A visit to Sheffield for the Cutlers’ Forfeit Feast hosted by the Master Cutler of Hallamshire is a highlight of the year for the Lord Mayor and the Sheriffs. It might sound like a traditional Livery event – which is it – but the Master Cutler made it very relevant this year by providing an additional briefing and visit about the modern Sheffield economy.
Made in Sheffield is such a familiar phrase, seen mostly on cutlery and flatware, that it is overlooked as to the implications that the term bears. The manufacturing might of Sheffield has driven a trade around items with a cutting edge for many centuries, with the Company of Cutlers of Hallamshire being established in 1624. The location of the City with a source of water power, stone for grinding wheels and iron ore – as well as engaging entrepreneurship meant that the businesses grew in a cluster around the City. Innovation such as the invention of the Bessemer Converter meant that the City was synonymous with steel throughout the world. The words Made in Sheffield were seen to be key to the quality mark and a Sheffield Defence Committee was set up in the 1900s to protect the name. The term is still boldly defended as a registered trademark and with a licencing arrangement that allows and regulates the use of the phrase. You can rely on it if it is Made in Sheffield.
Against this background the Sheriffs met a great group of businesses for lunch and a conversation around the issues of today. The businesses included many that are still closely connected to steel, knives and allied trades. Other businesses had a more tech focused angle with engagement in AI and education, including the energetic University of Sheffield. Professional firms also attended as they are an important part of the business ecosystem alongside people from the heritage sector and civil society.
Some of the themes aired were common across the businesses and have echoes throughout the nation – the cost of energy going up (in one case by 450%) and some of these are very intensive energy users. Supply chain issues were very urgent. Some of the businesses were setting up new buildings and expanding – key here is staffing and training as well as the good use of apprenticeships. A recruitment business reminded us of the number of job vacancies that held back such expansion as well as the right kind of education and guidance. Businesses were looking to expand internationally and efforts collectively to engage were appreciated. Climate and ESG issues were clearly a consideration with businesses ensuring that there is no waste in their processes and many were directly involved in this area via electric vehicles and similar products.
In the afternoon we visited ITM Power who make electrolysers for green hydrogen and showed us around an expanding business park. The reach of their distribution and partnerships showed how important the use of green hydrogen will be for the future of energy.
It was clear that Sheffield has a vibrant and innovative business and manufacturing community. We were privileged to meet them and share some thoughts and understand so much more about the economic drivers and industry needs. Thank you to Master Cutler, James Tear.