How Sheffield rose as Nottingham fell

Mary Dejevsky recently returned to Sheffield and Nottingham to see how the cities of her childhood have changed, and what effect Boris Johnson’s ‘levelling up’ agenda may have on them

<p>There is a smart new tram system that trundles you from north Nottingham to south but most of what you see in between hardly lifts the mood</p>

There is a smart new tram system that trundles you from north Nottingham to south but most of what you see in between hardly lifts the mood

This is a tale of two cities, separated by less than 40 miles in the middle of Britain, and how they changed places. They are familiar to me from what seems like the distant past, but also from more recent years. One is where I lived until the age of 12. The other is where I spent the next six years of school. I have returned to both many times since and I have followed the fortunes of younger relatives as they took places at their universities. These two cities are Nottingham and Sheffield.

Nottingham was a successful, outward-looking market city, way back when, with a thriving manufacturing industry, a well-regarded university and an equally well-regarded polytechnic. It was a manageable size and it had a thriving city centre, with the Council House, the market square and the Theatre Royal at its heart. It had the Goose Fair every autumn and a successful football team in Nottingham Forest who won the FA cup In 1959. In fact it was such a big civic event that we primary school children made a model of the pitch and learned the names of the team by heart.

When I arrived in Sheffield, just a few years later, it was a defensive and depressed place. It seemed marooned in the ruins of what passed for the nation’s steel industry and in many ways epitomised William Blake’s “dark satanic mills”. Spread across multiple hills and divided by no fewer than five river valleys, it defied easy navigation. We kept getting lost, and I still do. Starkly divided between the haves on the western fringe and the have-nots everywhere else. It was a Labour fiefdom, second only to Liverpool in the party’s dominance of the city council, and David Blunkett was elected the country’s youngest councillor at the tender age of 22. Those were the 1960s going into the 1970s.

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