The Tribune’s best stories of 2023
Twelve months of some of the best Sheffield journalism money can buy
It’s a big time of year for slightly self-indulgent “best of” lists: best albums, best movies, best embarrassing tweets from minor celebrities. The passage of time is relentless, and it’s nice to celebrate each year as it slips through our fingers and into history. Like Japanese tidying celebrity Marie Kondo, we hold the previous twelve months up to the light, thank them for their service, and place them gently to one side.
As you’ll soon hear from our founder Dan Hayes in our very last newsletter of the year, 2023 has been a fantastic year for The Tribune. On January 1st, we had a little over 13,000 readers and just a smidgen more than 1,000 people paying to read our work. Today, our free newsletters are enjoyed by a crowd of almost 20,000 and more than 1,850 people liked them enough that they wanted to see more.
That means that quite a few people have joined us part-way through the year and might benefit from catching up on the highlights they’ve missed (and that includes me, having started here in June). Unlike many other news outlets, The Tribune doesn’t rely on page views and the beneficence of advertisers to keep the lights on, so this isn’t just a list of our most-read stories. Instead, just as our news agenda is often set by what we (and hopefully you) find fascinating, I’ve employed the highly scientific method of picking my four favourite stories for each month. I think it’s a good look at the wide range of what we cover.
The first time Dan and I met, we got to chatting about Kelham Island and I was able — somewhat embarrassingly — to quote a phrase from one of his own articles back at him: “the architectural equivalent of ripped jeans”. In this part-paywalled piece on the neighbourhood’s rapidly rising star (it had just been dubbed the “fifth coolest neighbourhood in the country” at the time), he considers what it’s actually like to live in an area that seems to have been partly willed into existence by property developers — one that has no doctors, no schools and no parks.
In the same month, Daniel Timms — data wizard and new dad — crunched the numbers on Sheffield’s air quality as the city prepared for the introduction of the controversial Clean Air Zone the following month. January was also a phenomenal month when it came to great work from freelance contributors (we are always, by the way, keen to hear from more). Yasmin Wakefield wrote a sad but very important read on the 35-year waitlist facing local people who want to transition gender, while Andrew Dowdeswell wrote a beautiful piece on the metaphorical line that splits our city in two halves: a prosperous West and a far more deprived East.
In February, Dan wrote this long retrospective on Sheffield’s own Greek tragedy: the disgrace and imprisonment of Sheffield Hallam MP Jared O’Mara. It features the lovely detail that O’Mara’s self-styled “chief of staff” Gareth Arnold sold his story to The Star, not for 30 pieces of silver, but for just 20 Marlboro Lights. A Labour insider, who spoke to The Tribune anonymously, told us that, had it actually been up to local members, O’Mara never would have become an MP in the first place. So why did he?
Dan also wrote another of this month’s highlights — the inside story of how two of Sheffield's most successful institutions went to war. In one corner, there was the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) in Rotherham; in another, the University of Sheffield. February also marks the first (and so far only) time we published a piece from an anonymous author, a first-hand account of sleeping rough on the city’s streets. My final highlight for this month is a piece from regular Tribune contributor David Bocking, on one man’s years-long crusade to breathe new life into Heeley.
Early this year, residents across the city experienced a rude awakening. That is, if they’d been able to get to sleep in the first place. The “biggest free party in years” evaded the attention of South Yorkshire Police for more than 12 hours and led to a flurry of furious Facebook posts from those kept awake by its repetitive beats. Dan did his best to find out more about the ravers behind it and wrote about Sheffield’s love affair with dragging a sound system into an empty field.
In the same month, he also wrote the sentence that birthed the first-ever Tribune-inspired graffiti, in his feature about the local DIY music scene. His description of the “ever-polite Ben Russell” from the venue Delicious Clam is now memorialised on one of its toilet doors.
Other highlights from March include his trip with a local mosque to try to glimpse the full moon (the sign for the Ramadan fast to begin), and Sarah Crabtree’s look into trouble at King Edward VII School in Broomhill, after the much-lauded education institution received a shocking “inadequate” rating from Ofsted.
April saw another smash hit from Daniel Timms, on the Sheffield neighbourhoods where house prices were inflating fastest after the dip of the pandemic. In addition to being able to read the second half of the piece, paying members also got to enjoy an interactive version of the graphs presented to free subscribers.
Other highlights from this month include Dan on the uncomfortable juxtaposition of a luxury furniture shop moving into Park Hill flats, a critical look at Weston Park Museum and a piece on the street food army sweeping Sheffield’s food scene.
In May, I was waiting to hear whether I’d be uprooting my life from London to join The Tribune team. It seems I wasn’t the only person in the capital paying especially close attention to Sheffield at the time. Following the local election, council leader Terry Fox stepped down from his role and, according to anyone and everyone familiar with the situation, it was a decision made for him by the Labour Party leadership down south. “I think they put a gun on the table,” as one insider put it, “and said are you going to pull the trigger or us?”
Continuing the theme of stories that would only get more dramatic as the year continued, Dan also reported on the many lows and dizzying highs of supporting Sheffield Wednesday. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt as low as a Wednesdayite as I did Friday,” a fan told him (although they’ve presumably discovered new depths since). May’s other two highlights were also from the desk of Dan Hayes, making this the most Dan-tastic month yet. These include his sensitive piece on the reality of living in Page Hall, and a tour of the neighbourhood hoping to knock Kelham off its pedestal.
In June, I arrived in my new home and, reading one of our best pieces of the month, quickly discovered how difficult it would be to leave — at least by car. In this entirely members-only story, Dan made the case for ending our reliance on Snake Pass, the thin and winding road that connects us to our nearest big-city neighbour, Manchester. Daniel Timms also dropped my favourite data story of 2023: “a year in the life of Sheffield's waste”. It features this beautiful (albeit slightly depressing) graph which I’m told took an inordinate amount of time to get just right.
In July, 27-year-old local Katie Bell was jailed for 15 months for subjecting a grieving widow she didn’t know personally to years of abuse on Twitter. Bell’s passion for cyberbullying is as long-standing and entrenched as it is inexplicable. By reaching out to one of her many victims and someone who had met her away from the keyboard, Dan tried to understand what could be driving her repeated refusal to stop.
Our other July highlights include the saga of missing post in Meersbrook; an in-depth profile of a man who might be too nice for politics, South Yorkshire mayor Oliver Coppard; and an update on the seemingly endless suspension of the Green Party’s Alison Teal.
In August, Dan pounded the pavement in search of a home-grown sensation who has gone viral for all the wrong reasons. Keeley is a frequently intoxicated woman who sings on the streets of Sheffield and the subject of countless TikToks that poke fun at her situation. “There’s the danger of replicating what the videos do,” Dan writes, “exploiting her situation for engagement, taking advantage of the fact that she seems to live in public — that she doesn’t seem to have a home to retire to, a door to shut in all our faces.” He does his best, however, to sensitively “depict the real person behind the meme”.
Speaking of the internet, the other Hayes highlight from August features what is possibly one of my favourite Facebook comments of the year, about the departed CEO of Heeley City Farm. “This man is,” the comment reads, “the epitome of a SNAKE OIL SALESMAN and now is SLITHERING AWAY”. During this month, Dan and I also teamed up to take on the complicated topic of Sheffield’s gun crime, while I reported on the council’s repeated struggle to ensure local restaurants and takeaways are safe for their customers.
In September, only a few months after setting foot in the city for the first time, I decided to take on one of its titans: The Leadmill. While I wasn’t the only one asking questions about the tone of the Save the Leadmill campaign, I was the only one determined enough to get hold of its original founders and uncover a more complete picture of the venue’s history. As Martin Bedford, who sadly died not that long after we spoke, put it: “It’s had a bad taste in its mouth, for quite a long time, for quite a few people.”
Remember former council leader Terry Fox being ousted in May? Well, so did he, and it led to internecine warfare that eventually tore the local party apart. “Maybe we needed this blood-letting,” one well-placed councillor told The Tribune. “Maybe it was an amputation for a damaged limb that we had to do.” During this month, we also published a beautiful piece from Rachel Genn on Occasions nightclub and my attempt to find out literally anything about South Yorkshire’s answer to the Angel of the North, including why it has yet to arrive.
To balance out my relentless negativity (it’s a family heirloom and I’m very proud of it), Dan and Daniel decided in October to appoint themselves the twin defenders of Sheffield’s much maligned city centre. Dan reported on the Heart of the City project, which hopes to trigger an S1 renaissance, while Daniel argued that the area is finally getting the better of its long-time nemesis — or is it a friend in disguise? — Meadowhall.
In the month and a half leading up to November, what was supposed to be a simple story inspired by a complaint about the food hall Kommune — a week-long job, tops — spiralled and took over my entire life. It’s a food hall, you might be thinking, how complicated can it be? Except you’re wrong, because it’s also a tech hub, a film post-production studio, a rival to Amazon and — according to its many critics — a house of cards.
Despite his positivity, Dan is not willing to give the council an easy ride when it comes to its city centre plans; hence his deep dive into why millions meant to be used regenerating Castlegate are still sitting in its pockets. Regular contributor David Bocking looked into the history of Graves Park and Daniel Timms gave us a fantastic end to the month with his piece on who is (and is not) settling down in Sheffield.
That brings us to this month, a slightly shorter one than most, as Dan and I take a much-needed break before throwing ourselves into next year. We haven’t been winding down for the holidays, however, and still brought you the calibre of stories you’ve come to expect throughout the year.
These include my piece on a Darnall school that lost its founder to the allure of online misogynist Andrew Tate, Dan’s excellent profile of Tom Hunt and a piece from freelancer Holly Williams on the Sheffield invention popping up in clubs around the world. At the last minute, not content to let the University of Sheffield have all the fun and press attention, Sheffield Hallam embarked on its own radical plans — read more about that in my piece from last week here.
As always, thanks so much for supporting The Tribune. Here’s to 2024.