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Sheffield chosen to host UK summit of cultural decision makers

Inside Canada House, Sheffield
Inside Canada House, Sheffield

Leaders from the creative and cultural sectors, local government and funders from across the UK will meet in Sheffield for a major policymaking summit.

Brought together by policy and advocacy specialists, Culture Commons, over 20 partners will convene in the city for a first-of-its-kind open policy development programme.

The group will examine what it would mean for the creative, cultural and heritage ecosystem in different parts of the country, if more powers were devolved to local leaders from central government.

Sheffield was chosen to host the programme’s mid-point ‘summit’ in South Yorkshire in recognition of the high calibre of culture-led development breathing new life into Sheffield city and the wider region.

Sheffield’s very own Culture Collective and the South Yorkshire Combined Authority are co-hosting the day of activity, alongside the Culture Commons team who also have a base in Sheffield.

Partners have also been welcomed by Sheffield City Council who are committed to developing Sheffield’s cultural offer and ensure the city is creative, prosperous, diverse and full of opportunity for its residents. The Council has recently commissioned a new Culture Strategy for the city, in collaboration with sector organisations and funded in partnership with the University of Sheffield and Arts Council England, to do this.

Cllr Martin Smith, Chair of the Economic Development and Skills Committee at Sheffield City Council, said:

“Today’s visit to Sheffield highlights the important role that the city and wider South Yorkshire regions are collectively playing in setting future policy at the local, regional and national levels.

“We’re very proud of the creative and cultural projects taking place here in the city, from the refurbishment of the historic Canada House into a regional music hub, to Sheffield’s ambitious Castlegate project, which the group visited today.

“Through the work of this programme, we will be able to explore how Sheffield’s continued growth as a dynamic, vibrant and creative cultural city can complement the rich ecosystem of makers and creators across Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster – and put South Yorkshire on the map as a leader in the growth of the UK’s creative and cultural sectors.”

As part of the visit, representatives from local governments, the creative and cultural sectors, arm’s length bodies, and leading universities will visit the new Levelling Up funded Castlegate regeneration scheme, which promises to re-establish the historic castle and create a new regional hub for the creative and cultural sectors, nurturing South Yorkshire’s creative talent.

This ambitious project is a perfect example of the potential of the creative, cultural and heritage sectors in supporting inclusive growth of vibrant and liveable cities, towns and communities.

Alongside a restoration of Sheffield’s ancient castle site, the project promises to ‘prioritise investment that brings economic benefits but also helps bind communities together’ and will include a refurbishment of the iconic Canada House into a regional music academy ‘Harmony Works’ and a new home for the much-loved S1 Artspace.

Oliver Coppard, Mayor of South Yorkshire, added:

“Welcoming Culture Commons and 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.” 

A special panel and roundtable discussion with cultural leaders from across the region will be hosted at the Union Street co-working space, unpacking how initiatives like Urban Rooms – such as those delivered as part of the Castlegate regeneration scheme – can enable local residents to shape the design of these assets from inception right through to how they are used into the longer term.

The group is also keen to understand how Sheffield City Council and South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority are working together to support the wider region’s makers and creators. They’ll be exploring what role leaders can play in making sure these sectors are more accessible and inclusive going forward.

Trevor MacFarlane, Director of Culture Commons explained why the programme is taking place and why Sheffield was chosen to host the event:

“We’re delighted that Sheffield is hosting us for this UK-wide programme and that the partners have been so warmly welcomed by leaders across South Yorkshire.

“With a general election on the horizon, now is the perfect moment to bring a coalition of partners together to think about what our local creative, cultural and heritage ecosystems might need from national policymakers in the coming years.

“For too long, places across the UK have been pitted against one another in competition-based models of funding for culture, primarily emanating from Whitehall – an approach that has merely led to the between and within region disparities we see in our sectors growing ever-wider.

“We’re doing what we can to try policymaking differently here – to firstly make sure that people who are usually excluded from policymaking conversations are with us and secondly by taking a much more holistic, ecosystem approach to reset the system.

“More devolution and increased local cultural decision making in the UK presents some incredibly exciting opportunities to bring citizens closer to determining how their own culture and creativity is supported in their own communities. But devolution of powers without the right funding models and support mechanisms to support it are unhelpful, and potentially damaging for our sectors.

“We hope this programme will provide the next UK Government, whoever that might be, with some solid ideas – backed up by evidence – ready for adoption in a first parliament.”

Surriya Falconer, Chair of Sheffield Culture Collective, added:

“We’re proud that the Culture Collective is part of this important national programme and see it as a critical opportunity for Sheffield and South Yorkshire to shape future cultural policy.

“We’ve always known how culture can positively affect our lives and shape how we build our communities, credibility and ambitions.

“Our city has developed an enviable regional and national reputation for its culture, despite limited investment historically. However, we also know how collaborative working, sharing and learning, through approaches like this four nations programme, can move the dial even further.”