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Two portions of culture with chips & mushy peas please!

Fountain detail @ Peace Gardens, Sheffield, UK

Some influences in our lives seem like the holy panacea of Omega 3-rich fish. Most of us have had experience of listening to the ubiquitous, humdrum mantras telling us X, Y or Z is ‘good for us so incorporate more into your life…’


But let’s face it, we’re still a nation where Mr or Mrs Average feel much more comfortable when they’re consuming their seafood in one state and one state only – once it’s been battered, deep-fried and served up with a mammoth portion of chips (and don’t you dare forget the mushy peas if you’re ‘oop north’).

Often the intention’s there to go for the saintful salmon menu option. Maybe that’s when the ‘good for you’ mantra replays through their head like one of those invasive radio commercials that never seem to be off the airwaves. The next thought then comes. ‘Oh but I know what I like!’ So they order the cod with all the trimmings instead, same as ever.

Just as this tentative attitude to our scaly friends runs through society, the idea of culture can be a slippery concept to catch for many a woman or man in the street, who don’t actively participate – whether it’s work or play – in this, what they might call ‘arty-farty’ arena.

As someone who’s naturally drawn to many creative activities, including music, art, books, photography, film and dance, I don’t suffer from this mental mindblock. To me the word ‘culture’ sums up any response to an activity which serves to elevate me out of my every day thoughts and stirs up new ideas and emotions.

That’s why I’ve been avidly following and supporting the bid Sheffield – the city that’s become my much-loved home since moving here from London three years ago – is making to become the UK’s first City of Culture 2013. Twitter:#shefcityculture Facebook:

As part of this campaign, last Sunday an open-to-all Culture Debate was held in the lofty surroundings of City Hall in the centre of town. I was an audience member in this debate, where seven speakers, who in my view represented a pretty broad brush-stroke of Sheffield’s cultural heritage, discussed ‘the big questions’ surrounding culture(starting with, not surprisingly: ‘What is culture?’)

And so the debate rumbled on…..while the audience slowly warmed to the idea of piping up with welcome questions or comments (the general consensus aired to explain this initial reticence, was Sheffielders had a tendency to be shy about their talents) I was struck by the number of empty seats at this free and accessible event.

Perhaps the fresh bout of snow had put the mildly-curious off attending. I also found myself wondering if Mr and Mrs Average of Sheffield were aware the debate was happening at all, as I hadn’t seen much evidence of prior high-profile promotion of this event throughout the city.

For those that don’t know much about the city of Steel, beyond the stereotypes of The Full Monty and those famous but now-departed cooling towers, here’s a few cultural facts about this glorious place which may surprise you:

• 7.2% of the population is employed in the creative industries – that’s twice the national average
• The city’s Showroom is the UK’s second-largest independent cinema
• Sheffield boasts the largest number of active art spaces (studios/workshops) outside of London.

I could go…..I might even shout about it, just to make up for Mr and Mrs Average who might be too shy to speak up! At least I’m not the only voice who’s hollering away. Here’s an interesting article by one of the Culture Debate panellists, BBC Radio Sheffield presenter Paulette Edwards, about the bid and culture in general(and all that arty-farty, fishy business!):

Just days after the debate, I had something else to make some noise about when the Department for Culture, Media & Sport announced Sheffield made the shortlist for the UK City of Culture 2013 title, along with just three other contenders – Birmingham, Derry and Norwich.

Looks like I’ve got loads more yelling to come but I have a voicebox and I ain’t afraid to use it. Go, go, go Sheff!