Students power our economy, we need more of them.

Written by Alexis Krachai, Managing Director

Students. They are everywhere. Throwing up in the street. Marauding around town. Putting cones on cars. Perhaps worst of all, the traffic is so much busier when the universities come back from the summer.

When I moved back to Sheffield 10 years ago, those were the views I heard the most. I had similar feelings when I was woken up again at 3am on hearing the ‘kids’ stumbling home from the night out at the Union or West Street. As I’ve grown older two things have become clear: firstly, the old stereotype of students is wrong; most are up all night working, not drinking. Secondly, students mean big business for our city and our economy.

There are now over 65,000 students who call Sheffield home each year. They bring money to spend in our shops, pubs and clubs. They bring the demand for high-quality city centre accommodation which supports our property industry. Most of the cranes you see on the horizon are there because new student accommodation is being built around our city centre. You hear some people say we are building too much, they are wrong. Developers are not stupid. They are building more and more student flats because more and more students want to come and study in Sheffield.

Together our two universities employ 12,000 people. That workforce makes a huge contribution to the city’s economic wellbeing. Individually and together, both universities help fund some of our most popular events.

The importance of students to Sheffield and our wider economy has other impacts which are less obvious. Many of the retailers keen to open in the city centre are attracted to Sheffield because we have so many international students here in the city. If you go on the train to Manchester or Leeds at the weekend you can see our students coming back with bags full of clothes and electronics. Retailers want to be in Sheffield so they can sell to students directly here in our city centre.

The growth of student city centre living has also impacted positively on local communities. Ten years ago, rows and rows of houses were student properties. First time buyers had to compete with student landlords to get on the housing market. Nowadays the students live in purpose built city centre accommodation. The benefit? More houses are available, and I get woken up less!

Seeing the potential in our canal

Written by: Alexis Krachai

We all have one or two places in or around Sheffield that we will head to for a walk or take visiting family and friends to. The Peace Gardens, Ecclesall Road, Rother Valley, even Meadowhall. Our city has its ‘hotspots’. How many of us head down to Sheffield Tinsley Canal at the weekend?

Having lived in Sheffield for most of my life, I have never walked the length of the canal, had a bite to eat at The Quays restaurant or even stepped on board a passenger boat. I have nothing against the canal, I just don’t know much about it.

The thing is, something is happening down at Victoria Quays.

You might have noticed. The old Grain Warehouse, sitting proudly over the canal now homes modern offices and luxury apartments. The Hilton opens its doors on to the waterfront and a handful of bars and restaurants are popping up along the water’s edge.

There is also a spotlight on the northeast of Sheffield owing to the development of the Olympic Legacy Park, set to be a national centre of excellence in health and wellbeing. So, isn’t it time we turned our attention to the waterway linking this and the heart of the city?

Thinking about all of this, I find myself wondering if we have another Kelham Island on our hands. An area once integral to the industrial heartland of Sheffield, left neglected until somebody realised that our past has an important role to play in the future prosperity of this city.

Go and see for yourself. Later this month, there really is something exciting happening at Victoria Quays. The Canal and River Trust – the charity that is helping us fall back in love with our country’s canals – is holding a festival across two days and two sites, to celebrate our waterfront.

The Sheffield Waterfront Festival takes place on Saturday 23 September, when Victoria Quays will be brought to life with live music, street food, canoe and fishing tasters, boats trips and art exhibitions. On Sunday 24, the action will be found at riverside location, Kelham Island Museum, where there will be music, BBQs, kayaking and of course, real ale.

The Sheffield Tinsley Canal is an asset for our city. The Sheffield Waterfront Festival will be, I’m sure, the first of many opportunities to see it showcased.

See you there.

In defence of Council leaders in Cannes

Last week 25,000 investors and property developers travelled to Cannes in France. They were there to discuss where to invest money to generate jobs and economic growth. They listened to cities and regions who need to attract their investment.

From Bangalore to Budapest, from Copenhagen to Cape Town. Every major city and region on earth was there promoting what they have to offer to investors. Seminars, workshops and, yes, champagne receptions defined five days of discussion and networking.

In recent years Council leaders and business leaders from our region have travelled to be part of this debate. This year Counter Context assembled the largest ever delegation of businesses who were sponsoring our delegation. We promoted over £1bn of investment opportunities. Unfortunately, our political leaders were thin on the ground.

Why were they not there? They have busy schedules, they have responsibilities back home. These are all reasonable explanations. There is also the suspicion they fear being photographed sipping champagne at drinks receptions. This is not an unreasonable anxiety. Voters back home are angry. Many will see a trip to Cannes as a gross waste of public money.

Going to Cannes is anything but a waste of money. Being part of this global network matters. Attracting investment is like finding a job. You cannot sit at home hoping the phone will ring, you need to get out there. You need to have those conversations that turn into big deals. Deals like the multimillion pound investments recently announced by McLaren and Boeing. Our politicians play an incredibly important role in these conversations. They give confidence to investors.

By 2020 our town halls will receive no central grant from Whitehall to fund Council services. This means huge changes to how we fund the services we all rely on. The gap needs to be filled by Business Rates – the tax paid by businesses and investors. Our politicians need to be meeting, talking to and sipping champagne with these investors to show them what we have to offer and to attract them to our region.

There will be many more events that afford valuable opportunities for Sheffield. We need to support our politicians and allow them to do their jobs without the fear of public backlash.

It may not make for a great photograph now but it will fund essential services in the future.

Council budget cuts mean we need to be ambitious.

After councils throughout the country announced an increase in council tax, Alexis Krachai argues that ambition, jobs and investment are the answer.

Not long ago everyone was talking about austerity. Not anymore. The focus is on Brexit, Trump and fake news. Make no mistake though, budgets are still being cut; left, right and centre.

It is rare that town hall bosses are applauded but they have had to handle massive budget cuts over the last seven years. In each year, they have managed to balance what they get and what they spend. That is not an easy task when there is increasing pressure on Council coffers.

The pressure is only increasing. Next year the Council is going to have to find an extra £40million to balance the books. We need to reverse this trend. How can Council budgets can grow? What do we need to do to spend more money on essential services that benefit everyone in the city?

The answer is simple. We need to create new jobs and help businesses to invest. The more jobs created, the more companies that grow, the more money the Council receives. By 2020 all of the money received from businesses will be spent by our Council rather than by officials in Whitehall. That’s good news for our economy and good news for the city. Being in control of what we spend will help Sheffield to become more successful.

What does this mean in reality? We need to attract businesses to invest in Sheffield. The news that the supercar company McLaren is coming to town is terrific. We need to be equally welcoming to companies who want to bring their money and jobs to any part of Sheffield. Nowadays companies can invest anywhere they want to; Sheffield needs to be open for business.

That does not mean every business should be allowed to do what they want and build where they want. The Council has a planning department that is well known for making developers work hard to meet the standards the city expects. These standards will not slip but it is inevitable that Council bosses will need to think about how new developments can help fund essential services.

We live in challenging times. We need more and more money to fund services that benefit a population that is growing older. The government is placing more pressure on Councils to do more with less. There is only one solution – jobs, jobs, jobs.

What is the role of the media in this new world of ours?

On the day that MP’s  announce an enquiry into the “growing phenomenon of fake news”, our MD Alexis Krachai explores the role of the media and the role we have, as communications professionals, to work with the media – not against them. 

2016 was defined as the post truth year. Fake news. Viral stories solely available on social media. The latest is ‘alternative facts’.

2 plus 2 does not yet equal 5 but many feel we are heading in that direction. At the centre of this swirling mass of moral, professional and political questions sit the media. The fourth estate. What now for those who work with the media?

Two famous quotes immediately spring to mind. Don’t poke the bear in the zoo and Napoleon’s comment that he “feared three newspapers more than a hundred thousand bayonets”. Many in the media see themselves as being under attack. Here in the UK, a debate swirls around the question of press regulation. Fake news stories are popping up in Germany and France ahead of elections. Across the Atlantic, the very future of a democracy is at stake as President Trump locks horns with what he calls the ‘lying press’.

A media under attack from commercial and political pressures is already fighting back. You can see journalists strengthening their resolve to root out falsehoods. You can sense that the media rightly see themselves as the bulwark that protects against authoritarianism and dictatorship. This is likely to impact consciously and subconsciously on the entire news gather industry. One of the world’s oldest and most noble professions is being challenged and harangued. For any organisation under the watchful gaze of the media, the imperative to be more transparent, collaborative and open will only increase. Journalists will rightly be less inclined to let anyone off the hook.

At Counter Context we have always advised our clients to be open and candid with the press. It is about working with colleagues in the media to build their levels of understanding and trust in what you do. There will always be times when the media will want to report on issues that make us uncomfortable. The key for any company or public body is to understand that keeping the media at arms-length is akin to putting a finger in a dam. You cannot delay the inevitable. Eventually, the moral and legal right to know will prevail. The ability to ask difficult questions will wash away even the most considered PR strategy. If you’re not persuaded simply think about how an innocuous question from a journalist can escalate into a Freedom of Information request.

We see the media as a partner. If they ask difficult questions it will likely strengthen the thinking and decision-making that goes on behind closed doors. Equally, being open with journalists and explaining the challenges often encountered in delivering major projects will help to build understanding and trust. That trust is key and can often result in more understanding phrasing when they decide on their next headline. Staying silent is not an option. It fuels suspicion. Creating a vacuum will leave space for others to fill it with what they want to say.

Ultimately recognise that the media are a massive amplifier that can turn up your message or someone else’s message to full volume. You can either put your fingers in your ears and ignore the noise or you can work with the fourth estate. It is not about manipulating the press. It is about treating them as a partner, a shareholder and one of the most important stakeholders in what we like to call a democracy.

Show that Sheffield is open for business

In his monthly Sheffield Telegraph column, our MD Alexis explores the issues, the opportunities and the wider context that affects the city of Sheffield. This month, he writes about the expectations for 2017, after a tumultuous year resulting in Brexit, a new government and Donald Trump.

I did not envy the editors tasked with rounding up the key news stories at the end of last year. What to include for one of the most tumultuous years in the last three decades?

Locally we have seen the acceleration of devolution and the growth of Sheffield City Region. Nationally we have seen Brexit and a new government installed. The election of Donald Trump, who becomes the 45th President this month, has already had a profound effect on politics and economic projections.

What does this mean for local businesses and for Sheffield? It means the world grows more complicated. To create the jobs, attract the investment and generate the wealth that will fund public services will take skill, confidence and imagination.

2016 saw some notable successes. As more cranes appeared on our skyline; residential, commercial and retail developments contributed to the increasing strength and vitality of Sheffield. The government’s decision to bring HS2 to the city centre will turbo charge regeneration in the years to come. The growth of the Advanced Manufacturing Park and the Olympic Legacy Park show we can deliver world-class innovation districts that will power our economy for decades to come.

We have every reason for confidence in 2017. The role of the City Region will continue to be important. We must harness the benefits of devolution whilst ensuring these organisations remain linked to local communities. An elected mayor will be important but we will also have to show every day how the City Region structures are having a positive impact on people’s lives. Building capacity is not the same as building legitimacy.

A mismanaged Brexit will harm our economy but new found freedoms can present new opportunities. Our challenge is to ensure Sheffield presents a compelling offer to investors and businesses. Whilst renowned for digital innovation, advanced manufacturing and sporting prowess, we need to think more deeply about what Sheffield has to offer to the global economy.

In November, the city will host the renowned Horasis conference, attracting hundreds of investors and business leaders from Europe and Asia. This is our opportunity to shine; to offer guests a warm welcome and to tell the world why Sheffield is a compelling place to do business.

We all have a role to play throughout 2017, showing the world that Sheffield is open for business.

5,4,3,2,1…we have lift off!

What better way to kick off the new year than with a new look? The team here at CC is delighted to reveal our new website and our brand makeover, conveniently delivered over Christmas by a very kind, bearded man in a red suit…

After listening to feedback, we wanted a website that provides an enjoyable and accessible user experience. We wanted to showcase our work, our expertise and our people (because we’re really proud of them). We wanted to tell the story of Counter Context and why we are here, doing what we do, the way that we do it.

Hopefully, we’ve done these things. If you have any thoughts on our new website, let us know. We’d love to keep on improving. Just email our marketing manager, Claire:

Iconic elephant won’t be saying goodbye to the city centre…

One of the most iconic members of the Herd will be making a welcome return to Sheffield after its new owners pledged to display it in the city centre.

The AM elephant, which was sponsored and signed by Sheffield legends the Arctic Monkeys, was bought at auction last week by Counter Context and sister company, Quality Context. The local companies have committed to returning AM to the city centre in the hope it will attract visitors to Sheffield and raise awareness of The Children’s Hospital Charity.

Originally based outside Sheffield Town Hall, AM was one of the most popular sculptures on the trail, which was organised by the charity and Wild in Art. The 6ft sculpture is now destined for a new home in the Winter Gardens, where local people and tourists alike can visit it for many years to come.

As committed supporters of The Children’s Hospital Charity, Counter Context and Quality Context also sponsored two of the Herd’s elephants along with one of the £25,000 rooms in the hospital’s new wing, due to be opened soon. Alexis and Kate Krachai, owners of the two companies respectively, set their sights on AM after first seeing it at a preview event. Kate explained,

“We loved AM from day one. It represents two of the city’s most important cultural assets; the Arctic Monkeys and the fantastic legacy of the Herd. As local companies, we want to celebrate everything that makes our city great and this elephant does just that.”

Alexis added, “Kate and I felt strongly that it wouldn’t be right to keep AM tucked away. The city loved this elephant and the city deserves to see and enjoy it. We want to give visitors an opportunity to make a donation when taking photos with the elephant, raising vital funds for this important charity. We are also thinking about the local visitor economy – we very much hope that people will continue visiting Sheffield to see AM.”

Rebecca Staden, Fundraising Manager at The Children’s Hospital Charity said: “The Herd of Sheffield was a huge collaboration of companies, artists, schools and individuals from across Sheffield, all working together to create something special for the city and to fund lifesaving equipment at Sheffield Children’s Hospital. I am absolutely delighted that AM is returning to the city as a legacy to the project. Huge thanks go to Counter Context and Quality Context for their generosity and for publicly exhibiting the elephant for the whole city to continue to enjoy.”

Counter Context and Quality Context are working closely with Sheffield City Council and The Children’s Hospital Charity to arrange the move and it is hoped that AM will be on display in the Winter Gardens within the next month.

Counter Context constructs new network across the Pennines

Last October we celebrated the official launch of our new Manchester office. This marked a really significant and exciting point for Counter Context and as such, we wanted to shout about it! Here’s our latest news release, if you’d like any more information on this story please contact me on

Leading communications company Counter Context has strengthened its standing in the north of England, opening an office in the heart of Manchester’s business district.

As specialists within the built environment, Sheffield-born Counter Context celebrated the opening of its Lloyd Street office with top property professionals at a launch on 6 October. The expansion comes as a result of increased demand for the company’s services in the region.

Counter Context operates within a niche area of PR and communications; building understanding and support for large-scale and often challenging commercial and residential developments, transport schemes and energy infrastructure projects.

The company already boasts an impressive track record in the North West which has included work for The Cooperative Group, Manchester City Council, Bruntwood, Transport for Greater Manchester, Salford City College and CBRE Global Investors. The team is currently supporting consultation around the high profile St. Michael’s development, the latest venture by former United player, Gary Neville.

Counter Context was founded over 22 years ago in Sheffield and remains primarily focussed on the north of the country. Account Director, Harriet Knowles has led on the company’s expansion into Manchester. She said,

“We are extremely excited about our new home here in the North West. Whilst we’ve worked with clients over the Pennines for a number of years, we wanted to be better integrated within the business community; increasing our profile and bringing us closer to our clients.

“Manchester is a fantastic city with a rapidly changing skyline and a lot of exciting ideas in the pipeline. Our understanding of policy, planning, messaging and engagement puts us in a strong position to support the city’s developments in moving forward.”

Counter Context’s Manchester office is located in Lloyd House, 18 Lloyd Street, Manchester M2 5WA.

For more information on the consultation, engagement and promotional services provided, telephone 0161 669 5035, visit or follow the company on Twitter, @countercontext.