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South Yorkshire Sustainability Centre Annual Event

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The South Yorkshire Sustainability Centre held its first annual event on the 13th of June 2024 at New York Stadium, Rotherham, following its launch in June the previous year. Held in partnership with the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commision, the event welcomed academics, business leaders, policy makers, and third sector organisations from across the region. Anna from Regather’s Urban Agriculture Task Force attended. The UATF was formed to promote resilient, equitable, peri-urban food systems in Sheffield. 

About the SYSC and YHCC

Led by the University of Sheffield, the SYSC is a multi-disciplinary partnership developed to mitigate the inequality that faces citizens across South Yorkshire as a direct consequence of the climate crisis. The Centre has a particular focus on promoting sustainable food, transport, energy, and housing infrastructure across the region.The SYSC includes both universities, the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority, and a selection of private and voluntary organisations. 

The Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission works as an independent advisory body for stakeholders in the public, private and voluntary sectors across Yorkshire and the Humber. They provide ambitious support and guidance in the region’s transition to net-zero. 

The annual event

Despite a blustery start to the morning, on the 13th of June a group of attendees pedalled from Sheffield city centre to the event at Rotherham’s famed football stadium. Armed with a bucket of Regather’s Sheffield-grown flowers, Anna enjoyed the city’s excellent tram connections, alongside many of the other  participants. 

Regather's Sheffield-grown flowers
Regather’s Sheffield-grown flowers

Professor Rachel Rothman, the SYSC’s Director, gave the opening address, followed by the University of Sheffield’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Koen Lamberts. Both stressed their pride in action taken across the region since the SYSC’s inception, whilst highlighting the challenges that remain. 

Oliver Coppard was in Pittsburgh attending his own Sustainability Conference, so he shared his support for the SYSC via video message. 

The event had an interspersal of keynote speakers and breakout sessions, with an emphasis on attendee participation and discussion.

Dr Sally Uren, CEO of Forum for the Future, gave an inspiring talk on System and Behavioural Change. She was unflinching in her description of our current trajectory towards 5-8C warming, and the catastrophic ramifications that this would have upon our planet. She then assessed four key theories of system change and highlighted the pitfalls of an overreliance on “tech optimism” as a fail-safe solution. Sally’s message felt daunting and inspiring in equal measure; galvanising participants to continue striving towards net zero regardless of the challenges ahead.   

Anna attended breakout sessions on “Conscientious Consumption” and “The Fourth Agricultural Revolution: a food system for all”. Both sessions cultivated lively discussion. 

The first session held a more philosophical tone as the group explored solutions to the cavernous economic inequality that results in our planet’s richest 10% producing half of all greenhouse gas emissions. They considered definitions of “adequate” consumption, and how to strive for simplicity in a system marked by rampant overconsumption. 

During “the Fourth Agricultural Revolution ”, Professor Peter Jackson from the Institute of Sustainable Food spoke highly of Regather and Sheffield Organic Growers as examples of sustainable local food producers.  By operating at a smaller scale, with a variety of produce, Regather and SOGS promote resilience in the face of increasing environmental challenges caused by extreme weather and supply chain disruption. The breakout group discussed the vulnerabilities of large-scale intensive monoculture, as well as potential opportunities brought by robotics and vertical farming.

Our final speaker was Django Perks, a 17-year old from Yorkshire’s Regional Youth Climate Assembly. He delivered an inspiring talk on the importance of including young people’s voices within climate policy. He highlighted that “young people are not the future- they are the present” : intergenerational participation is critical in forming holistic solutions to climate breakdown. He also highlighted the impact of tokenising youth voices, as well as the inadequate climate education in schools. 

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Django Perks from Yorkshire’s Regional Youth Climate Assembly

By the end of the event, participants transitioned from initial dismay at the scale of environmental challenges across South Yorkshire, to feelings of buoyancy and gratitude for being part of the change-making process. 

It was apparent that Regather has been, and continues to be, a key player within South Yorkshire’s quest for sustainable food. Our ability to pioneer system change within the food sector plays a fundamental role in promoting equitable nutrition for people in South Yorkshire as well protecting our fragile planet. 

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Anna learning from Alice Farmery’s poster on the Future of Food
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