Sheffield finally opens up

Plus, the rest of our weekly briefing

Dear Tribbers — welcome to this week’s bumper briefing. It’s an exciting day in the city as bars, restaurants and cafes allow us inside for the first time in months, and museums and art galleries are allowed to open too.

Today’s newsletter also looks at worsening violent crime and the latest on Town Hall politics. We also have a mini-review of a book which brings one of Sheffield’s forgotten stories back to life and all our usual recommendations for things to read and do.

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The big story: Sheffield opens up (again)

The top line: Stage 3 of the government's coronavirus roadmap comes into effect today. Indoor hospitality can open again, as can cinemas, museums and art galleries.

It is a big step on the road back to normality, with scores of pubs and restaurants opening across Sheffield including dozens in the city centre. Even with continued social distancing, the extra capacity will make lots of places which lacked enough outdoor space to open last month viable again.

  • Nick Simmonite from city centre night time community body Unight, who is also the landlord of the Frog and Parrot pub on Division Street, praised hospitality staff, council licensing teams and South Yorkshire Police for their monumental efforts to prepare pubs, bars and restaurants for a safe relaunch.

The catch: Simmonite warns that gaps on the high street will become more common if office workers don’t return in large numbers soon. He told us:

The elephant in the room is when will council workers return to their desks? The Moorfoot building holds 3,700 staff — but only 300 are in the office. There is no current plan to return. Plusnet have also shifted to working from home, with office visits four times a month.

Not just hospitality: Craft shop Moonko have also appealed for the Government to consider extra support for non-essential shops. Owner Debbie Moon said there was currently ‘very little’ help for them and online competition meant many places were going to the wall. She said without VAT reductions or grants, high streets would ‘change dramatically’.

For more on Sheffield’s big reopening, see our recommended things to do further down this briefing.

No ceasefire in sight: Gang violence returns to streets

The top line: Since Sheffield dad Khuram Javed was shot dead in Highfield in April, two more young men have been murdered on the city's streets while at least five more gun attacks have taken place. The latest person to lose his life was 22-year-old Armend Xhika who was killed in Burngreave on Thursday evening.

The continuing violence has sparked fears that last year’s escalation in criminality — with 37 shootings taking place in 2020 — might not be a one off. South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Billings has previously warned the easing of Covid restrictions could cause gang disputes to become more violent. He told South Yorkshire Live:

Although many of the organised crime gangs were disrupted over the last few months, the contest for control of the drugs markets has never gone away and may now become more intense.

South Yorkshire Police created an armed crime team to go after the estimated 19 organised criminal gangs operating in the city. But anti-gang violence group Mums United worry this won’t be enough and are holding a rally against child criminal exploitation this weekend. Organiser Sahira Irshad said the city-wide problems were a product of a decade old failure of a system that has decimated youth services. She said: 

The gangs have taken advantage of this failure and have woven themselves within our communities, intergenerational drug dealing is destroying our young. It’s time the police/council/commissioner realised that their approach is not working.

Mums United’s rally will take place at 3pm this Saturday, May 22 at Heeley People’s Park.

An olive branch from Labour

A new dawn? After last week’s referendum result, parties have been busy trying to work out what it all means for politics in the city. Green councillors were first out of the block suggesting the city be run by a so-called ‘rainbow coalition’ of Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens.

Labour have now responded with what they say is a ‘grown up’ offer of their own. They say they want to move to a committee system ‘as soon as possible’. They also agree that the makeup of the all committees — including the cabinet — should reflect the strengths of the parties on the council.

Discussions involving Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens are ongoing.

Postcard from the Past is an internet archive of thousands of old postcards — many of which are inscribed with unusual messages. This one of 1980s Sheffield shows the famous ‘hole in the road’, the top of The Moor and fountains outside Midland station. Journalist and broadcaster Samira Ahmed described the collection — which has also been made into a book — as ‘somehow both poignant and deeply creepy’.

This week’s weather

Covid-19 update

  • Rules: Stage 3 of the Covid roadmap means customers can now drink or dine indoors in groups of six or two households. Groups of up to 30 people can also meet outdoors. Museums, theatres and cinemas will open again — and hugging will no longer be forbidden.

  • Cases: Sheffield’s case rate has risen to 51.8. This is a rise of 11.8% on last week’s 47 and equates to 303 cases across the city. The England average has also risen slightly to 23.6.

  • Hospitals: There has been a big drop in the number of patients in hospital in Sheffield with Covid from 24 last week to just 12 this. There are also now no patients on ventilation down from 3 last week. Two deaths linked to the virus have also taken place at hospitals in Sheffield.

  • Vaccines: As of May 9, 424,486 vaccine doses have now been administered in Sheffield. This includes 285,246 first doses and 139,240 second doses. Over 94% of everyone aged 65 and above have now had their first dose of the vaccine, and over 89% of everyone aged 70 and above have now had two.

Book of the week

The Northern Line: The History of a Provincial Jewish Family by Judy Simons

When English professor Judy Simons cleared her late mother’s house, she discovered an old tin box of papers, signposts on a journey into the past. Her resulting research uncovered lies, secrets and scandals hidden for years. The Northern Line is a riveting saga that brings to dramatic life a forgotten part of Sheffield’s history. Judy picked out the extract below specially for The Tribune.

The winter of 1915-16 was bitterly cold. In November, the Sheffield canal froze for the first time in living memory, and young people flocked from all over town to skate over its solid surface. Their delight in this impromptu ice-rink turned to horror when the crowd of skaters became so dense that the ice cracked under their weight and six people were drowned. The tragedy generated headlines in the local press, rivalling the daily toll of fatalities from France in its shock effect if not in its numbers.

It was a grim atmosphere that greeted young David when he clambered down from the troop train onto the dingy platform at Victoria station. Like Barrow, Sheffield had built its wealth on iron and steel, and foundries belched out foul-smelling smoke that polluted the air. Each morning when he woke up in 14 Broomhall Street, his eyes were gummed up with what he termed “sleep”, a crusty discharge produced by the grime in the atmosphere. It took him several moments to prise open his eyelids as he stumbled, half blinded, out of bed to dress shivering in the unheated attic.

You can buy the book here.

Our favourite reads

  1. After the result of Sheffield’s governance referendum was announced last week, how different could politics in Sheffield could look in the future? This blog from the University of Leeds’ Centre for Democratic Engagement is a good read on just how revolutionary the change might prove to be.

  2. A nice interview in the Star with Sheffield’s Helen Sharman, the UK’s first astronaut, on the 30th anniversary of her record-breaking trip. Helen travelled into space as part of the Russian programme in May 1991, becoming the first European woman to travel to space and visiting the Mir space station.

  3. 95 hills in the Peak District over 400m are to be collectively named ‘the Ethels’ in honour of the pioneering countryside campaigner Ethel Haythornthwaite. Similar ‘peak-bagging’ lists exist of Scottish mountains (Munros) and Lake District fells (Marilyns) but this is the first time the hills of the Peak District have one of their own. This piece in Grough has the full story, while the BBC produced this lovely short film.

  4. In a sign that Sheffield is finally moving on from the bitter battle over street trees, the Yorkshire Post has a fascinating story about how a campaign group is working with much-maligned private contractor Amey to plant trees on one of the city’s most polluted roads. The Abbeydale Street Trees community group have identified 30 sites along a 1.2 mile stretch of the Abbeydale Road in Nether Edge.

  5. The BBC has news that the owner of Liberty Steel Sanjeev Gupta is under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office for fraudulent trading and money laundering. Liberty Steel employs 1,400 people in South Yorkshire, including 750 in Stocksbridge. Business editor Simon Jack says the investigation makes the chance of the company surviving in its current form an ‘increasingly remote possibility’.

The more you look for modernist architecture across Sheffield, the more you find. This imposing stairwell can be found at the Post Office depot on Pond Street, just a short distance from the somewhat better known Park Hill flats.

Five things to do

Culture: Stage 3 of the Government's roadmap sees cinemas, galleries and museums open for the first time since last year. Kelham Island Museum, the Millennium Gallery and Weston Park Museum will all open on Wednesday while the Showroom Cinema has a full programme of films including Judas and the Black Messiah, Minari and Nomadland from May 17. And if you’re sick of working at home, from Monday you can even work from the Showroom for £5 per day with unlimited drinks.

Talk: Visitors to Weston Park will be able to see a huge pilot whale skeleton which has been donated to the city by Sheffield biologist David Clay. An ‘Ocean Quest’ talk from Dr Penny Watt about the whale and more will take place on the Sheffield Museums Facebook page on Wednesday, May 19 at 1pm.

Learn: At this year’s Pint of Science event, academics from the University of Sheffield will host a Q+A on how scientific research can help society tackle big challenges. The free session will take place on Wednesday, May 19 on Youtube but you will need to register for the link. This year’s full programme can be found here.

Going out: Monday’s changes also mean drinking and eating inside pubs and restaurants can begin again and it will be nice not to have to go to the pub dressed for a Himalayan winter. This Is Sheffield have kindly put together this indispensable guide to which independent pubs, bars, restaurants, cafes and other services are opening and when.

Staying in: As this Derbyshire Times story notes, the BBC’s new adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love has plenty of links to the area. Deborah, the youngest of the six famous ‘Mitford sisters’, managed Chatsworth House and was the current Duke’s mother. And in the 1920s Nancy herself rubbed shoulders with the poet Edith Sitwell whose family lived at Renishaw Hall. The three part series also stars Sheffield’s Dominic West and is available now in full on BBC iPlayer.

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