Introduction to ‘Welcome to Sheffield’ by the author

Sheffield is a paradoxical city. It is one of England’s largest cities, yet it is often described as the ‘biggest village in England’. People in Sheffield seem surprisingly closely linked to each other; perhaps this goes back to its historic cutlery tradition. Though village-like, it is also deeply divided, with the South and West generally far more prosperous than the North and East. It has also traditionally been very English. Poised on the border between Yorkshire and Derbyshire, its expansion mainly drew on people from these counties. Of the big cities, it is the furthest from the sea. London, Liverpool and Bristol have long been cosmopolitan because of constant sea traffic. By contrast, Sheffield has at times seemed somewhat insular and parochial.

But all this has now changed. Sheffield is now unavoidably cosmopolitan. In 2011, one in five of the population was of ethnic minority heritage and this proportion will increase further. Significant groups of migrants have come from more than thirty different countries across the world. The city now has to come to terms with this new ethnic diversity. This book aims to help Sheffielders of all kinds to gain a better understanding of these numerous ethnic groups, why they came and how they have settled. Our title –‘Welcome to Sheffield’ – is optimistic, but the book shows a mixed picture in the way in which migrants have been received.

The city has already taken one crucial step. In 2007, the City Council unanimously decided to declare Sheffield a ‘City of Sanctuary’. It was the first city in the UK to do so. Since then, Sheffield’s example has been followed by many towns and cities across the land. I am grateful to City of Sanctuary Sheffield for endorsing this publication as a contribution to its mission of building a culture of welcome and hospitality for asylum seekers and refugees. I hope that the book will contribute to social cohesion in Sheffield. Sheffield’s story may also have lessons for other cities and towns.

Ethnic minorities have contributed to Sheffield’s life ever since it was founded by a Frenchman. Sheffield industry has long been international in character. Sheffield radicals have had an international outlook at least since the 1789 French Revolution.

Immigration is a highly controversial issue. It played a part in the riots that occurred in 2001 and 2011 in several English towns but not in Sheffield. It has been blamed for extremist outrages. It was probably decisive in the 2016 referendum outcome that the UK should leave the European Union. In that vote, Sheffield mirrored the national trend, voting 51% for Brexit.

Part 1 of the book traces immigrant movements into Sheffield and explains how Sheffield became a City of Sanctuary. Part 2 is a ‘handbook of populations’, explaining why people came to Sheffield and how migrants fared when they got here. Part 3 sums up the story and draws lessons for the future.

This book can only touch the fringe of a huge subject. I am sure that it contains omissions and inaccuracies. In highlighting some individuals, I have no doubt overlooked others who are equally meritorious. I hope that over time other writers will fill in the many gaps in the story.