Birmingham. This was an incredible achievement in its own right, but it was still a bitter blow when Culture Minister Ed Vaizey announced the 2013 crown would not be coming to South Yorkshire.

‘We were disappointed of course, but not entirely surprised,’ said Paul, who was given the news live on The One Show. ‘There’d been a whisper in the papers the week before that Derry had won so we’d had a bit of time to practice our gracious loser faces.’

The final announcement was the result of an intense two-year process involving Sheffield City Council, Creative Sheffield (the city’s economic development agency) and the city’s Culture Board. The race is now over, but that doesn’t mean their hard graft has been wasted. In fact, it means Sheffield is now in a better position than ever to build a strong cultural legacy.

‘The bid is now our plan for the future’, said Paul. ‘Our direction of travel remains the same, we’ll just be travelling a little slower.’

Becoming UK City of Culture would have brought huge financial benefits to the city. It would have cost around £11 million but would have attracted at least ten times that amount back into the local economy. It would also have enhanced Sheffield’s reputation around the world as a tourist and investment destination.

Merseyside’s economy was boosted by more than £700 million when Liverpool was European City of Culture in 2008 and the council expected a similar impact in South Yorkshire if Sheffield had secured the 2013 UK title.

But making it to the shortlist could also boost the city’s coffers in the same way it has boosted local pride.

‘Everyone is now talking about Sheffield as a city of culture’, said Paul. ‘The amount of coverage the city has received from the media regionally, nationally and internationally completely dwarfs the cost of the bid.

‘We are still a big industrial city. We are still a city that makes things, that produces steel. But we are also now recognised as a great cultural city.

‘We didn’t win the bid, but that doesn’t mean we won’t still reap the rewards.’

Having their say

Sheffield’s bid to become UK City of Culture in 2013 won the backing of the great and the good. Here’s how they reacted to the news it had lost out to Derry.

Monty Python star Michael Palin: ‘Derry is a worthy winner, but our time will come. Sheffield has undergone an amazing transformation and has a lot going for it as a cultural centre.’

Politician David Blunkett: ‘No doubt Londonderry put together a great bid, but you can’t help but wonder whether the emotional pull has been the main driver.’

Artist director of Sheffield Theatres Daniel Evans: ‘The city is obviously disappointed with this result, but we will continue to show the rest of the world what we’re made of – independence, authenticity, creativity, determination and cultural excellence.’

Author Marina Lewycka: ‘Sheffield is a place that has a strong sense of itself and a traditional culture of education, pulling itself up by the bootstraps, moral integrity and just a touch of bloody-mindedness.’

Regional director of Arts Council England Cluny Macpherson: ‘The city put together a really dynamic bid, with all the creativity and innovation that characterises Sheffield itself.’


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