What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word Yorkshire? As the UK’s largest county, Yorkshire certainly has something for everyone. From industrial heritage to rolling countryside. Stunning scenery to seaside resorts. Shopping to bird watching, whatever your interests, you will find something to delight you. And whilst we may call it Yorkshire, the county is made up of East, West, North and South Yorkshire, each with its very distinct geography and offerings.
I was born and grew up in South Yorkshire. Over the years, having moved all over the UK, I have also lived in each of its former Ridings. I currently live in East Yorkshire near the delightful town of Beverley.
Many refer to Yorkshire as ‘God’s own country’ and that is certainly a phrase I heard many times when I worked in Bradford. And whilst each part has its nuances of dialect, rites and history, there is a pride that runs through the county and a definite sense of belonging.
The changing face of South Yorkshire
The South Yorkshire of my childhood was one of coal being tipped on the street and being taken by wheelbarrow down the garden path to the ‘coal hole.’ In our case, this was a physical building with a wooden door positioned just across a narrow passage from the back door of the house, next to the outside toilet and outhouse. The latter being the name for the room that housed a freezer and various tools and appliances for which there was no storage space in the house itself.
I grew up in a small cul-de-sac where all the children played together outside and where all the neighbours were your extended family. We ate our meals in any of the twelve homes on the street and often ended the day sharing a bath with a friend in tow to save on bathwater!
In the small village, the National Coal Board employed most dads and the kids went to one of two schools; the comprehensive in the village or the grammar school a few miles away. There was a top and bottom road and in between swathes of cornfields which we used to love to run through, much to the chagrin of the local farmer.
In 1982, I moved to Scotland to attend university in Stirling and when I came home, it seemed everything had changed. Things had changed. In 1984, the village had been the catalyst for the national miners’ strike. A year-long battle that pitched neighbour against neighbour and inspired both deep camaraderie and deep division, in equal measure. Gradually, as the mines closed, and the miners dispersed to find other forms of income, the village and the surrounding area morphed into an almost unrecognisable, yet exciting new world.
Wildlife and heritage
Suddenly where once there were collieries, now there are retail parks, bringing the convenience of supermarkets and DIY chains. Slag heaps have been replaced with grassed hillocks and areas have been developed into wetlands and bird sanctuaries. With the development of places such as the RSPB Dearne Valley nature reserve you can now enjoy a walk, indulge in bird watching and finish off in the cafe. Down the road near Doncaster, you can go one step further and encounter polar bears and big cats, with the wonderful Yorkshire Wildlife Park.
The industrial heritage of nearby Rotherham and Sheffield is on show in the amazing Magna Science Adventure Centre which offers children big and small an interactive day of fun and discovery. There is also the Elsecar Heritage Centre where visitors can enjoy a guided tour of a living history centre which comprises shops, businesses, galleries, art and craft studios and an exhibition hall. It runs craft workshops, special events, and a monthly antiques fair.
Whether you are looking for art galleries, indoor play areas, fine dining or swimming pools, South Yorkshire is an amazing place to discover. And then, of course, there is shopping.
You’ll find it all at Meadowhall
In 1991, I became PR Manager for a newly-opened shopping mall on the outskirts of Sheffield. Meadowhall had opened just under a year earlier and one of my first jobs was to create a buzz to celebrate its first birthday. Indoor shopping malls of the size and scale of Meadowhall were a new phenomenon in the UK and Sunday shopping had still not been introduced at this point. With not only 280 stores but restaurants, a food hall, cinema and even its own in-house TV station, I had the time of my life creating live events and hosting an array of celebrities to promote the centre and introduce the UK public to the delights of this new visitor destination.
Before long, 26 million visitors a year – more than the most popular seaside attractions – visited the centre. The local population embraced indoor shopping. They loved the concept and were happy to come to shop and enjoy a family day out. Over the years, Meadowhall has carried out various make-overs and today is still a popular choice for shoppers, diners and cinemagoers.
Home is where the heart is
South Yorkshire has been transformed over the years from the humble streets of my childhood to the diverse and vibrant county it is today. It will always have a special place in my heart. Partly because of the fond memories I have of growing up there. Also for what it has become and what it offers today’s residents and visitors.
The last year we have all been impacted by the pandemic and the hospitality sector has suffered hugely. As we start to emerge from the rigour of lockdown, I sincerely hope that you will take this opportunity to visit South Yorkshire and discover for yourself the wealth of attractions it has to offer.