Blog: Simon WarburtonRotherham steels itself to be new New York

Simon Warburton | 18 February 2013

Twenty-three years ago was the last time I was in the northern England city of Sheffield to cover the World Student Games as a local reporter - and I'm here again near Rotherham as Tata Steel and Productiv launched their supply chain initiative today (18 February) at the Brinsworth plant.

Sheffield is the UK's self-styled 'City of Steel' but for those of a certain vintage, it also gloried for a while under the 'Republic of South Yorkshire' moniker as it enjoyed a reputation for somewhat leftish politics and radical thinking that saw heavyweight British politician, David Blunkett, achieve national prominence.

British Steel's no more but Tata's stewardship of its vast sites in Sheffield and Rotherham, has seen it collaborate with consultants Productiv, several suppliers, including Torotrak and Flybrid, as well as the UK government in the form of Secretary of State, Vince Cable and his taxpayers' chequebook, to launch today's The Proving Factory supply chain initiative at the Brinsworth site.

Various media and representatives from the six suppliers involved - including Torotrak CEO Jeremy Deering - assembled in one of Brinsworth's cavernous sheds that Tata is providing for the project - and waited for the Secretary of State to arrive.

Invariably with almost any political visit, the timetable slips pretty rapidly. Cable was coming from Cumbria on this Monday morning and there was a fair amount of feet stamping as Yorkshire's icy winds swept straight through the open shed.

Cable and his squadrons of PRs eventually arrived and he duly inspected the supplier troops lined up, although the feedback I had was he genuinely knows his stuff. Auto and manufacturing seem to be real interest areas for him and he certainly didn't appear to be going through the motions.

I put myself beside the BBC camera crew and fired a couple of questions off and he took the time to answer, even when I asked if the notoriously cash-strapped UK Chancellor of the Exchequer was also backing his car initiatives.

He said he was and I suppose he wouldn't exactly have said no, but I had the strong impression this administration backs the sector; it is a success story after all compared to our European friends, whose auto industry, as Cable told me, "is in trouble."

I'm now waiting for my train back to the Midlands at Sheffield station as the sun dips on a freezing Yorkshire afternoon and the entrance is dominated by a vast - steel of course - linear waterfall that has echoes of a vast pipe.

As station sculptures go, this one's pretty good and fits perfectly with the city's past and present, sitting as it does under Sheffield's hugely controversial, and endless, Park Hill housing estate.

Park Hill completely dominates the Sheffield skyline, but locals tell me they have some sort of preservation order meaning their thousands of apartments can't be knocked down.

They're a pretty brutalist presence on the hill above the city, but have found a sort of reverse Stalinist chic, as some, only some mind, have been gentrified to appeal to, well maybe a few of those Republic of South Yorkshire elite.

Talking of building structures, I came back from Tata Steel to the station past Rotherham United's brand new football ground, intriguingly named 'The New York Stadium.'

On asking why the highly unusual name for a north of England football team, it appears there used to be a foundry near the site that produced the fire hydrants for New York City, hence the title of possibly one of the most unusually named grounds in the country.

And they beat local rivals, Chesterfield, 1-0 yesterday to boot, taking the club to within one point of the automatic promotion places.

 


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