Sheffield: The beauty of small in a region getting bigger

SCR-Map1Helping the bottom up join the top down

This vision of Sheffield as a city of small makers and of ‘little’ economic development is perhaps at odds with a parallel agenda that is emerging in the city, focused on size, price and regional strength.

The Sheffield city region recently signed up to a devolution agreement that will see the city combined with its nine local authority neighbours – Barnsley, Bassetlaw, Bolsover, Chesterfield, Derbyshire Dales, Doncaster, North East Derbyshire, and Rotherham – to take control over jobs, skills and transport.

A growth plan for the region aims to create 70,000 new private sector jobs and 6,000 new businesses over the next decade, focused on advanced manufacturing and new high speed rail links. There are plans to make the Sheffield city region the best start-up zone in the country and to grow existing businesses and exports.

The big and little economic agendas on the table are not necessarily in opposition but there is a sense among many in the city that Sheffield and its region need a different kind of economic development to that of neighbouring Manchester, one that builds on its history and heritage rather than rolling the fortunes of a diverse set of places into a single economic entity.

A ‘glass floor’ prevents the big and the top down from understanding

and engaging fully with small and community level activities.

Oliver Coppard, who stood as the Labour candidate for Sheffield Hallam in the general election, says that the city region model sweeps aside the strong sense of pride of place that exists. ‘This model puts economic growth on a pedestal but fails to understand people’s motivations for living somewhere. Places like Barnsley will be turned into travel to work areas, breaking down centuries of heritage and history.’

At the Activating Local Alternative Economies event, run by New Start, NEF, CLES and the Sheffield First Partnership in the city in early December a strong desire was expressed to draw together the top-down and the bottom-up strategies for the city, to spread wealth more evenly and to help the city and its region grow in a way that works with the grain of the place and the people that live there.

Gareth Roberts used the metaphor of the ‘glass floor’, that prevents the big and the top down from understanding and engaging fully with small and community level activities. This in turn is mirrored by the ‘glass ceiling’, that stops the small from moving beyond the niche. He called on Sheffield’s leadership, as well as reaching down, to look to organizations that are developing organic local economic development and to help them to reach up.

Community economic development could be the bridge between the two, as could an effort to network the city more. In an interview with New Start Vanessa Toumlin describes her role in the city as ‘helping the bottom up join with the top down’.

Clare Goff is editor of New Start magazine
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