A review for Edge, the Magazine of the Nether Edge Neighbourhood Group, November 2018
In 2008, David Price, a former senior civil servant at the Department of Employment at Moorfoot and a member of NENG’s History Group, wrote a very well received book, the Sheffield Troublemakers, an in-depth investigation of our city’s radical and rebellious political past. Now ten years later he has turned his attention to an important and fascinating aspect of our recent history, the migration into Sheffield of thousands of people from so many countries around the world.
Starting with an historical survey of immigration in Sheffield from its earliest days in the 12th Century, the author shows how the massive increase in the population before the 20th Century was largely due to English migrants from the surrounding counties coming to work in the cutlery, and later in the 19th Century, in the steel and engineering works. Although even then there were newcomers who came to avoid oppression or destitution in their own country, including Jews, Irish and Germans all seeking a better life in the Britain.
In the 1901 Census only 0.4% of the population were listed as born abroad and the picture had not changed much by the middle of the 20th Century. Today 1 in 5 of Sheffield’s population identify as belonging to one of Sheffield’s numerous minority ethnic groups. This has been one of the most profound social changes in all of Sheffield’s history and one which is still in continual transition, yet compared to the experiences of other towns and cities in Britain has been achieved with some degree of success as different communities have learned to “rub along together”.
This has not happened by accident and the book details the work done by migrant communities themselves to work harmoniously with the indigenous population, and the very positive and initially well resourced policies of the City Council over several recent decades, supported by the churches, the schools and many voluntary agencies. The book especially highlights the work done since 2000 in providing welcome, hospitality and inclusion for the many asylum seekers who arrived in our city, culminating in Sheffield becoming the first “City of Sanctuary” in Britain in 2007.
The scope of David Price’s book is massively ambitious, but through prodigiously thorough research he is able to describe the experiences of different migrant groups who have arrived in Sheffield since 1950. They are discussed continent by continent with an explanation of why people left their own country, what drew them to Sheffield and how they fared once they had arrived.
Review in Mark’s Messenger, the Magazine of St Mark’s Church, Broomhill and Broomhall, Sheffield. November 2018.
David Price’s Welcome to Sheffield describes the many groups of people who have come to Sheffield over the last 1,000 years and the way the city has adapted to them. The book has the precise structure that one would expect of a senior civil servant. The first chapter covers the history of the city from the buried castle that imprisoned a queen, through the anguish of the coming of steel and the anguish of its loss.
The second chapter describes the ways in which Sheffield has responded to the casually life-destroying incompetence of the British immigration system. Speaking from his extensive personal experience, David identifies key movements and enterprising individuals who enabled Sheffield to become a City of Sanctuary.
Chapters three to eleven focus on individual groups of migrants to Sheffield, explaining why they came, the problems that beset them and the solutions they developed.
David Price takes a comprehensive approach to the term ‘migrant’, including those who have moved from within the United Kingdom (such as the movement of Midland Bank workers from the south). Rather pleasingly, David brings the Normans within the title, who one might imagine were neither welcome nor desirous of welcome.
Sheffield is a city of innovation, a front-runner in the industrial revolution, selling goods all around the world and home to two universities. David’s tale shows that migration has been an essential part of this. Migrants have brought technical ideas, enabling Sheffield plate and stainless steel to glitter on tables all over the world. Magid Magid, the current Lord Mayor, is able to draw on Somali and British understanding.
It is, however, David’s awareness of the world the migrants themselves have to live in which makes this book exceptional. People migrate for many reasons, ranging from a simple desire for adventure (like the Lascar seamen who jumped ship, perhaps) to those who simply have no choice but to flee. Those forced to leave have to deal with the stress of knowing the troubles faced by those back home. One response is the sheer heroism of the Yemeni Sheffielders living on almost nothing in appalling circumstances in order to send remittances home. David Price also follows the psychological complexity of deciding who you are in a foreign country that sometimes welcomes you and sometimes doesn’t. First generation migrants often ‘long to go home’ but second and third generation migrants have their own battles to fight. David catches the pain of first generation migrants as a new society evolves: their loss as their children cease to speak their language or accept their rules. In the end, though, there is the creation of a more complex Sheffield which draws its strength from the people who make it great now, not from an archaic (and rather unattractive) John Bull.
This is an excellent book, written by a man who can see clearly why migration is an asset to the city and how hard life is for unwelcomed migrants; a man who would like to use facts to attack the hegemonic structures which tell us that migration is a problem.