Starting this month - a new experiment in how Sheffield is run

Plus some great recommendations and the rest of our weekly briefing

Dear Tribsters — welcome to this week’s briefing.

Today we take a closer look at a new idea that could revolutionise local decision-making in Sheffield. We also have some great recommendations including a new exhibition from a much-loved city artist and a short piece about a fascinating old postcard that has been snapped up by a Sheffield collector.

Thanks for your emails about about our weekend read on estranged students in Sheffield. If you missed that piece you can still access it here.

Last week we sent Tribune members a feature about the medieval tapestries that are currently on show at Chatsworth (prompting one member to write in the comments: “Love these articles, always interesting and informative. Worth the subscription”) and a lovely piece about the much-loved Granelli ice cream family.

This week we’ll have two more great members-only stories. To get those stories and be one of the early patrons of our new approach to quality journalism in South Yorkshire, join up as a member now with the button below. It costs less than £1.50 a week if you join for a year (£70).

This week’s weather

The big story: The itty bitty committee city

Top line: The old joke goes that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. Very soon it will be true to say that Sheffield is a city run by committees, such is their recent proliferation at the Town Hall.

Oh god, why more committees? Well, creating them is very much in vogue at Sheffield City Council. Not only did the electorate vote for a “modern committee system” in May, meaning that newly powerful committees covering different kinds of services will take much of the decision-making power that is currently vested in the council cabinet. Now we have Local Area Committees to add to the mix.

Here’s the background…. Back in March, the then Labour-run council passed plans to create seven new Local Area Committees (LACs) across the city. The seven committees are made up of four or five electoral wards each, filled by existing Sheffield councillors from those wards. The first meetings start this month.

The big picture: The LACs feel like a recognition that power has been too centralised at Sheffield Town Hall during decades of local government reform, and that people have lost their voice. But do they make sense?

  • The case for: Labour says the committees will give local areas more voice with council staff, by assigning a senior officer to each committee and allowing wards to group to together to fight for their shared priorities.

  • The case against: Back in March, opposition councillors dismissed LACs as a cynical attempt to try to win the referendum at the last moment by offering a watered-down version of what the It’s Our City! campaigners wanted.

Show me the money: The seven LACs will receive £100k each towards rebuilding their local area post Covid-19, with an additional £100k proposed to tackle fly-tipping and graffiti specifically. That’s very small fry given the size of the areas involved, given that the council spends more than £350 million a year.

Déjà vu: It’s not the first time that the council has tried to devolve power down to local communities in the city. The ill-fated Community Assemblies were set up in 2009 but by 2013 they had been scrapped. Others have suggested the LACs are very similar to the even older Local Area Panels, which also failed to connect with voters.

Our take: Whatever the original motivations for this move, more localism should be welcomed. One of The Tribune’s core beliefs is that people don’t have enough stake in the places they live, partly because of the decline of local journalism but also as a result of the way local government has become too distant from our lives in an era of budget cuts and the centralisation of power. People need a more responsive council that explains its role and puts a human face to local decisions rather than issuing bland press releases. We will scrutinise whether these plans are achieving that.

A postcard from the past

Collector John Mounsey shared this fantastic postcard he bought of the Norfolk Park area on Facebook last week. The picture shows Norfolk Road, looking towards the Fitzwalter Road junction and in the direction of the park.

The postcard is dated 1898 and on closer inspection shows that one end of the road was cordoned off at the time the photo was taken. Residents on Facebook were speculating that the barrier shows Fitzwalter Road — which came later than Norfolk Road — actually in the process of being built.

Closer still and you can see what appears to be a child being carried on a man’s shoulders on the right hand pavement of the road. As well as collecting rare and valuable postcards, John also collects film lobby cards. His collection can be seen at his website.

Covid-19 update

Cases: The latest Covid case rate for Sheffield — the number of positive cases per 100,000 people over seven days — is 317.7, 1.1% or 21 cases down on the previous week. The England rate is 303.2, down 7.2% on the previous week.

Hospitals: 88 people are being treated for Covid-19 in Sheffield’s hospitals, the same number as the previous week. 14 of these patients are on ventilation, a rise of three on last week. At least 11 deaths linked to the virus have taken place in Sheffield in the last week.

Vaccines: 736,192 vaccine doses have now been given out in Sheffield, including  390,015 first doses and 346,177 second doses. Vaccine progress is slowing but as of last week, 384,680 people in the city have now been fully vaccinated.

Our favourite reads

  1. This is a fascinating article in the New York Times from a few weeks ago about a Sheffield company which is at the cutting edge of attempts to make hydrogen both a green and cost-effective way of producing energy. ITM Power is based in Tinsley (coincidentally next door to the Pretty Little Thing warehouse we covered last month) and has seen its turnover triple over the last year to £154m.

  2. Star business editor David Walsh’s restorations series continues this week with a look at the former Boys’ Charity School on East Parade near Sheffield Cathedral. This currently disused building has a rare rooftop playground that was built for them after they were locked out of the church’s grounds by the vicar. A developer now wants to build an aparthotel on the site.

  3. The Guardian reports from Wales High School in Rotherham where the head Pepe Di’Lasio insisted on maintaining strict Covid security measures at his school when pupils returned after their summer holidays. “The measures give a sense of security and confidence to our staff and our students,” he told reporter Weronika Strzyżyńska. “We’ve got to remember that Covid is still here.”

Things to do

Art: Sheffield artist Pete McKee’s latest exhibition — Eight New Paintings — finally opened on Saturday after being delayed due to Covid. The show marks a major departure for Pete, away from his famous cartoon caricatures and towards a more realistic style. The exhibition is on at Pete’s Sharrow Vale Road gallery until Sunday, October 17. Check the website for opening times. If you can’t get to the gallery in person you can view the exhibition online as well.

Theatre: The Marples Hotel on Fitzalan Square suffered a direct hit in the Sheffield Blitz in 1940, leading to the loss of 77 lives from just one bomb. The play Operation Crucible — named after the Luftwaffe’s codename for the assault on Sheffield — tells the story of four steelworkers who were trapped in the only part of the hotel’s basement to survive the attack. The play began last Thursday and runs until September 25. 

Tour: As we mentioned last week, the Graves Gallery reopened last week after a six month programme of refurbishment and redisplay. On Friday, September 10 (1.00-1.45), Sheffield Museums curator Ashley Gallant will be giving a guided tour round the renovated gallery, some of its new artworks and some of the discoveries made during the refurb. Book here.

Heritage Open Days

Heritage Open Days is England’s largest festival of history and culture and Sheffield’s programme is one of the biggest in the country. Starting on Friday, September 10 and finishing on Sunday 19, the city has more than 70 free events planned over the ten days of the festival.

This year’s overall theme is “Edible England” and there are some great food based events taking place including “How did your nan cook it?”, an exhibition of vintage cookery and household management books from Sheffield and beyond at Sheffield Central Library; a beginners foraging course at Ford Wheel Dam near Ridgeway; and a 10-day long food and drink festival at the Gardeners Rest pub in Neepsend.

Other highlights include the chance to explore the Victorian bath house at Birley Spa; Calvin Payne’s award-winning “drainspotting” tours which explore Sheffield’s history using its drainage and sanitation system as a guide; and a behind the scenes tour of the National Videogame Museum including a new “Animal Crossing Diaries” exhibition which explores how and why the popular game became so important for many people during lockdown.

For more information, see the Sheffield section of the Heritage Open Days website or download the brochure.

Sheffield and 9/11

Saturday sees the 20th anniversary of 9/11, when almost 3,000 people were killed in three devastating terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania.

Over the two decades since it has largely been forgotten that a Sheffield man — Nigel Thompson — died in the horrendous carnage of that day. Nigel worked for brokers Cantor Fitzgerald and was living in New York with his twin brother Neal at the time of the attacks.

His twin brother survived the atrocity and still works in banking in the US, while their elder brother Mark stayed in Sheffield. The family’s tragic story is told in this piece from 2001.