Why would anyone put the Manor area of the city, a free Sheffield online listings service and an acoustic music night in Heeley together? In brief, each of these chosen examples brings people together for reasons other than money. The term ‘visionary enterprise’ seems appropriate here though the definition is flexible, covering examples that vary […]

Why would anyone put the Manor area of the city, a free Sheffield online listings service and an acoustic music night in Heeley together? In brief, each of these chosen examples brings people together for reasons other than money.

The term ‘visionary enterprise’ seems appropriate here though the definition is flexible, covering examples that vary in size, focus and influence. Money may be involved at some point but the low priority given to promotion and PR is the crucial litmus test for inclusion. Organisations of this kind, far from gradually disappearing, are as perennial as the grass in Sheffield.

Previous generations had churches, trades unions and political parties which brought people together for a common purpose, with charities and the rise of ethical consumerism moving in on this area over recent decades. Post-war consumerism might have spelled the end or at least a nose dive for these institutions but the desire to come together for a shared vision without the intervention of money as the main driver apparently remains as strong as ever. Where then should we look for visionary enterprises today in Sheffield and what do they have in common?

THE GREEN ESTATE
greenestate.org.uk

Ex-councillor Ken Curran is a founder of The Green Estate. Speak with him and you soon discover a depth of experience and radical roots, from working coal seams in the post WW2 North East to life in the post-employment Sheffield of the 1980s.

At that time Sheffield was marked by defunct steel mills and a landscape that spoke of decay. The Manor is a community a mile or so from the city centre which was particularly hard hit, with unemployment at one point reaching 40%. Rather than roll over and accept the inevitable, a group of defiant locals produced a survey which examined the impact of the closures on the Manor and attitudes amongst the local population. This in turn led to a successful application for European funding which quickly became the base for an unstoppable fight back. This is a shortened version of the back story that led to the founding of the not-for-profit Green Estate in 1998.

The Green Estate boasts an extensive team of specialists and workers and a sizeable annual budget from funding streams and contracts in the UK and beyond, all emanating from and in line with its original vision. Joint work with the University of Sheffield led to the transformation of derelict wasteland on the Manor into the ‘productive, beautiful and valued environment’ envisaged in the Green Estate mission statement. Also known as the Pictorial Urban Meadow, the scheme continues to win praise and contracts from near and far, including the Chelsea Flower Show (Gold Medal, 2013) and the landscape design contract for the 2012 Olympic Park.

Other pioneering projects undertaken on the Manor under the project include a natural treatment system for grey water (water from the bath, washing machine etc) from a neighbouring housing estate. The same system also holds back storm water which otherwise would flood lower down the valley, a perennial problem for Darnall residents in years gone by. Yet more projects under the Green Estate banner include green roof contracting, composting, business nurseries in vacant industrial buildings, and most recently a state of the art eco building for new cutting-edge technology start ups which currently boasts 80% occupancy in a bold and defiant statement marking the site of the old Nunnery colliery.

All in all, the Green Estate project is one of Sheffield’s gems which deserves to be much better known. Despite everything, the focus on raising the quality of life for the local population, largely through grassroots connections, remains unchanged.

ALT SHEFF
alt-sheff.org

The Alt Sheff (Alternative Sheffield) website is a free niche listings site for Sheffield radicals and has been on the go since 2008. Jonathan is a quietly spoken native of Doncaster who moved to Sheffield in the early 80s to work on Alt Sheff as a part-time volunteer after working with credit unions. He enjoys the cooperative ethos of the volunteer group whose effect he describes as a ‘slow burner’ for change.

Currently the site lists nearly 200 organisations (every one itself a visionary enterprise), from Abundance fruit pickers to the Yorkshire Palestine Cultural Exchange, and posts regular updates on their activities. While the workload is invisible to users, Jonathan and a handful of volunteers each expect to spend roughly one day a week maintaining the site and adding new information. Whilst the enterprise lacks either a budget or a physical location, plans for the future include fundraising events and materials, a move to break into social and possibly broadcast media, and a guide to Alt Sheff for subscribers.

Volunteer enthusiasm and time take the place of money in order to make things happen at Alt Sheff. The vision behind this investment of people and time is perhaps as hard to describe as it is to measure, but the impact is widely felt as a form of glue that underpins the notion of a radical Sheffield.

ACOUSTIC SESSIONS AT THE WHITE LION
whitelionsheffield.co.uk

Judging by the number of pubs that have morphed into music venues over the last few years, it’s a fair bet that live acoustic music remains strong in Sheffield. The requirements for performers are few and simple: a suitable location, an appreciative audience and a lack of distractions. The White Lion in Heeley provides all three in spades for Monday evening sessions run by Pete and Jane.

Pete has a proud 12 year history as a musician and came to the White Lion last summer from the Princess Royal Folk Club in Crookes. He and Jane spend several hours a week organising the monthly guest artists spot, though he is first to recognise the importance of cooperation from the management in ensuring the continuing success of the sessions.

Like Alt Sheff, the session runs on people and enthusiasm rather than money, because entry is free. This is a game in which each sector – management, organisers, audience and performers – play their part. People – up to 50 on a guest performer night – come to enjoy the sessions from as far out as Barnsley and Wakefield.

For some the surprise is that any of these three examples came into existence in the first place. Others may see them as a challenge or even as a threat. For the rest, they represent reasons to be cheerful. Each struggles for survival and money is still a problem that most face on a daily basis. The astonishing thing is that despite – perhaps because of this – human ingenuity finds a way around problems and each survives for another day. Some might ultimately succumb or move towards a more financial structure, though this hardly seems to impact on what is clearly a powerful human urge to share and find creative rather than financial solutions. Whatever the received wisdom about society and whether or not it exists, community clearly flourishes even in times of adversity and will not be wished away in Sheffield.

Jon P Baker.