A better Kelham Island?

Ball Street Kelham IslandThe day after Sheffield City Council approved an application for another 89 properties on the old Richardson’s site between Alma Street and Russell Street seems apt for a meeting of Kelham Island residents organised by our local councillors.  But when our councillors met up with the 50 or so local residents, organisations and business owners in the classroom at Kelham Island Museum, they didn’t quite get what they had anticipated from their careful planning.

The meeting was designed to be a way of capturing people’s concerns and ideas with the intention of seeing what could be done to try and resolve them.  To achieve this, they’d brought in a facilitator who asked people to go to the middle of the circle of people, write on a bit of paper an issue they wanted discussed, honk a horn (which in my view was perhaps one of the worst things he could have suggested if wanted to avoid us thinking it was all a bit ludicrous) and then stick it on to a board.  From my point of view, and apart from the horn, all well and good.  The idea being then to break in to corners of the room allocated to each issue and we could move round and talk about them in groups.  Again, all well and good.  However, the meeting soon degenerated in to a way of having a go at the councillors and expecting the councillors to simply tell everyone what they were doing already to resolve issues that we had yet to discuss.  This perhaps wasn’t helped by one of the councillors admitting that she had never attended anything with residents in the area and so giving the impression that she didn’t know the local issues, but I also felt that blaming the councillors for them when our specific councillors aren’t in charge of the council and cannot resolve every problem was a little unfair.

However, order soon returned and apart from the odd moan about councillors, it then turned in to a positive group discussion about what we all wanted thanks to strict time keeping on each issue.  Generally there were a number of issues on which everyone was agreed – parking, crime, street cleaning, street lighting, and developments happening that perhaps don’t fit with what people now want from the area.  But what struck me was that the discussions that got people most animated apart from perhaps parking was when we veered off in to ideas for what the vision for the area should be.  Many of the ideas were great, like more trees and open space, better signage for visitors, something for the families that will start to move in, more community shops (as opposed to big chains), and how we bring the community together more.  It was all good stuff, and although perhaps not all of it was consistent or realistic, what it served to do was highlight what really needs to change about Kelham Island.  It’s a great area and each individual block of flats has a decent community spirit, certainly mine does, but we haven’t really come together as a wider area to discuss what we want.  We were demanding that our councillors make the area better, but we couldn’t really tell them what we were demanding as we hadn’t ever discussed it.

Kelham Weir, Kelham Island, SheffieldWhat I did feel uncomfortable with however was the idea that we should just expect the council to make Kelham Island better.  Some of the basic council services like street cleaning and broken street lights, are things that a council should just do as a minimum, but bigger more visionary types things, can’t just be done immediately, will involve lots of groups, organisations, businesses and people, and in my view certainly can’t just be put in to practice by individual councillors who represent around 13,000 electors each (and in the case of Central Ward, more like 28,000), have other demands on their time, and crucially may not actually have the same vision for the area especially given that they don’t live in it.  We should want the support of councillors and want them to help facilitate and break through the blockages in the council – as a former councillor myself that’s what I think the role is – but on the bigger issues they really need to be guided by what the community wants.  If we continue to discuss this we will no doubt establish that we can’t all agree on what we want the community to be, but so far we haven’t even drawn up a list.  One thing I noticed is that there may once have been those kinds of discussions when the residential developments first started to appear, such as Cornish Place, but they haven’t been had in the nearly three years I’ve lived here now, and what has changed in the meantime is that we’re now probably at more of a critical mass of people to make us a more viable community that can demand recognition for its own ideas.

I hope tonight’s meeting is the start of something positive for the future.  I’ve loved Kelham Island since I moved in and hope to be living here for some time.  I can give you many different reasons for that, but one is that it is something pretty unique in Sheffield, and hopefully the enthusiasm and ideas from people tonight can be harnessed to make it even better.  But what we need to do is push it forwards and help make it happen ourselves rather than just expecting someone else to sort it out for us.

Pecha Kucha Sheffield #9

It’s ages since I blogged, but after such an enjoyable night out I just had to tell people about it.

Pecha Kucha is the Japanese for ‘chit chat’ and essentially that is what it is.  People come in and talk about something they are interested in or on which they have a particular knowledge (see the Pecha Kucha website or Wikipedia for more).  The 20×20 format is how it’s run and it’s very simple.  A series of people have 20 slides that are shown on a big screen and they talk to them with each slide shown for no more than 20 seconds.  It was invented by architects with the intention that it would limit how long they can talk for and is particularly popular with design and arty types, but I think I’d sum it up by saying if you’re just interested in stuff, stuff that happens around where you live and the people who do this stuff then it’s for you.

There were a number of speakers but a few particularly stick in my mind.  The one that everyone who attended is bound to remember for some time was the very emotional talk by Julia O’Dwyer whose son Richard O’Dwyer is currently up for extradition to the USA for running a website which provided links to websites which allowed you to do illegal downloading.  I can’t do justice to what she said and so I’ll just provide a link to her website if you want to know more.

Another great speaker was Erica Packington on Roller Derbys.  A subject in which I would have never expected to have any interest but it was actually informative and thought provoking.

I also particularly enjoyed the two urban explorers as it covered two things I find fascinating –  photography and interesting derelict buildings around Sheffield.  Urban exploration isn’t something I’d have the guts to do, although I do occasionally stick my camera through broken windows in derelict buildings just to see what’s inside.

Other speakers included Rob Lee on perspective art (I knew I recognised him couldn’t place him and then found he works at the Showroom, which explains it), Dave Carlson on the Burton Street Foundation where the event was hosted and a building that I was probably last in about about 20 years ago when it was the Langsett Music Centre (for those who don’t know Sheffield it was where the job centre scene was filmed in The Full Monty and the outside was used as the school which is what it was originally anyway), Jonny Douglas on Sheffield specially to celebrate the Pecha Kucha Global Cities Week (since becoming a councillor I keep seeing these presentations both amateur and professional on the city and I keep thinking how great it would be to collect them all together in one place as they are all different), and Nynke Wierda on photography of the dead (strangely fascinating)!

I must also give a mention to The Mother Folkers who played music in the break halfway through.  Very good musicians to the point where I bought their CD and I’ll definitely make the effort to see them perform again.  Another mid-event event was showing two amusing and interesting videos from YouTube, including this one that whilst getting across a message is also interesting to any Sheffielder who is a fan of Tinsley Cooling Towers.

I thoroughly enjoyed the night.  I found about things that I knew nothing about before, (or would have expected I’d want to know about), I met people I’d never met before and I just wish I’d heard about it before.  I’ll definitely be back.  This is exactly the sort of thing I find fascinating and I just wish I’d found  out about it before.

Keep an eye on the Pecha Kucha Sheffield website for details of the next event in April.

Photos from Sheffield “Chance to Dance 2010”

As anyone who knows me well will confirm, I am not exactly the world’s greatest dancer.  Despite this I love watching people dancing and if I’m in the right mood (which happens rarely these days) I will enjoy dancing despite my complete inability to do it properly.

Today was the 10th Chance to Dance event in Sheffield.  The atmosphere in the city centre was amazing with music, dancing and smiling people.  If this what we will get regularly if Sheffield wins the City of Culture 2013 bid, then I want us to win it even more than I already did, (apologies to anyone I know from Norwich, Birmingham and Derry/Londonderry, who are also shortlisted).

This seemed like a good opportunity to take some photos and so these are my favourites.  If anyone who appears on one of these photos would like me to remove the photo or alternatively wants a copy then let me know.

More to come…

Summer in the city

The wet weather has put a real dampener on this summer’s outdoor events (not withstanding the success of last weekend’s Sheffield Music City), as shown with this sorry sight that greated me as I walked up The Moor in Sheffield earlier today:

Summer in SheffieldCoupled with the indoor sand pit the usual summer activities in the city look pretty washed out compared to usual.  This guy was doing his best with his singing to brighten things up, but in the pouring rain huddled under an empty shop canopy he wasn’t getting much interest.

One of the benefits of being off work during the week is finding out about things that I didn’t know happen because I am usually at work.  Yesterday it was seeing the open-air bingo (it hadn’t started raining at that point) in the middle of The Moor!  Four hours later when I walked past again it was still going strong.

Barclays invent road name for their new Sheffield branch

Barclays are currently converting the former Gap store in Sheffield City Centre in to a new branch to replace the one at the bottom of Fargate, and which from the appearance of the building must be nearly ready to open.  But I was surprised, when I noticed on the side of the building the name they have picked for the new branch:


Put simply.  City Hall Square doesn’t exist.  There is a City Hall in Sheffield, and it isn’t far from the branch, but the square in front of it is called Barker’s Pool (named after the pool that supplied the city’s first drinking water which was once on the site).

Perhaps instead Barclays were thinking of the Town Hall, which is more logical as it is on the opposite side of the road from the branch.  But that’s the Town Hall rather than the City Hall, and although I have heard the area in front of it described as the Town Hall square, you don’t hear it very often and it certainly isn’t called that officially.

Perhaps with the banking industry under so much pressure these days, they can’t afford to employ anyone to check the address of their new branch (which should be 1 Barker’s Pool).

Tories propose city mayors

I really don’t understand this obsession with having directly-elected mayors for big cities.  Labour have been trying to persuade big cities to have a referendum on them for years, and when they failed to do that they mulled over the idea of forcing them to have referenda.  Despite the fact that the majority of referenda that there have been so far have actually voted against them.  Now the Tories are at it as well.

Superficially I understand the attraction.  Create a big figurehead that is well known by the electorate and they will be more accountable and able to get more done.  But it isn’t a lack of accountability that is holding back councils, it is the fact that they don’t always have the power or the resources to do the things that they would like to do.  Far too many things are dictated by central government and councils aren’t given the freedom to provide the services they want, in the way that they want and to be able to raise the funds in the way that they think is most appropriate.

In last year’s local elections in Sheffield for example, the voters in Sheffield decided to opt for a change and to elect a Liberal Democrat council.  That council is headed up by the very competent and determined council leader Paul Scriven, but it isn’t just about Paul.  It is about the team that surrounds him, and the party is putting in to practice a lot of good stuff simply because they are clear on what they want to do and are trying to make it happen.  If Sheffield had a directly elected mayor (who in an election that revolves more around personality and fame, rather than who is better at the job and who has the vision to make a difference, could be from any party in the city or none) I just think you would create a figurehead without the people around him or her to provide that support.  Certainly, many of the cabinet members in Sheffield are as crucial to making a difference as the leader himself.

I am sure there are many other cities that are in a similar situation to Sheffield.  So I am not trying to make a party political point about how great the Lib Dems in Sheffield are.  Instead I am trying to show that it is not just the leader that is important, it is the team around them that makes the difference.  I would hate to see the decision making in Sheffield being about one person, who is elected because he or she is likeable rather than competent.  It also flies in the face of Lib Dem plans to push more decision making down to communities.  If Sheffield had a mayor would that mean that power would have to be centralised again?

I can only hope that this idea of the Tories is one idea that they drop if they get in to power at the next General Election.

Shock as Bertie Bassett commits bigamy

It’s not often I spread news of a big celebrity scandal, but this one I felt needed a bigger audience.  Bertie Bassett – popular figurehead of Sheffield confectionary giants Bassetts – is in trouble for bigamy.

The scandal has emerged as Bassett’s announced a new lady in Bertie Bassett’s life with their wedding scheduled for this Thursday.  However, yesterday’s Sheffield Star runs the news that Bertie Bassett married previously back in the 1970s and as far as anyone knows they never officially separated.

Before you decide I am completely mad, the full story is here.