Sheffield: Exemplar of British backwardness

Each and every time I fly back to the United Kingdom I am struck by how different the town planning is this side of the North Sea.  Our towns sprawl so much more than they do in Sweden – which instead has more high-density areas relative to the low population. 

The impression I get of the UK is one of dirtiness, wastefulness and cold individualism to property.  There is little logic in that looking from above – other than to note the rows upon rows of dour and uninspired terraced and semi-detached housing. 

Comparing London and Stockholm as cities is not fair, but I lived 8 minutes from central station somewhere with beautiful waterside greenery, scenery and piece – high density yes, but relaxed, wide, open.

I’ve just got out of Sheffield this summer, and am with my dad at the grandparents flat in central Kilmarnock.  Being where I am now, doing what I do now, there is no way I am going to look at living in Sheffield for work and time soon. 

I applied for my PGCE here, but got rejected and stayed in Durham (a good move, although I would definitely have had second thoughts about accepting a place at Sheffield anyway) and student-wise – with a world class student union, facilities, and some undeniably attractive spots in the city centre – it looked like a nice break away from Durham for somebody who naively thought he had done it all there in 4 years.  I think a PGCE here may have been tough, lonely work, but I am sure it would have got be success (although of course where I am now is thanks mainly to Durham’s good will in getting me on my first teaching placement in Stockholm).

I’ve seen a different side to it now, and one I know is echoed in different places around the UK.  One of estates where two lads in hoodies walk around like owning the place.  Where the bus stops are covered in litter and the surrounding grass lawns are 10 cm tall.  Where you turn the corners to find streets for what we call ‘diverse’ politically, when in reality my presence as a white male gives the diversity we discuss. 

It’s just not nice.  When I have children, I am going to write them letters that I will hide away in their bedroom to find one day.  In that I plan to write about the kinds of hopes and dreams I would hold for them.  To learn and understand some of the insights I have.  To make a positive contribution to the planet, to human society, to life.  To do things every day that we would be proud of, but that they would be to.  In towns like Sheffield, they feel so caught up in their own mess and problems that making a mark on the wider world seems forlorn, distant, out of touch.  First world problems indeed (and going off to teach in a well-educated area of a well-educated capital city I can hardly complain with those who criticise), but hold on a second.  From whatever part of the world we are living in, we have to think and see life as something that we can constantly advance – Sheffield was recessive to me – and whatever the background is, a world around a growing child needs to be one of respect for it for prosperity to flourish.

Comparing where I have worked is surreal – children I work with now are going to grow into attractive, sensitive, ambitious, positive change-drivers – because there is a desire to do so, a wish to explore the world and see how it all works together, from a very early age.  This is so in contrast to before, when I did still work with kids with these ideas and dreams, but they were secondary to the local issues and problems.  Things that were keeping back success, sadly, ultimately. 

Living in nice areas, safe from crime, free of choice – full of good role models – is a hugely important thing to me.  And advantages about big family homes in secluded spots makes perfect sense. 

The real answer though, is about opportunity.  I want my children to feel empowered to change their local, national and international environment for the better.  I want them to have to freedoms to develop skills and interests that, even if I don’t like, I know it is great that they do and are an asset for them.  And a place too where the world and people around them earn respect, and give respect and enjoyment back as well.  It should as close we can model what modern life should be like.  There are going to be hard battles and hard places in the worlds of the future, but our leaders to do that should be fresh, positive, active, engaged, driven, able to focus, able to know what a good world is like.

Able to have a foresight better than my generation and the generations of life that have struggled for billions of years prior. 

Sorry South Yorkshire, but you feel like a glorified relic of a past time which we don’t respect anymore, and we need life to progress from.

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