Once upon a time, Sheffield’s steel city nickname simply referred to thebooming metal industry on which itwas built. Nowadays, it might betterapply to its modern art installations and theshining new steel and glass buildings that havegrown out of the city’s 21st century renaissance.
From being the centre of the UK’s steel trade, in the post-industrial era Sheffield has transformed itself into a thriving, alternative hub of the north. Now England’s fifth-largest city, it has experienced a boom over the last 20 years, with flagship architectural developments in the centre and a new economy based on services, shopping and the ‘knowledge industry’ emanating from its two thriving universities.
With Sheffield’s rapid regeneration came a vibrant new creative scene: alternative art galleries, sprawling independent music studios and trendy cafés, bars and clubs springing up.
And with house prices far below almost any other major English city, it’s no wonder young professionals and self-employed people from across the country are drawn to this new cultural centre.
LIFE AS A FREELANCER
In the last 10 years, Sheffield has become a highly popular destination for freelancers and the self-employed. This is partly driven by the wealth of opportunities offered by the city’s burgeoning creative industries.
It may also have something to do with the extraordinarily low living costs. If you’re a freelancer who’s able to work remotely, why not get more bang for your hard-earned buck in a lowcost, buzzing city like Sheffield?
And where freelancers move, of course, co-working spaces follow. Sheffield now has a lively co-working scene, with a broad spread of independent spaces right across the city. One of the biggest and most successful is Union Street; an airy, exciting space right in the heart of Sheffield, offering everything from meeting rooms to hot desks, with fees as low as £45 per month.
Not far from Union Street, just around the corner from Sheffield train station, is the city’s other pre-eminent co-working space, Electric Works. With a bright, warm interior, working spaces for everyone from sole traders to young businesses, and even a helter-skelter slide from the top floor to the reception,
Electric Works is a quirky, vibrant space with an offering to suit almost any freelancer.
One other reason so many freelancers are moving to Sheffield is because it is an extremely well-connected city. With regular direct trains to London St Pancras (2 hours), Birmingham (1 hr 15 mins), Leeds (1 hour) and Manchester (1 hour), it’s easy for freelancers to travel to meet clients right across the UK.
Getting around the city is easy too – particularly with the cheap and comprehensive local bus service. You can also push your transport costs even lower by investing in weekly or even monthly saver tickets.
And, although buses are probably the cheapest and easiest form of local transport, if you’re trying to get quickly from one major part of the city to another, there’s also the Sheffield Supertram.
If you’re a motorist, you’ll be pleased to learn that Sheffield is actually much easier to drive around than most cities, with few one-way systems and reasonably good parking. Because Sheffield’s centre is quite compact, it’s also quite easy to get around on foot.
WHERE TO STAY
One of the biggest advantages of Sheffield is undoubtedly the low cost of living. And one of the biggest reasons for this is the city’s affordable accommodation. In the city centre, the average rent for a one-bedroom flat is £500 per month, and this falls to a very reasonable £400 in the quieter suburbs. Not bad compared with Greater London’s £1,200 a month!
Alternatively, if you’re a more mobile freelancer looking to spend some time in Sheffield, there are spacious, comfortable Airbnb apartments right in the heart of the city for an average of approximately £30 per night. Mid-range hotels are also reasonably priced, at about £50 per night.
WHAT TO DO AT THE WEEKEND
Now for the fun part. You’ve worked a hard week building and developing your freelance business: how do you unwind at the weekend?
Well, in the daytime, Sheffield has a buzzing cultural scene. In the city centre, the modern, stately Tudor Square is home to the Crucible and Lyceum theatres, as well as the Winter Garden, the largest urban glass house in Europe.
Not far from Tudor Square, you can also find the Millennium Galleries, founded in partnership with the V&A, and boasting everything from archaeology and natural history to treasures from the city’s metalworking past and the famous Ruskin Art Collection.
And, wandering through the city, you’re sure to have a warm welcome from the locals: last year, Sheffield was voted not only the safest, but also the friendliest city in the UK.
As for the evening, Sheffield has a humming nightlife. Whether you’re looking for pumping club nights in the city centre or quiet craft beer evenings in Kelham Island, there’s something to suit every taste.
Of particular note is the Leadmill (back to that metalworking past again), one of the oldest and most famous music venues in the city. But there are plenty of other renowned clubs and venues across the city, including Fez, the Harley and Foundry.
But if anything really epitomises the spirit of the reborn Steel City, it is probably the independent and ever-so-slightly gritty bars of Division Street. While their craft beer menus and edgy store fronts speak to the city’s new alternative culture, the recent musical history of these venues calls up Sheffield’s creative soul.
In fact, it was on Division Street where Jarvis Cocker was reportedly inspired to write Common People – after he fell out of a window and broke his leg trying to impress a not-socommon girl...