Friday, 14 June 2013

More Than Halfway Done...

Well, it has been a hectic time so far and I’ve struggled to find the time to keep these blog posts as regular as I would have liked but here is a bit of a recap of the last week or so.
Sheffield has certainly taught me many things about the life cycle so to speak of an industrial city. How a place can go from producing somewhere in the vicinity of half the world’s steel to being at the very brink of social and economic collapse is astounding. You can see it in the people too…This whole “friendly north” concept reflects the tough times that many of them would have been through during early deindustrialisation. I think we can all relate to this in one way or another. Hardship can and does form some of the strongest bonds possible between people.
On the topic of northern friendliness I have had two fantastic breakthroughs with my individual research project. I have had an interest in military history and in particular the two World Wars for as long as I can remember, so during my initial research into Sheffield I wanted to know what role such a large steel producing city might have had during the war years. What I instead found was that Sheffield was mercilessly bombed by the Germans over two nights in December 1940. As soon as I found this I knew I had to research more and I began thinking about how I could structure a project around the event and gain some valuable knowledge out of researching something of great interest to me. I eventually refined my topic down to a research piece looking at how a city can recover from such a devastating attack and what role planning played particularly in the immediate term. Over the 12/13th and 15/16th of December 1940 there were hundreds of tonnes of high explosive, incendiary and delayed action munitions dropped over Sheffield. When the full extent of what became known as the Sheffield Blitz the following was revealed;

·         668 civilians killed
·         25 servicemen killed
·         1,568 people injured
·         40,000 people left homeless
·         3000 homes destroyed
·         Another 3000 homes badly damaged
·         72,000 properties damaged

How does a city recover from something so devastating? I was itching to know and so I began investigating. After countless web searches and pages of reading of local history forums I came across two things that allowed me to keep hope and continue with the topic I’d chosen. Firstly, a book published by the Sheffield City Council in 1945 called ‘Sheffield Replanned’ which I was able to get a copy of (eventually!). This book outlines how it was proposed Sheffield should solve the question of rebuilding after the war and getting back on its feet complete with amazingly detailed maps and a great insight into the planning profession at the time.

This is where I had yet another experience of northerly friendliness! The second breakthrough I had was after I went out on a limb and contacted Dr Alan Lewis of Manchester University. I explained who I was, what I was doing and asked if there was any way of which I could gain access to a copy of his thesis which was on the planning of Sheffield during the war years and afterwards. Within an hour I was downloading not only his thesis but over 200mb of high resolution city maps from the era. For a researcher to drop whatever he was doing and organise access to a drop box for me to get a copy of his thesis was unexpected to say the least!
Overall, if there is one thing that Sheffield has taught me from these two defining moments is that the history to the city is often right in front of us, however we need to be proactive enough to actively seek it out in a number of different ways.

The group project is going well and I have been put in charge of filming and production of our video presentation. I’ve got to say, so far this experience has been everything I’d hoped and more…waking up each day in a foreign country and unfamiliar city is not getting old at all! 
- Chris Rowlands (Bachelor of Urban, Rural and Environmental Planning) 


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