Students seek witnesses to city’s history

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IT WAS a decade of extremes – as Yuppies ascended in the City, millions more struggled in Thatcher’s Britain against a vivid soundtrack from New Romantic bands, synthpop, and emerging rap and hip-hop.

Now, Sheffield people are being asked to share their memories of city life in the 1980s with academics.

Sheffield University’s history department’s “Witness” project involves students and academics Dr Andrew Heath and Dr Charles West.

The students – trained by the Oral History Society – will interview local people to research a particular aspect of the city’s past.

A sample of interviews, with an accompanying report, will then be posted online.

Dr West said: “There’s a proverb that says, ‘when an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.’

“History isn’t just books in the library, it’s also people’s lives and experiences, at home and at work.

“That’s the starting point of the Witness project.

“Preserving the voices of Sheffield’s citizens, helping train a new generation of historians, and creating a historical resource for the future – Witness aims to achieve all these things by bringing together students, staff, and Sheffield’s wider community.”

Witness will explore a different period of Sheffield’s history each year. This year, the students have decided to focus on the 1980s.

Student David Holland, 47, said: “Anyone who lived in Sheffield in the 1980s will remember the huge changes to the city’s industry and economy wrought by both recession and government policy, and the massive impact on life they had with the closure of much of the steel industry, the Miners’ Strike, mass unemployment and the shadow of the Cold War.

“There were also the other fascinating insights into people’s lives in the Sheffield of the 1980s.

“Obviously, the music scene was world-renowned and clubs such as the Leadmill and the Limit were booming.

“The buses were incredibly cheap and frequent too. Long-gone bits of civic architecture such as the Hole in the Road, the Wedding Cake and the Egg Box made up an important part of Sheffield’s skyline, as did the massive housing developments of Park Hill and Hyde Park.

“For me, it is people’s experience of such events and buildings that help give a three-dimensional picture of them.”

The Witness project can be contacted at the University history department on 0114 222 2555.