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Sheffield: We Can

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John Cameron

Imagine living in a city where public services were well-funded and opportunities for meaningful work and joyful, creative engagement were ten-a-penny. Imagine believing that it was our job to look out for one another and our city, bonding around shared human values in the face of government-inspired panic about invaders scaling the walls and landing on British shores.

In 2024, this vision feels radical and unachievable. We're told there's not enough to go around and that foreigners, the unemployed, the elderly, and people with disabilities are a drain on resources and a pressure on public services. We treat widening inequalities is inevitable, and see 'them against us' narratives as immutable. But they are there because those with power made them and the rest of us don't believe we can unmake them.

I created Sheffield: We Can because I believe that we can create counter-narratives. Every individual is powerful, and if we liberate our power and use it for the common good we can transform our city. The event isn't led by politicians, academics or a professional speaker - the focus is on what we can do, together, right now.

If the world today feels overwhelming, it's because we're at a point of transition - the old world dies to make way for a new reality. But unless we step up and influence the new order, something very similar to the old one will rise again and pick up where it left off.

Don't switch off and look away. Bring your music, your song, your warmth, your poems, your joy, your creativity, your thoughts, your power and your belief that even if we move in inches, we can make meaningful change, starting now.


Susan Downer is a Black, working class writer and workshop facilitator with a strong belief in collective power - the elites act as a network so why shouldn't we - and the art of trying, failing wisely and trying again.

She has lived in Sheffield for more than 20 years.

Part of our 2024 festival strand


How can we reimagine our citizenship and our democracy?