The Sheffield dream finally coming true – Jerry Cheung

AS we reach the end of the year, it is tempting to want to erase 2020 from our memory and jump head-first into the new year.

Jerry Cheung is an entrepreneur at the heart of Sheffield city centre's redevelopment.

For some, understandably, it is almost too painful to look back at 2020. However, I believe it is important that we do so. We can learn a lot about ourselves and our businesses by reflecting on what has passed – helping to give us strength and clarity moving forward.

Everyone has had their own challenges this year. My business challenge has stemmed from trying to complete New Era Square – the modern Asia-inspired development at St Mary’s Gate in Sheffield.

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It is a dream and ambition I’ve held dear for a very long time. Work was almost complete when the pandemic struck in March. We were forced to halt much of the construction work on the £67m development, and then the difficult reality started to sink in.

Jerry Cheung is managing director of New Era Developments and a deputy lieutenant of South Yorkshire.

The small businesses, food outlets and restaurants already open in New Era Square had to close overnight, students due to move into our newly finished apartments were stuck overseas or at home in the UK, and commercial, retail and leisure businesses looking to relocate to attractive new premises like ours had to put growth plans on hold.

I was worried like the rest of the world, but despite that, I decided I would try to look at the situation like a true Sheffielder. I have lived in Sheffield for more than 45 years now and throughout my time here, I have always marvelled at the unique strength of the Sheffield spirit – the ability of local people to turn every negative into a positive, any obstacle into an opportunity.

Adopting a similar steely attitude, I’ve been determined that Covid-19 wouldn’t derail the New Era Square development and my vision for its role within the city. The past year has also reminded us time and time again about the importance of community.

When I arrived in Sheffield from Hong Kong in 1975, I immediately connected with the city and its people. It might have been the smog, the glowing steel furnaces or the bone-chilling weather, but I was captivated, nonetheless. It’s changed a great deal over the years, but it is still the place where I feel like I’ve found my calling and my people.

What will be the future for Sheffield city centre after the Covid pandemic?

My way of giving back is to help encourage Asian and multi-cultural integration right in the heart of the city, promoting and celebrating the cultural diversity, and better connecting the business communities and opportunities between South Yorkshire and China.

New Era Square is now operational and will hopefully be fully let by the end of 2021. It is the culmination of a two-decade-long dream, which on reflection, feels like a very old New Year’ resolution! Unlike other city centre Asian developments or ‘‘China Towns’’ as they are known, New Era Square is a true, progressive and forward-facing reflection of modern Asia.

There are no arches, model pagodas or marble dragons guarding the entrance. This is a stylish and contemporary development filled with modern shops, restaurants, art, businesses and outdoor public space akin to what you might find in Shanghai, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Seoul. It is East meets West.

The development has always been about creating something that is unique and special to Sheffield. It is open, inclusive and accessible to everyone who works and lives in the city, and to those who visit.

Although some things will not 
return to any sort of normality for 
some months, it’s heartening to know 
that we’ve continued to build bridges within our communities during the pandemic. In my role as chairman of Sheffield Chinese Community Centre, we host an annual Chinese New Year Celebration at Sheffield City Hall, although it will not be possible for the forthcoming Chinese New Year in February due to Covid.

Each year, more than half of the people who attend are non-Chinese and when this event can be staged again, we’ll proudly demonstrate the true community cohesion between Sheffield’s Chinese and host communities. I’ll also be continuing my role as Deputy Lieutenant of South Yorkshire.

While 2020 has been difficult – 
and at times downright awful – it has also thrown into focus what we have to be grateful for. It is also demonstrated, that sometimes, even with the biggest challenges, dreams can finally come

Jerry Cheung is managing director of New Era Developments and a deputy lieutenant of South Yorkshire.

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