Industrial heritage of Sheffield

Brendan Moffett

Sheffield is a city with an incredible industrial heritage. And it used this kind of natural resource to become the industrial heart of the UK in the 19th century. Sheffield is really known to many people around the world for the steel. It is synonymous with steel, the city of steel, and in the early 20th century the most people were somehow connected to the steel industry. Thousands and thousands of people used to work in steel production and in particular in the wake of the Second World War. Post-war Sheffield occupied a very pivotal placing in the European landscape since it was supplying the steel.

The steel is also part of an incredible heritage of making things and producing things. The term Made in Sheffield still resonates around the world. Sheffield became synonymous with cutlery. In five star hotels in many cities all over the world there is cutlery with name Sheffield written on it. And that is something the city is still really proud of. Obviously in the post-war and in the 60s and 70s we were so suddenly shifting and Sheffield was going towards post-industrial ages. We saw the closure of many of our major mass steelworks, we saw the closure of coal mines. 

Sheffield really had to spend the last 20-30 years reinventing itself and trying to forge new identity. But without throwing away the spirit of what makes the place special in the first place, and I suppose, the great thing about the Made in Sheffield name is that it can be applied to other products as well. What we have now is a sort of the burgeoning and growing creative industries sector that are very keen to attach themselves to the Made in Sheffield brand in a different forms beyond the conventional steel production. 

In the 1980s and in the early 1990s, in this kind of post-industrial meltdown, you know, northern English cities were looking for new solutions, new ideas. The city of Sheffield started to invest in infrastructure, trying to create new opportunities for new industries. It turned many buildings over, disused buildings in city centre, gave them over to music studios, to creative development labs with very low rents and in some cases no rents at all. It started trying to foster in new activities and new industries. 

I think it is fair to say that initially a lot of these industries were frowned upon because they were not seen as real proper businesses making things that can be sold to international markets. And it was not seen like the days of hard work like those of the 50s and 60s. But what has happened over time, I think, is that it was a "slow burn effect" creating the right conditions for these creative industries to flourish. 

They have slowly started to become contributors to the economy and recent studies in our economic strategy acknowledge that today between 15 and 20% of jobs in our economy come from what we have lucidly described as creative and digital industries. So people now are sitting up and taking notice of these activities, of the jobs that they create and of their contribution to the economy. 

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Brendan Moffett

Brendan Moffett

Director of Strategic Marketing at Creative Sheffield in Sheffield, United Kingdom

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