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'the future of local cultural decision making' heads to Sheffield, England

Updated: Apr 4

At the end of March, the four UK nations Steering Panel for ‘the future of local cultural decision making’ - a first of it’s kind open policy development programme exploring devolution and increased local decision making - travelled to Sheffield, England to mark the programme’s half-way point.


Co-hosted by Culture Commons, Sheffield Culture Collective and South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA), over 50 local, regional and national bodies came together for a full day of activity in the city, including a tour to some of Sheffield’s innovative culture-led regeneration sites and roundtable discussion to dig deeper into some of the central policy questions sitting at the heart of the programme.

This six month summit was also a moment for partners to review the progress of the ‘evidence gathering’ phase of the programme and begin to gear up for the collaborative policy design work that will begin in earnest in the summer.


A Mayoral Welcome


Oliver Coppard, Mayor of South Yorkshire welcomed the Steering Panel – a group of 25 representatives from local government, the creative, cultural and heritage sectors, universities, arm’s length bodies, and grant giving organisations, to the city region:

“Welcoming Culture Commons and cultural leaders to South Yorkshire today is further evidence of the world-leading strength in culture we have in our region – and I am determined to show the world what we can do.


Arts and culture make a huge contribution to South Yorkshire and our region has a dynamic and growing creative workforce, world-class institutions and a rich heritage rooted across our region.


We know these sectors don’t just bring growth and prosperity. They also lead to happier, healthier lives for local people. It’s why, as Mayor, I’ve made sure South Yorkshire is playing host to this important policy summit.


I look forward to seeing the findings and working with the team to make sure they shape national policy from the ground up.”


Learning from Sheffield


Through one of the programme’s core work strands, focussed on ‘Culture-led Place Shaping’, the partnership has been taking a closer look at how the creative, cultural and heritage ecosystem can support wider place-based development – delivering not just economic benefits but also wider social outcomes, such as educational attainment and health and wellbeing.

One of the key aims of the ‘Culture-led Place Shaping’ strand is to better understand what could help make culture-led development more inclusive, sustainable and better orientated towards the local policy priorities in an area.

Sheffield’s Castlegate regeneration scheme

In 2021 Sheffield City Council was successful in a bid for the UK Government’s ‘Levelling Up’ Fund. Part of this £20 million allocation is now supporting the development of Castlegate, a historic area adjacent to Sheffield City Centre, containing the foundations of the city’s ancient castle site.

The centre piece of the regeneration project is the castle site itself, where the original remains will be exposed and sections of the river Sheaf will be de-culverted and set alongside a public, green space area. Significantly, the project also includes the restoration of the neighbouring grade II listed ‘Canada House’ building - the former offices for the Sheffield United Gas Light Company originally built in 1875 - into a new music academy for the region, Harmony Works. This prospective music ‘hub’ hopes to provide accessible routes into music education for young people across South Yorkshire, building on Sheffield’s existing reputation as a successful ‘music city’.


Chair of Friends of Sheffield Castle, Martin Gorman, and Director of Harmony Works, Emily Pieters, led the Steering Panel on a tour of the development site, explaining how the combined presence of the city’s restored historic landmarks and new centres for music and art will revitalise the identity of the city centre.

A "hadron collider" for policy making


The Steering Panel were also delighted to receive a warm Sheffield welcome over a lunch at the co-operative, co-working space Union Street from Cllr Tom Hunt, Leader of Sheffield City Council and portfolio lead for culture for South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA).

Cllr Hunt touched on the importance of Sheffield’s vibrant cultural sector and the how it continues to amplify the city’s national and international reputation.

He also welcomed the work of the open policy development programme – describing it as a “hadron collider” approach to policymaking; bringing new insight, fresh ideas and different perspectives from the four UK nations - from Sheffield, to Belfast, to Dundee. He also praised the work of the programme for it’s bottom up approach to developing national policy.

We look forward to sharing the final recommendations with political leaders, including in South Yorkshire, when the programme concludes in September 2024.

Gathering Insights on 'Urban Rooms’


Another key themes for the programme centres on ‘Local Voice’ – exploring approaches that invite and support local citizens to meaningfully engage in local decision making associated with the creative, cultural and heritage life of their own areas. The Castlegate regeneration scheme offered an ideal jumping off point for a wider discussion about how such engagement might take place within the context of largescale culture-led regeneration projects in the future.


In a special roundtable, Carolyn Butterworth (School for Architecture, University of Sheffield,) Chloe Street Tarbatt, & Khaled Sedki (School of Architecture Design and Planning, University of Kent) talked through the role of ‘Urban Rooms’ in the design process for place based regeneration – comparing the use of the Live Works project in Castlegate scheme with the Chatham High Street regeneration project in Medway


Urban Rooms Network, define an Urban Room as “… a space where people can come together to help create a future for their local area”. Urban Rooms are a long-standing initiative that, if managed effectively, could offer opportunities for community groups and residents to input into both the development and ongoing future use of their local areas. There several university and artist-led, Urban Room initiatives across the country and in the context of the work of this programme, we were interested to understand how the Urban Room facilitated a dialogue between the community and local authority on these historic areas in both Sheffield and Medway.

Next Steps

At the close of the day the Steering Panel assembled for the second of its mayor programme governance meetings. The Panel got to work reviewing the progress of the 'evidence gathering' phase of the programme, including the 'Research' led by our six Universities partners and the 'Insight Gathering' publications - led by the team at Culture Commons.

But the work is not yet over.

If you or your organisation would like to share views and evidence related to focus on the programme visit the Open Call for Evidence page by Sunday 2nd June



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