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South Yorkshire Sustainability Centre Launch

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Wednesday 14th June marked the official launch of the South Yorkshire Sustainability Centre (SYSC). Held at the Advanced Manufacturing Park Technology Centre in Rotherham, the launch event was attended by a broad array of academics, business leaders, third-sector organisations, and regional policy-makers. This group included two representatives from Regather’s Urban Agriculture Task Force, a group established to promote peri-urban farming and help the city build a greener and fairer food system. 

About the SYSC

Led by the University of Sheffield, the SYSC is an innovative cross-disciplinary partnership which includes the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority, the four South Yorkshire local authorities, Sheffield Hallam University, and a number of private and voluntary sector organisations. The SYSC was developed in recognition that the world is facing both a climate and biodiversity crisis, with severe inequality and poverty across the population. The Centre therefore aims to bring the region together to realise a more socially and environmentally just future for South Yorkshire and the wider population. This will be achieved by connecting world-leading research with regional partners to develop and implement plans to reduce emissions, while also providing jobs and encouraging economic growth. 

Over the past 12 months the work of the SYSC has been focused around three key areas:

  1. Retrofitting homes in South Yorkshire to reduce energy use and improve health and wellbeing. 
  2. Working towards net-zero within the UK food system by reducing the amount of CO2 emitted from farm to fork.
  3. Helping regional industry and business decarbonise and move to clean fuels.

The launch event

The morning of the 14th June was warm and sunny, providing perfect conditions for the group of cyclists who rode to the AMPTC from Sheffield. This peloton was led by Ed Clancy, former Olympian and incumbent Active Travel Commissioner for South Yorkshire. Other attendees travelling from further afield were encouraged to make use of public and shared transport. As people gathered at the venue, the overall mood was one of optimism and enthusiasm, with a palpable sense of anticipation in the air. 

The event began with a warm welcome from the Director of the SYSC, Professor Rachel Rothman. She stressed the complexity of the challenges faced by the region, but also the opportunities that these challenges can provide in terms of employment, economic growth, and a more sustainable future. Rachel explained how the Centre will work to connect world-leading research together within the region, to provide the evidence needed to make decisions and drive change. 

Attendees listening to Ed Clancy’s presentation

Following on from this, attendees heard from South Yorkshire’s Mayor, Oliver Coppard, a prominent supporter of the Centre since its inception. He recognised that the climate crisis is perhaps the biggest challenge facing the region, but also acknowledged that if we get our response to it right, the rewards are significant. He was keen to stress how making our homes more sustainable will also make them warmer and cheaper to heat, while investing in green technology to help reach net-zero emissions will also create great new jobs in the industries of the future, and grow South Yorkshire’s economy. Oliver’s address was followed by an inspiring talk from Ed, who shared his ambition to make the region a safer and easier place for everyone to walk and cycle. 

The final keynote speaker was Immy Kaur. Immy is the Co-Founder of CIVIC SQUARE, a Birmingham-based organisation which takes a transformational approach to visioning, building and investing in civic and social infrastructure for neighbourhoods of the future. Immy shared her experience creating vibrant, participatory urban spaces where diverse communities can gather, create, grow, and connect. Her talk was succeeded by a series of brief discussions chaired by researchers from different thematic groups. 

Regather’s Sheffield-grown salad on the buffet table

The event concluded with lunch and an opportunity for networking amongst attendees. A selection of vegetarian and vegan food was provided by a local catering company, including salad grown just a short distance away on Regather’s peri-urban farm. Overall the launch event marked an important landmark for the SYSC, setting the stage for an auspicious future which will build on the power of research and collaborative action.  

Publication of the QR Reports

To coincide with the official launch of the SYSC, Regather and the Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield are delighted to announce the publication of six original reports authored by student researchers. In 2022, the ‘Local Food Systems Policy Accelerator’, project was introduced as a way to catalyse evidence-based, localised, food system policy change. As part of the project, eight students were recruited to conduct in-depth research into food system issues affecting Sheffield. The student researchers were asked to identify the mechanisms or ‘levers for change’ that can hasten the development of more sustainable food systems and infrastructure throughout the city. 

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The finished reports were based on over 480 hours of research and writing, and provided a valuable resource for local organisations working in the food sector. One prominent example is ShefFood, Sheffield’s food partnership, whose work this year has in various ways been informed by the evidence and analysis delivered by the ‘Local Food System Policy Accelerator’ team. The reports helped to shape a series of Working Groups, which were used to involve key stakeholders and members of the public in the development of a Food Plan for Sheffield.  

The finished reports can be accessed through the links below. We hope you find them to be both interesting and informative, and that you will join us in commending the student researchers responsible for contributing their skills and intellectual resources to the challenge of food system transformation.

Authored by: Jade Clarke, Evie Crowe, Rosa Dunkley, Alice Farmery, Indigo Gray, Kane Regan, Natasha Stead, Yashee Thakkarr.

Edited by: Alice Farmery
Foreword by: Peter Jackson and Gareth Roberts

We would also like to thank Jake Nickles and Fran Halsall for their involvement in the project.

Find out more about the SYSC here, and stay tuned for more updates from the Urban Agriculture Task Force in the coming months.

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