Sheffield sits uneasily in my soul. It is a city I love, but it is also where I have faced death in the face and just about survived. It is a place I go back to regularly, each time finding new ways to love its energy, its independent spirit and connect with dear friends. But it is also troubling, as I am always accompanied by ghosts of that near-ending, and of the way of being that led me to that point.
I visited Sheffield again recently.
And I found that I related to it differently (even though it was only a year since I was there last). Sure, the ghosts were there, but I wasn’t troubled by them so much. I let them be. They are hungry ghosts, never satisfied, no matter the quantity of anguish I give them. So I let them sit there. Instead, it was the image of the record shop above that captivated my imagination because it spoke of a Sheffield that feeds my soul (as my new home of Galway does). And it is this image I want to spend some time reflecting on.
Why an image?
Because of a challenge.
And so @vinylsheffield.
In a way, this image reduced the ghosts to silence. How? This record shop stands for much of my Sheffield, the Sheffield I love. It doesn’t care to be like London, or other big cities nearby like Birmingham or Manchester or Leeds. They celebrate their uniqueness, not caring much if it is out of fashion (whose fashion?). It is its independence of spirit that attracts me (and perhaps why Galway feels so familiar). And this independent spirit is in the water, is part of its historical DNA – no matter where people originate from. It is Steel City, but not that imagined by so many folks, who imagine it incorrectly as being about hot furnaces and sheets of glowing steel.
Instead, it has always been a creative place, a maker space, a place of crafts and imagination.
And this spirit lives on in a multitude of creative acts that belie the national story of conservative revolution, austerity, and the industrial (and social) decline of the North of England (they still vote Labour there you know).
What has this got to do with learning you may ask.
Well, it speaks to the learning or the philosophy and politics of education I try to embody and inhabit (though not always, and not always successfully). Its about an idea of education that is more like the independent spirit of places like Sheffield and Galway, the insistence that the hungry ghosts of neo-liberal depression need not be fed, and that we can just get on and do it our own way, thank you very much.
The hungry ghosts seem to tell us that we are always failing, always not meeting the target or outcome, always in need of improvement (continuous improvement), that only excellence is enough. We know that often we are forced to feed these ghosts. We do so reluctantly. But there are too many in education who do so willingly, actually believing in the bullshit (really, what was the point of their education?). The independently spirited education I favour encourages folks to see the bullshit for what it is, and to encourage them to be creative, to be their own makers, to share, to believe in generosity.
On this recent trip I was able to inhabit Sheffield with a new spirit of freedom. I was able to share in the generosity of my friends, enjoy the creativity of the city’s inhabitants, to marvel at the free spirits – and yes, of course, the fine beer. The ghosts were there. I nodded to them. But ignored them. I was in no mood to feed them.
And what does this have to do with a record shop? There is a struggle in Sheffield (as everywhere) to resist the onslaught of corporate thinking and its astonishing lack of imagination and soul. This record shop, like many other created and creative spaces in the city stands against that desert like logic (I know deserts are not lifeless or without feature but you know what I’m getting at). It is apparently ‘out of step’, yet, so right!
I leave you with two examples of the spirit I enjoy.
Who would have thought that Northern English Brassband culture could become this:
And in Galway we groove our nights away with abandon regardless of the performative culture: