At Christmas I will be stepping down from being the Chief Executive of the City Council. As is entirely proper I will not be involved in choosing my permanent successor. I may not know them and I may never meet them. They need to be allowed to do the job their way just as I was when I took over from Bob Kerslake over 11 years ago.
That does not mean though that I cannot help them to land successfully in this city, so here’s a few words of advice to whoever it may be.
First and foremost, recognise that this is a city of people. That may seem an obvious thing to say but some places define themselves by their buildings, by their statistics, by their latest success. This city does not, although if it chose to it could knock the spots off most places – so don’t go round saying “if only Sheffield was like” another place. Sheffield is Sheffield and does a very good job of it.
Next, give Sheffielders the chance to show that they have a big heart. They won’t let you down, especially when an occasion comes with a moral purpose. Who can forget the Mi Amigo flypast when Sheffield absolutely “nailed it”. Less high profile are the 1000’s of people who turn out for Remembrance Sunday year on year come rain or shine, as are the impromptu gatherings in the Peace Gardens to show sympathy and solidarity in the face of tragedy elsewhere in the world. The early days of Tramlines when it was a Sheffield crowd that sustained it before it became the 40,000+ event it is today; the welcome home for Jessica Ennis and her gold medal (when the Everly Pregnant Brothers were the warm up act – only in Sheffield!) and the Millennium Eve party were all events carried on the shoulders of the people of this city. No pushing, no shouting, no trouble – just Sheffield.
Be mindful that when a Sheffielder says “that’s not right, that” then you have probably gone too far. In my experience this city is the one that has the strongest moral compass of all and when it speaks it does so quietly and firmly. No histrionics, no shouting and wailing, so you need to make sure that you are listening.
Be prepared to be asked continuously if you are a Blade or a Wednesdayite. Answer the question honestly – I always have. In my case this involves admitting to a lifelong support of Blackburn Rovers which has the advantage of prompting pitying glances. A word of advice though – best not to say that football is only a game.
Don’t get upset if the ambitious building that has been nurtured to fruition ends up acquiring a popular nickname. See it as endearment. The Eggbox has long gone but lives on in the memory, the Cheesegrater gives no clue in its name that it is a car park, the country’s premier engineering university faculty has become the Diamond. The cranes on today’s skyline are just new nicknames waiting to happen.
Recognise that this is a city of humility. It may be frustrating that Sheffield does not always shout loudly about itself but see that as a quality. This place would rather under promise and over deliver than the other way round. Real achievement speaks much louder than words to a Sheffielder.
Mind how you speak. Oughtibridge and Beauchief have a pronunciation all of their own, and you can go either way with Greenhill. Frequent reference to a Fat Cat is more likely to be about a pub that was the birthplace of the microbrewery movement than about people’s views of your salary, and Henderson’s has got nothing to do with Worcester sauce.
Take time to look at the faces and hear the voices of the city and you will appreciate modern Sheffield. Some cities really push their diversity credentials whereas Sheffield just does it. A city in which over one hundred languages are spoken, to which fifty thousand students come and for which for more than a few it is truly a City of Sanctuary.
Lastly, try and live in the city if you can. Apart from the fact that, given the opportunity, you’d be crazy not to, you really can do your job better by being here. You see the city when it sleeps and when it wakes, you see it at weekends, you see it when it is happy or sad. I also get the sense that Sheffield people respect you for it – for being one of them – and they reward you by letting you live your off-duty life without asking about the bins and the roads.
So, I hope that wasn’t too presumptuous of me. The best person will get the job, and they will be at their best when they “get” Sheffield. I wish them well.