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Grant Thornton UK's nationwide Vibrant Economy Inquiry began in Sheffield on 12 May. Fellows of the RSA and leaders from across the City Region were invited to contribute as they gathered for Live Lab, a full-day of ideas and inspiration.

Those attending were challenged to discover and define opportunities for Sheffield to unlock the full potential of its companies, people and communities; ideas that could help shape a Vibrant Sheffield in the next decade.

The agenda ranged widely, from revolutionising the city region’s transport network, to inspiring young people through the education system, instilling a culture of life-long learning and ensuring the city works to encourage small and local businesses.

The need for companies to deliver a social return was a frequent theme of discussion, with suggested actions including a new currency that encourages social investment; a Sheffield Social Index which measures wellbeing, fairness and equality; and a public sector procurement clause that pools 1% of all contracts into a community investment fund.

Collaborating through appreciative inquiry

Guests at the event were led through a process of Appreciative Inquiry, from developing a vision for the Sheffield of the future, to defining and articulating the short and medium-term actions that could make change happen.

Ideas and feedback were shared with the group throughout the day, while delegates were also addressed by a number of speakers, including Sophie Maxwell, founder of the Really NEET Project, which works to support hard-to-reach young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“It is action that provokes change. Go out and change the world,” was Sophie Maxwell's message.

Also in attendance was a team from One Club, a social enterprise which supports people who are long-term unemployed into work, who helped manage catering for the event, also taking part in and reporting back on the discussions.

Image above: Grant Thornton UK CEO Sacha Romanovitch FRSA with the One Club team


The day culminated in the over 20 discussion groups contributing one realisable idea each for how the potential of a Vibrant Sheffield could be unlocked. The ideas will be reported in full on the Vibrant Sheffield website, which will also act as an ongoing hub allowing people to collaborate on taking the actions forward.

Over the coming months, the Live Lab format will be taken to cities across the UK, as Grant Thornton develops its Inquiry into how a Vibrant Economy can be shaped in the UK. Grant Thornton will continue working with stakeholders on how the ideas that were developed during the day can be taken forward into tangible action.

Ideas to unlock the potential of a Vibrant Sheffield included:

  • A UCAS for employment: a platform to connect 16-17 year-olds with businesses to support them in finding employment experience and opportunities.
  • Sheffield Social Index: A new barometer that measures happiness, wellbeing, fairness and equality, allowing the city region to track the progress of more than standard economic indicators.
  • Shop Sheffield: A dedicated venue for local companies to exhibit their products, a place where people can come to buy local.
  • The Community City: Major deregulation of governance and assets into community hands, allowing decisions around planning, transport and business rates, for instance, to be taken at a more local level.
  • Keep contracts local: Help prevent money leaving the city region by increasing the social value weighting of public sector contracts and adding a 1% clause for social and community investment.

Get involved

The RSA is working with Grant Thornton on some of our national inquiries into how we shape a Vibrant Economy, including developing research and advising us on how to set up our Commission.

To follow the progress of the Sheffield Live Lab, visit www.vibrantsheffield.com for ongoing updates.

You can catch up on how the day unfolded on Twitter by viewing our Storify of the event.

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