This is the final post in a sequence where I’ve drawn on my community development experience to consider six categories of community assets. It focuses on the stories and heritage of local places. You can find the full list of categories towards the end of my post, What Are Community Assets? stories and heritage
Of all the six types of local assets I’ve considered, this one most directly addresses my underlying theme of spirituality. It’s not that stories and heritage are more spiritual than the other types of asset, so much as we tend to associate stories with spirituality more than we do hillsides or buildings.
I have discussed the value of stories in earlier posts and so it should be no surprise that just as businesses benefit from a story they use for their branding, so neighbourhoods benefit from the stories its residents and those nearby tell about it.
I live in a neighbourhood with two names. People who live in Pitsmoor use its original name, although it has a poor reputation. No-one wants to live in Pitsmoor because it is a place where there is crime, mostly related to drugs. Not so long ago South Yorkshire police had four armed response vehicles and assigned one to be deployed solely in Pitsmoor.
A few years ago the city’s newspaper had a front page headline that said the police has advised a potential house buyer not to live in Pitsmoor. It turned out it was a lay receptionist who had said this and arguably the vendors did more damage than the people who pulled out of the sale, by going to the paper.
But the residents of Pitsmoor tell a different story. It is a community that welcomes immigrants and refugees. This means part of the population constantly turns over but many people commit to the area for life and positively love living here.
Burngreave on the other hand is a well-to-do place and this can be seen in the many town houses that used to be owned by owners of the steel industries that surround the area. There is an air of faded gentility about the place.
Burngreave is the name of the ward and residents are sometimes chided for not respecting the area by calling it by its proper name. When the national government decided to spend £50 million on the area, it went to Burngreave and not Pitsmoor, even though the money did not go to all the Burngreave Ward but pretty much solely to Pitsmoor.
I don’t expect you to follow all this. The point is every neighbourhood tells its own story. The story of Pitsmoor is further complicated by the many migrant communities. Some are new and others have been there for generations. Each brought their own stories into the area and has a story to tell about their experience of life in the area.
All these stories matter. They have a direct impact on the area. When the local paper tells people not to live in Pitsmoor it makes a difference. Whether that is a positive or negative difference is hard to tell.
Note there is a difference between the stories told from outside the area and those told by local residents. The Wicker Arches are sometimes called Sheffield’s Brandenburg Gates, separating wealthy from poor Sheffield. I remember standing with my mother in the town centre, when I was very young, pointing towards the arches and asking “what’s down there?” “Nothing”, she answered.
That nothing is where I live now and pretty much everything to me.
Heritage is the stories we tell about our neighbourhoods’ histories. Buildings and the spaces where buildings used to be, the routes of the roads; all embody the heritage of their place. The Roman Ridge, is a Roman thoroughfare that passes through Pitsmoor from the city centre to Greasborough in Rotherham.
Heritage is in the rivers and the associated industry. Thus Pitsmoor is a steel community and there are many clues in the buildings to its past glories. Some people remember a lot of this and others have memories imported into the area. Memories of persecution or of other cultures, other places with their own memories or heritage.
Heritage is the shared identity, an identity that belongs to everyone who lives here. Of course it is possible to live here and not be aware of its heritage. It is possible to shuffle past the buildings and never look above the thresholds of the shops and wonder when and why they were built.
Compare Sheffield with Scunthorpe. Scunthorpe is small-scale. It looks as if the town centre is a temporary place, where any day the population will up sticks and move on. Sheffield feels as if it has put down deep roots. Its city centre dwarfs Scunthorpe’s in every way.
But compare Sheffield with Manchester. The size and opulence of Manchester’s Centre makes Sheffield feel like a minor place.
Neither comparison is a value judgement. The differences originate from the histories of these three places. It is possible to prefer any of the three over the other two. But they are different and it is these differences that contribute to their identity.
Sheffield’s history matters. The Hallam constituency, entirely within the city boundaries, is one of the wealthiest in the country. Why? Originally it was the captains of the steel companies and perhaps now the university and teaching hospital contribute. Does this wealthy area bring new industry to the city?
These massive contrasts of wealth and poverty across the city contribute to its local economies. Their influence cannot be denied.
They are part of our heritage and form the stories we tell of our city and its neighbourhoods. Telling compelling stories about our neighbourhoods allows them an identity, drawing interest from businesses and customers. It is important we tell the right stories that draw and don’t repel.
Can you tell stories of your place? How do they impact upon the local economy?