City Views: Conchie – “When I first moved to Sheffield, I hated it”

From the born-and-bred to those who’ve arrived from another continent, we asked a number of people living here to reflect on and write about their relationship with Sheffield.

This month, Conchie’s story.

I find myself writing about Sheffield from the strange position of no longer living there. So, why the encomium? Well, let’s dig the hole a little deeper.

When I first moved to Sheffield, I hated it. No, wait. Hear me out. I arrived as a rising academic after a decade in Manchester. I’d plugged myself into the heart of that city. In Mancunia, I’d worked and studied at the university and rowed from the Irwell all the way to Henley. I knew where to go if I fancied playing out with an acoustic guitar; the best place to get late-night Thai; and where to go for a night out on any level from sophistication to a smash-up. I also had a wide circle of friends on Manchester’s bustling music, literary, and art scenes. It didn’t help that my then-partner introduced Sheffield to me by saying ‘of course, Ranmoor is considered the Chelsea of the North.’ Having lived and worked in London, and being familiar with Chelsea and surrounding areas, I couldn’t see it myself.

Where Manchester bustled, and London had hummed, and Edinburgh before that had teemed, Sheffield was a shift of gears. To my neophyte eyes it didn’t seem to have energy at all. It didn’t help that I’d moved on the proviso that we could move again, as academics have to in order to make their start and their mark. I arrived already looking forward to leaving.

What, I cried, was with all the hills? Why didn’t you iron them out? Why in the name of all that was holy had the city fathers taken a perfectly good river and dammed its length so that a rower could only look at it and seethe. Why did the entire city seem to wear the horizon like a hat? Which Planning Department ran a motorway through the middle of the city and dumped a load of concrete in the shopping area? Why had no-one shot them?

So, we didn’t get off on the right foot, Sheffield and I. Jobs came and went elsewhere. Foolishly, I blamed the city for my inability to get on in a field I’d worked hard to create opportunities in rather than recognizing I’d been sold a pup by the person I was living with. It was not the city’s fault. A city, after all, is just a collection of buildings and histories. It’s the people who make it. Manchester had worked for me because I’d connected with the people I’d met there. As friendships grew – next-door neighbours, my boss at work, friends of friends, Ian Quince at the butcher’s shop – so it was with Sheffield. I’d been spectacularly wrong. The city didn’t have no energy; it just had different energies.

Slowly, I grew to love the hills, revelling in my New Year’s Eve tradition of running up and down Fulwood Hill six times to welcome in the New Year. I grew to cherish the hard, flat light I could find in autumn and winter in the Peaks and the contrastingly lush spectrum of greens the city wore in summer as I pushed first one and then another baby through its streets and parks in my guise as Daddy Daycare. Acquaintances became mates and mates because friends – the sort who stick with you through good times and bad.

Where Manchester had a ‘scene’ and an illustrious history that they never tired of burnishing, Sheffield was full of people simply getting on with making music

When my firstborn was rushed into hospital with breathing difficulties, it was Sheffield’s Paramedics who saved her life. When I slept on a concrete floor for five nights in a row, my hand on the bed so her tiny fingers could grasp mine, it was Sheffield’s nurses who took pity and threw a blanket over me. When my own kidney biopsy went wrong, I ended high up in the Hallamshire, watching the sun come up over a city now laid out before me. It was breathtaking. I could see forever from up there, as the old boys talked Blades and Owls and waited for their breakfast.

I found out, slowly, that where Manchester had a ‘scene’ and an illustrious history that they never tired of burnishing, Sheffield was full of people simply getting on with making music. The history was as glorious as any in British music, but they were more interested in what they were doing now. There was no ‘too cool for school’ standoffishness. I found myself in Martin Simpson’s kitchen, listening to him play what he was currently working on over a cup of tea. I found Rick Savage inviting me out for a pint next time he was in Ranmoor. Strangers would come over at open mic nights just to chat about guitars and music.

There were pints, and nights out, and footie under the lights with mates, and singing in the choir, and working at the Uni. There was a life – but one that I had to leave to save.

The three pieces that make up my heart are in your care, Sheffield. Look after them until I get back.

By Conchie

About the artist: Molly Jones is an illustrator in Sheffield.
After graduating from Sheffield Hallam University with a BA (Hons) in Illustration, Molly began working with local businesses to tell their stories through mural and hand-drawn artwork. Inspired by precise line work and distinctive typography, her work has covered everything from the Miner’s Strike to a large window painting for St Luke’s charity shop in Broomhill.

Want to get involved and share your relationship with Sheffield? Drop the editor a line,

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