Life in Sheffield?
December 26, 2010 11:23 AM   Subscribe

What's life like in Sheffield, UK?

I am currently exploring job opportunities at the University of Sheffield in the UK. I'm a single male in my 30s, and currently live in a major metropolitan area in the US.

I have visited the UK on several occasions, but never Sheffield, and would very much appreciate first hand reports from those who have lived there and/or attended the university.

I have read up on the city on Wikipedia and in travel guides, but haven't been able to find much about the day-to-day experience of living in the area. I'm particularly interested in hearing about local culture - music, food, social activities, and so on. I'd also love to hear from current and former students about their experiences at the university, and from transplants from the US. (This question is anonymous to avoid potential weirdness around the job search.)
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Writing from Sheffield right now, and I spent my first 20 years, but I haven't lived here since 1999 so take this with a pinch of salt...

In most respects, without knowing more about exactly what you're interested in, it's not dissimilar to other non-London cities in the UK, at least to first order. If you've visited Bristol, Nottingham, Leeds, Leicester, or even Manchester or Birmingham, they've all got far more in common with Sheffield than any city in the U.S. There is probably more going on culturally than in a similar sized city in the U.S., and UK cities are of course easier to get around without a car. But the culture may not be to your taste, and depending on your circumstances, you may find the standard of living a little dirty, dark and cramped compared to the U.S. That's not a Sheffield thing though.

Sheffield's unique selling points compared to other UK cities are:
  • Popular/live/dance music culture has always been very strong for a city of its size — its better than Leeds, Nottingham, Oxford, Leicester, Liverpool and even Birmingham. Its perhaps the third best English city in that regard, behind London and Manchester. More serious music is well represented, but probably not world class. Drama is apparently very good.
  • It's extremely close to the Peak District National Park (a 10 minute drive from my childhood home in suburban Sheffield, as I took advantage of this afternoon). As a result, it's the home of England's non-ocean-going climbing/hiking/outdoor pursuits community.
  • Economically it has a reputation for being relatively run-down, which is due to its historical connection to coal, heavy manufacturing and formerly powerful union activity. This has the expected consequences for cost-of-living. However, and particularly if you're heading for the university, it also has another side (geographically and economically), which is less well-known. The Hallam district (i.e. approximately the south west quadrant) has, (1) the highest fraction of people with undergrad degrees in the UK, (2) the highest fraction of households earning more than £60k p.a. outside central London (3) a big and relatively well-integrated undergraduate community (certainly compared to other university-dominated towns I've lived in). This is probably due to the two big universities, the two big hospitals, the attractive architecture and green, and the proximity of the Peak District. All these factors combine to make the suburbs in the south west more interesting in terms of night life, shopping, young people and young families, and general hipster-pleasing livability than you might expect. It's one of my favourite places.
  • This is particularly true of the south west: It is extremely green for any city, never mind an industrial city in northern England. According to the council, it has more trees per person than any city in Europe.
  • This doesn't make it a livable city, but it doesn't hurt: historically it's interesting for all sorts of reasons (pioneering social architecture, pre-industrial industry, steel, electronic music, etc., etc.)
I'm an academic, but I've never had much contact with either university (Sheffield Hallam is the other one), but Sheffield University is pretty good. On average, I think its solidly top 20 in the UK. I would guess most of its undergrads are well motivated (by UK standards) and applied for the other top British universities. It's not quite Oxbridge or Imperial College for undergrad reputation, but it's good. Of course, if you're looking at academic jobs then the department itself is more relevant to your experience than the university as a whole.

You may want to watch the Full Monty or Four Lions. Of course neither is going to be true to the life of a visiting American academic, but both are set here and worth checking out for a taste of local character.

Overall, I grew up here, so I'd have weird baggage about ever moving back, but it's a place I would happily recommend to anyone.
posted by caek at 12:07 PM on December 26, 2010 [5 favorites]

I lived there for seven years, moving to London three years ago for work - and I miss it like mad. It's a beautiful city and there's a lot of DIY culture, but it depends what you like to do. Climbing and outdoor stuff is huge because the city is at the edge of the Peak District. There's also a strong local film scene, with the international documentary festival every October. Music is huge in the city, a lot of gigs and live music and a couple of festivals - and many, many bands and sound collectives. There's an annual literary festival and a lot of poetry and literary activity - open mic spoken word etc, and a strong arts scene with one of the best theatres outside London - The Crucible. There are two local football teams and a lot of grass-roots sports activity.

It's also pretty friendly and very socially accessible once you scratch the surface. If you're working at the University it's a good 'in' to city life because so much of the cultural life relates to students and ex-students. Many people remain in the city after college because it's such a great place. This does mean it can feel a bit homogenous sometimes though. It has great transport links, being pretty located pretty centrally within the UK.

However, it's also a Northern town with a strong working class identity and much of the cultural life relating to the history of the town has suffered due to closures in the steel and coal industries. It's multi-cultural in places but there can be strong racial and class-based tensions, and development in the city centre has slowed hugely due to the recession - there's a lot of unemployment. But the place has HEART.

Beyond that, letting us know the kind of stuff you're into will help with specifics.
posted by freya_lamb at 12:12 PM on December 26, 2010

caek: "Popular/live/dance music culture has always been very strong for a city of its size — its better than Leeds, Nottingham, Oxford, Leicester, Liverpool and even Birmingham. Its perhaps the third best English city in that regard, behind London and Manchester."

Respectfully, but I think most people would disagree with that assertion (I'd say it's probably closer to top ten rather than top three). Of course, that in itself is nothing to complain about and there's no doubt it has an excellent arts and culture scene, I just thought it could be a little misleading.
posted by turkeyphant at 12:31 PM on December 26, 2010

Hills! Lots of Hills! Some really steep.

The Devonshire cat has a fantastic selection of beer from everywhere including North American microbreweries and there reportedly is a brilliant off license there too (the vines? or something like that).

Clean. Do not litter in Sheffield. They take it very seriously. They have waste bins! You have to actually know where the McDonald's are unlike most UK cities where you can follow the waste trail back to one.

I've only spent a weekend there but it seemed like a nice place. Not too big. Not too small. Great access to outdoor recreation.
posted by srboisvert at 1:01 PM on December 26, 2010

Sheffield feels less like a big city and more like it's made of a lot of villages stuck together. It feels friendlier - to me, anyway - than other larger UK cities. There's lots of hills, which means lots of amazing views. Lots of parts of Sheffield are handy for the city centre and simultaneously close to really beautiful hiking/climbing/biking country.

On the other hand, it's a pretty small city, so the variety of shops isn't as great as in some of the larger places - but we're only an hour from Leeds or Manchester.

If you like British beer, Sheffield has an amazing variety of locally brewed beer, as well as pleasant places to drink it. We also have a good variety of decent food, we have trams, and we have our own yearly comedy festival.
posted by emilyw at 1:19 PM on December 26, 2010

I know someone from the US who studied abroad in Sheffield for a semester a few years ago and liked it so much he went back there for a vacation later on. I think his favorite hangout was a pub called The Fat Cat. Don't know anything else about it really (I don't know which university he studied at either), but I know that person really liked it as a college student.
posted by wondermouse at 5:43 PM on December 26, 2010

I went to Sheffield Uni; several years ago now so take what I say with a pince of salt - though I did go back a lot in the years following to visit friends (as mentioned above a lot of people stay on in the place after graduating).

Mostly all I can say is I agree with what's been said above - cities in the UK have tended to bland out from when I was younger with all the high streets having the same shops etc. But due to geography Sheffield still has a lot of its own character. There's lots of hills and it's very green with a lot of trees in the suburbs and you've got great countryside on your doorstep for climbing, hill waking etc. If you see weird dabs of chalk on old walls in the city it's been used as climbing practice. The city is roughly divided with the western half (were the university is - though its quite spread out) being the nicest bit with parts of the east, with big concrete Brutalist housing blocks looking like something out of Bladerunner (though I think the worst has been demolished now). The people tend to confirm to the stereotype of being friendlier up north and it's a lot less parochial than other cities I could name and you don't get much 'bloody students' attitude.

When I was there social life revolved a lot around the pubs and uni bars but I think that's died off a lot now (as it has in the UK as a whole). I think there was a big student games a few years ago so it has a lot of sports stuff. There's been a fair amount of lottery money spent in the city - some on white elephants like the pop music museum thing - but some played dividends.

The university itself was (and still is as far as I can tell) one of the better red bricks and was for a time the most popular one in the country for applicants.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:49 AM on December 27, 2010

Mary Anne Hobbs lives there. What more do you need?
posted by lukemeister at 10:10 PM on December 27, 2010

Came in here to say much the same - was a student in Sheffield, and the hills make it very interesting in an icy winter (such as the current one). It's a great place for getting out into the countryside - I lived in Hillsborough and Malin Bridge, which were practically on the edge of the Peak District.

Because Sheffield was the first UK city I lived in, I didn't appreciate until moving away how central it is. 2.5 hours to London, 2 hours to Newcastle... it's basically in the middle, transport-wise. Which is good because it makes popping down for a night in London as easy as going up for a week in Scotland whether you're driving or taking trains. Living on the edges of the island makes travel a lot more daunting, I learned later.

The pubs are what really made my time there fantastic. Not just the booze, of course, but the pub culture in general. I particularly liked the Fat Cat, the Old Barracks, the Red Deer, and many more. Apart from Bristol I've not seen a British city with as good a decent pub-to-population ratio.

I found the people of Sheffield friendly, the chip shops magnificent, and the overall experience a positive one. I genuinely think anyone - particularly an academic - with an open mind would enjoy living there. Have fun!
posted by Cuppatea at 11:47 PM on December 29, 2010

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