Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Student project investigates Cold War in Sheffield

The City Archives is home to two university students over the next few months. Sabrina Webster and Chantelle Francis are studying for an MA in Public Humanities at the University of Sheffield. They have chosen to base themselves in the Archives and Local Studies Library in a quest to find out more about the city’s recent Cold War history. In the third of their blogs, they explain what they’ve uncovered so far...

During the past few weeks, we have ventured out of the Archives determined to uncover some personal stories on Sheffield's Cold War era from those who used to work for South Yorkshire County Council (SYCC). Our first contributor was John Cornwell, Deputy Leader of the Council (1981 - 1986) and Chair of the Anti-Nuclear Working Party. Upon arriving at his front door, we were warmly welcomed inside, and offered tea and pastries!
During our interview with John, we were taken on a journey of nostalgia, with discussions of past policies, successes and losses, and even travels abroad.  We began to understand just how close many of the issues were to his heart during his time with the Council. What was most interesting for us was learning about the blurring of policies between Sheffield City Council and South Yorkshire County Council. As John explained of the County Council: 'In theory, we were supposed to do things that were sub-regional' - they were very focused on the South Yorkshire transport network and environmental improvements. Many of the policies associated with SYCC, such as the move for Sheffield as a ‘Nuclear-Free Zone’, and much of the work with the CND and other activist groups, actually fell within the remit of Sheffield City Council. By the early 1980s 'I think all our Council was anti-nuclear by then added John.
We asked John whether the term ‘Socialist Republic’ referred to one or both councils, and John explained: 'there was a certain amount of appropriation with the term […] it was us initially. It was definitely us initially.' The term apparently came to be associated with Sheffield City Council during David Blunkett’s leadership of the City Council under the Thatcher Government.
Another interview we undertook was with Stewart Kemp, who, as we had been told by SCRAP, was the Nuclear-Free Zones Officer. At the time, we were led to believe this was for the SYCC. As it turns out (after our conversation with John, and through my interview with Stewart), Stewart in fact worked for Sheffield City Council, and had done a lot of work with the CND, and also still kept in touch with Kath Cripps, who has a lot of involvement with SCRAP. Stewart kindly provided me with some CND newsletters (pictured) which we have on loan for our exhibition, so do come along and check them out! Although they are dated after the time of the SYCC, it is interesting to see how activism began to play out towards the end of the 1980s.
Chantelle also attending the SYCC’s Abolition Anniversary Dinner, meeting with some of the policy makers of the day.  'It was lovely to see in person some of the people John had mentioned in his interview, and the pride with which everyone in attendance still had for their past achievements. John to this day still keeps the SYCC Coat of Arms and the SYCC flag in his home, and every year has them on display for their annual dinner. I had the joy of being the ‘designated flag carrier’ on the day!'
John, as Secretary for the SYCC Association, took much of a lead on the day, and was very enthusiastic in introducing me to many individuals, namely Stuart Creak and Colin Farlow, whom we will also be interviewing in due course. Colin has provided us with a copy of a booklet (pictured), which will also be on display in the exhibition.
Having been spoilt to a three-course meal (unfortunately no tantalising pictures here), John gave a speech about SYCC’s past achievements, and announced: 'We had tremendous pride in being the sinews of the nation …we were coal, we were steel', and we raised a glass to South Yorkshire County Council.
Chantelle concludes: 'It was an honour to be a part of the day, and it has really opened my eyes to the world of policy-making in the City and County during the eventful years of the 1970s and 1980s.'
Chantelle Francis and Sabrina Webster
Public Humanities MA Students
University of Sheffield 
Drop in to see Chantelle and Sabrina's 'Nuclear Winter' exhibition on Saturday 21 May 2016, Carpenter Room, First Floor, Central Library (12:30 - 3pm).