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A Magazine for Sheffield
Sheffield City Goals

These goals could create a fairer, greener, more democratic Sheffield – and they belong to all of us

A groundbreaking new project invites us to imagine the stories we want to tell about our city in 2035, and then build the infrastructure to get us there.

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Conveners held 28 deep listening workshops throughout 2023.

Sheffield City Goals.

“I really valued the honesty and candidness of the conversations. They were, at times, uncomfortable and hard – people had strong and passionate opinions. What really helped was the mutual respect shown and how people genuinely listened to each other.”

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Angela Foulkes said the goals would make Sheffield "even greener, with outdoor spaces in all areas of the city".

Roz Davies, CEO of Manor-based social enterprise The Green Estate, is reflecting on the process through which thousands of people across Sheffield co-created the new City Goals, the final version of which were recently unveiled.

City Goals is a new project that aims to collectively imagine a set of stories that Sheffield wants to tell about itself in 2035. The idea is that these will act as a ‘north star’ for the city – a roadmap as we begin to transform our local systems and institutions as part of a just transition towards a sustainable and equitable world.

They’re different to objectives, or policy targets (for example, halving pollution in the River Don). Instead, the new goals set a direction of travel and a collective vision for what a better Sheffield could and should look like ten years from now. The goals that citizens of the city have arrived at are undoubtedly broad – but this reflects the depth, scale and intersectional nature of the systemic problems facing us as a city, and the fact that our conditions will change drastically by 2035.

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According to Olivier Tsemo, the goals "set a new direction of travel for our city".

One of the groundbreaking things about the goals is that they are not owned by any one institution. This subtle but fundamental difference marks them out from other attempts to set objectives for towns and cities in the UK, which have often been led by local councils acting as gatekeeper for the shared ambitions of communities.

This is important because the traditional approach, where responsibility for solving a city’s problems rests with a few powerful organisations like the council, has failed to build the buy-in or collective endeavour needed to tackle systemic problems like climate breakdown (on average, the carbon emissions in any city directly controlled by the local council is less than 10-15%).

Instead, the conveners of Sheffield’s City Goals say that all of us – the individuals, communities and organisations that make up the city – are invited to own the goals and work towards achieving them. The co-creation of them has been coordinated by a group of stakeholders from across the city, ranging from big anchor institutions like the universities and the public health team, to grassroots voluntary sector organisations and social enterprises like The Green Estate and Voluntary Action Sheffield. Opus, the worker-owned company that publishes Now Then, has been part of the team bringing the goals together alongside Sheffield-based think-tank Citizen Network Research, sustainability firm Arup and not-for-profit systems change designers Dark Matter Labs.

“Lots of cities have done what we’ve done with a certain degree of engagement,” said Alexis Krachai of the local Chamber of Commerce, who is one of the conveners. “What could be unique is our intent to use these goals in a meaningful way to rewire every aspect of civic life in the city.”

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Publishing the goals is only the first step. Now they have been set by the citizens of Sheffield, the conveners aim to build the civic infrastructure that will help get us there through a participatory process. The first phase of the design of this infrastructure is centred around five main ambitions:

  • Sheffield 2035: a network that offers a 'whole city’ approach to achieving the new City Goals
  • Next Gen Assembly: a citizens’ assembly biased towards young people in the city, with a mandate to adapt the City Goals over time
  • Cornerstone Indicators: a set of metrics for the City Goals that are ‘deeply human’, relatable, intuitive, compelling, statistically sound and democratically generated – these could be hosted and analysed by local media, like Now Then
  • Neighbourhood Conversation: forums for neighbours to come together and have honest conversations about progress towards the City Goals, and explore their own contributions
  • Demonstrator & Investment Fund: a collective public, private and civic investment fund, that will invest strategically to achieve the City Goals

In the coming months Now Then will explore each of these projects in depth, and look at how the six stories that we want to tell about Sheffield in a decade from now could transform the city for the better.

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Alexis Krachai said the goals could "rewire every aspect of civic life in the city".

Angela Foulkes, the principal of Sheffield College, said being part of the convening team made her realise that “so many of our aspirations really are collective, shared and critical to all of our prosperity and wellbeing – we have a chance to really change things for the better.”

”When we realise the goals, our city will look physically different – it will be even greener, with outdoor spaces in all areas of the city,” she said. “When people talk about living in the city and in their communities they will describe a safe city with access to culture and creativity.”

The process of creating the goals was collaborative, and required the conveners to think carefully about how the city’s many diverse communities could have a meaningful voice in the discussion. Over the course of 2023, more than 1,500 Sheffielders helped shape the goals online, while 28 deep listening workshops hosted by city stakeholders collected more than 4,000 data points.

In addition, 17 sessions were hosted by organisations representing distinct Sheffield communities, ensuring that people without access to digital technology were still able to take part in the process. For some of the conveners, hosting the workshops was a powerful experience.

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Sonia Gayle called the creation of the goals "a once-in-a-generation moment".

“I witnessed perhaps a once-in-a-generation moment when Sheffielders from all walks of life came together to speak passionately and share ideas about improving the city they all love,” said convener Sonia Gayle, chair of the Sheffield African Heritage Culture Forum and a former Sheffield Race Equality commissioner. She added that the goals that came together as part of this massive exercise in deep listening “set the minimum shared standards, ambitions and heartfelt aspirations that citizens, communities and organisations want for their city.”

The distributed, decentralised nature of the project recognises that responsibility for responding to the systemic problems Sheffield will face over the coming decades must be shared by institutions, citizens and communities across the city. No one organisation or individual can successfully take on either all of the risk or all of the responsibility for meeting the goals by 2035. This is because the social, environmental and economic problems we face are deeply intertwined – you can’t solve one without going to the level where they share causes and intersect.

It’s important to be honest that over the next decade, the crises facing Sheffield and the wider world are likely to worsen in terms of severity, scale and frequency. These could include the deepening effects of climate breakdown and the subsequent strain on our food and health systems, as well as worsening inequality and the continued erosion of our democracy.

“We are going to be further affected by the environmental, social and economic breakdown the whole world is facing,” said Davies, whose Green Estate company works to build adaptive and resilient urban places. “This is already playing out in terms of the cost-of-living crisis, energy and food shortages, floods and heatwaves and technological changes.”

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"For better or worse our old systems are breaking down and we are going through a transition. What concerns me is that as a country and as a city we have not prepared our citizens, our places and our businesses for the uncertainty and challenges we will face."

"What brings me hope is that the process and the end results of the City Goals will help us change that," she added. "Building community connections, prioritising nature-based solutions like the Grey to Green scheme and focusing on supporting all our young people to flourish are the essential ingredients we've agreed to collectively make happen."

Terry Murphy of the Sheffield Social Enterprise Network, who is also a convener, said that the systemic problems facing Sheffield “aren't unique to our city”, but that the City Goals “seek to focus on Sheffield’s strengths, such as the clear sense of community and abundant green spaces, as tools to leverage the positive changes necessary to address these systemic problems.”

“The City Goals and the work around them can put Sheffielders at the vanguard of the UK's shift to a more just and sustainable future,” he added. “The stories frame the narrative, and the goals intentionally don't link progress to a narrow set of measurable outputs, the priorities around which would likely change over a ten year period anyway.”

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Terry Murphy said the goals "seek to focus on Sheffield’s strengths".

The conveners say they’re now inviting organisations across the city to formally adopt the goals as their own, and start weaving them into their work. This is already starting to happen, with Sheffield Council recently voting to formally adopt the goals. Now other city institutions are expected to do the same, including big players like the university and the local NHS.

But crucial to meeting the goals will be organisations of all sizes, not just those with multi-million pound turnovers, but the hundreds of smaller organisations that make up the fabric of the city, playing their part.

“It was heartening to find that there was much agreement about the issues, but what excited me was that so many people understood that the transformation we need will only be achieved if citizens, neighbourhoods and all the diverse communities of Sheffield play their part,” said Simon Duffy of Citizen Network Research.

“These are City Goals, not council goals. That makes all the difference.”

For Davies, how the goals transform the city "will depend on each and every one of us." "I do think people and organisations will look at these goals and begin to adopt them, embed them into organisational strategies, and speak to investors.

“At The Green Estate we have been reviewing our strategy recently and we have adopted the ‘Green and Resilient’ theme into our mission and our strategic goals. I was recently talking to a group of senior decision-makers from regional and national organisations and was able to proudly talk to them about the City Goals – I think they were impressed!”

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For Krachai, the goals now need to “permeate every aspect of living and working in the city” to be successful. “It should be woven into our education and skills system, how you access services and how you contribute to civic life,” he said. “If the City Goals become another thing on a to-do list we’ll have missed a wonderful opportunity.”

For convener Olivier Tsemo of SADACCA, the goals “set a new direction of travel for our city”. “The goals are the citizens’ moral imagination – a projection into a bright future for all,” he added.

If we achieve all of the goals by 2035, and are able to tell these radically new stories about our city, we will also have seen tangible changes in our lives and the way we relate to each other as fellow citizens of Sheffield. Foulkes says that if the project is successful, “we will have reduced and maybe even eradicated poverty with effective wealth redistribution, good employment opportunities, thriving business communities and shared prosperity.”

“More people from across communities will be listened to, feel enfranchised and will shape their own neighbourhoods and the city. I’ve never lived anywhere where there was a chance to shape how things are done – where there was an opportunity to really work across a whole place to deliver shared ambitions, dreams and hopes. It’s remarkable.”

by Sam Gregory (he/him)

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