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A Magazine for Sheffield

Rob Cotterell "One of Sheffield’s most significant landmarks": The history of SADACCA

SADACCA is a vital community resource for Sheffield's African and Caribbean community. Tadhg Kwasi speaks to the organisation's chair, Rob Cotterell.

A brick building with SADACCA over the doors


Tadhg Kwasi

SADACCA (Sheffield and District African Caribbean Community Association) grew out of Sheffield's West Indies Association and, since gaining its own premises in the 1980s, has been a hub for the city's African and Caribbean community.

Now Then spoke to the chair of SADACCA, Rob Cotterell, who was born in Sheffield and is heavily involved in the community. He has first-hand experience of what it's like to be black in the time after Windrush and he told us about his experience of growing up black in different parts of the city, and his journey to the present day at the head of SADACCA.

A Black man smiles, wearing a baseball cap

Chair of SADACCA, Rob Cotterell

Tadhg Kwasi

Tell me about your background, where are you from?

I was born in Nether Edge, Sheffield in 1960, my parents came over from Jamaica and they met in Sheffield. Shortly after that we moved to Attercliffe.

What was it like growing up here in Sheffield?

Growing up until around eight years old, Sheffield was just a playpen, I was a child. Then we moved to Parson Cross. We were one of few black families at the time and there were very few, we’re talking less than five.

Now that was a real culture shock because growing up in Attercliffe it was a real mixture of Pakistani, Arab, Indian, Irish and Jamaicans there, and other Caribbean islands, so it was quite a mix. But moving to Parson Cross it was 99.9% white, white English. And overnight I became aware of my black skin and how that was an issue because when people now would start to define me in other people’s eyes.

And then at 25 I moved to Pitsmoor, where there were a lot of black people there. That was a relatively comfortable place to live.

But having said that, Sheffield has got its fair share of institutional, structural issues. I’m helping to raise my two grandsons, it’ll be interesting to see if anything’s changed, because people always say “Well, things have changed since the 60s and 70s.”

Well, some things have changed but the real “big hitter” things haven’t changed, you know, around education, around unemployment, around criminogenic factors, around mental health. Our mental health continues to suffer disproportionately to other people, our health suffers more than other people.

So has it changed? Yes, the landscape’s changed but have the life chances changed? Have the institutional matters changed? Have the structural matters changed? I would say no.

Were there spaces for community and culture living here, growing up in Sheffield?

Our parents weren’t welcomed in the local pubs and local nightclubs, so they created their own forms of entertainment. So a mixture of house parties and what we call blues parties. Illegal nightclubs. But that’s a place where we’d go, or we would go to house parties, because we knew we were safe there.

Since Theresa May’s time as Home Secretary, we talk about a hostile environment but actually we’ve always talked about a hostile environment because we’ve always been in an hostile environment and so from that is what brought about SADACCA.

As my generation started coming through the 60s, we used to go to pubs and clubs, but there were only certain pubs in certain areas you could go. If you went to a city centre pub, not much of a problem, [but] there’s one or two which might be frequented by fascist skinheads. There’s still one around in the centre of town. We knew that we could get into certain clubs because they were certain clubs that were targeting us as an African-Caribbean crowd.

But yeah there was a colour bar on a significant number of nightclubs in Sheffield. Yep. Even some black-owned nightclubs. I won’t mention any names because these people are still around. But even some black-owned nightclubs in the 80s had more or less a colour bar.

Most of the bouncers on the doors, were African-Caribbean, African and they were told, "You can only let so many black guys here tonight".

So how did this space SADACCA come about? What’s the history of it?

Our parent's generation and some of their children started to form their own social spaces. I think the first space that they had was in Upperthorpe and that was called The Bug House. That was in the 60s, then in the 70s it moved to The Philadelphia Centre just off Infirmary Road. Then moved to the West Indian Centre in Attercliffe.

A tree on a wall made of hand prints

The Bantu Archive

Tadhg Kwasi

From there people, wanted to get somewhere, I think the lease was up. I went there but I wasn’t really involved in the place as much. And when people were talking about needing somewhere more appropriate for their social space, for their safe space, for their sanctuary, some us wanted to be in the city centre but others wanted to be over in Heeley, Nether Edge way.

So the base group split from the West Indian Centre, virtually half came here to SADACCA and half went to the Everyone Centre, which was adjacent to Heeley City Baths.

So in 1985, a decision was made for [some] of us to come to here to this building. But people need to understand that this area called Wicker, it was more of a no-go area. It was an awful place. From those Wicker arches up to the last standing pub now called The Big Gun, there were 12 public houses in this stretch of Wicker. So they all fed the steelworks, and the cutlery firms, and steelmaking firms in this area. That’s how many pubs there were.

But during Thatcher's period of deindustrialising, this place became derelict. It was a derelict and dark and risky place to even walk through. It wasn’t something people would frequent like now.

So we were given the opportunity, let’s say tongue in cheek, to move here. And we moved here in 1985, we spent a year doing various renovations, modernising and refitting the indoor space. And we opened our doors to the members and to the public on the 1 April 1986. One of the most famous West-Indian cricketers Clive Lloyd came and did an opening here as a celebrity.

How’d you get involved in it?

In 1986, as a 26 year old, I came here to the Saturday school. That’s how I got involved with SADACCA, I came here because I heard they were doing African history because all the history of Africa in the 80s - and some of it even now - is negative.

It gave me a sense of giving back to the community. To be honest I never had any intention of becoming a board member. Certainly not the chair of the organisation. But the organisation had to go through some massive changes in 2015. I was asked to become chair, I thought about it and I took the role on.

What’s your vision for this space in the next year or two? What do you want readers to know if they want to get involved?

Right now, I’m looking for a group of young Africans to help this city, this community, to take the Bantu Archive to next stage.

If people need to come and ask the question, how can I get involved, they can come over to me and we can have that conversation with anybody who asks the question. But yeah this space is still a fantastic space, it’s one of Sheffield’s most significant landmarks.

by Tadhg Kwasi (he/him)
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