There’s nothing like a crisis to stimulate creative thinking. The times when the structures and institutions we’ve relied on seem to be crumbling can be the moments of opportunity to venture beyond what’s reliable.

Sheffield has often appeared solid and dependable to outsiders, a place that’s down to earth, with modest ambitions, where people look out for each other. But just as in the industrial turmoil and destruction of the Thatcher era, that solidity and solidarity is under pressure.

In the 70s and 80s, industry was in retreat. Factory closures and unemployment gave us the music of Jarvis Cocker and the humour of The Full Monty, and for many, this was all they knew of Sheffield.

Today, some of the institutions that filled the gap in the 80s are under threat themselves. The public services that now form the bedrock of the city’s economy have been buffeted by six years of austerity, with the prospect of more to come as Britain enters a new phase of economic uncertainty.

But today, as in the Thatcher era, Sheffield has a way of responding to tough times. The 80s witnessed a wave of innovation and imagination, from community-based enterprise in some of the city’s poorest estates to a thriving music scene and new creative businesses. There was a time when the Workstation and Showroom Cinema, or community enterprises like Manor & Castle Development Trust or Heeley City Farm, were new and risky. These days, they’re seen as part of the city’s fabric.

Today, against the backdrop of austerity and uncertainty, social and cultural innovators are searching out new spaces in Sheffield where changes can happen.

They are doing it through thriving communities of interest around sport and outdoor activities, celebrating the city’s unique open spaces. They’re doing it through a rediscovery of making, coupling traditional skills with new technologies and entrepreneurial models, finding niches and opportunities to generate prosperity for the city.

And they’re doing it through a fierce concern for social justice and fairness, working at community level and within the city’s institutions to fight for equality and opportunity for everyone, refusing to accept poverty and depression as the new norm. This new wave of activity is rooted in local pride and talent. It’s agile and experimental, it’s making new connections and it’s bound together by a vision of an inclusive, accepting and creative city.

This autumn, Sheffield’s CIQ Agency, along with research company Urban Pollinators and Now Then, and in partnership with the Workstation, will host three events to explore and celebrate this new wave of DIY culture, featuring in the new season of Festival of Debate.

Under the banner of A Better Sheffield, they’ll spotlight new activity to build local economies, make the most of Sheffield’s great outdoors and revive its reputation as a city of makers. These events will provide an opportunity to hear what’s happening, make new connections and raise Sheffield’s profile as a place to experiment and innovate.

There will be three events at the Workstation’s Creative Lounge:

28 September: DIY City, with speakers including Jane Dawson (Sheffield Creative Guild) and Gareth Roberts (Regather Cooperative).
19 October: Outdoor City, focusing on Sheffield’s unrivalled outdoor environment, with speakers including Henry Norman (RIDE Sheffield) and Maxine Gregory (Sheffield Hallam University).
16 November: City of Makers, with speakers including Professor Vanessa Toulmin (University of Sheffield) and Laura Bennett (TechCity).

Each event will showcase examples of interesting and innovative activity in Sheffield and offer an opportunity to discuss how this work can be better connected and expanded across the city. All events will take place at 5.30pm.

Tickets cost £1 for My Showroom members or £4 for non-members. My Showroom is free to join at showroomworkstation.org.uk/my.

For more information, contact Richard Motley at CIQ Agency on richard.motley@ciq.org.uk or visit festivalofdebate.com.

Richard Motley & Julian Dobson