Breaking down barriers for people living with Dementia

Written by May Lester

I panicked when asked to write this article. As a Project Manager, I’m comfortable with logic and facts (my mum’s genes). My day-to-day role involves managing communications for large infrastructure projects. Turning my hand to an initiative that is life-changing and emotionally charged and really doing it justice is a different kettle of fish. Keeping to my strengths though, let me start with some facts. 850,000 people in the UK have dementia. In less than five years this number is likely to increase to 1 million. Here are some more: in Sheffield, 6,000 people live with dementia. It can affect anyone, regardless of their age, background, education, lifestyle or status.

I am no stranger to witnessing a loved one experience a (currently incurable) condition. I know that statement probably applies to the majority these days. Whilst this comes with its own challenges, one fantastic by-product is that it forces you to challenge your own perceptions, and look for ways to improve life. It forces you to make some lemonade with those lemons.

I am lucky to work for a company that shares this philosophy. We want to improve the lives of people in Sheffield who are living with dementia. At Counter Context, we’ve have joined forces with Quality Context and the Postcode Support Trust to match donations made towards a vital new project that will be delivered by Museums Sheffield and Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust: Dementia Friendly Museums and Gallery Cafés. This initiative will break down existing barriers to living well with dementia, including social isolation, and will provide welcoming spaces for creative activities such as historic object handling and recording memories.

The Christmas Challenge is the UK’s biggest online match funding campaign. Museums Sheffield has a fundraising target of £4,000. We, along with Quality Context and the Postcode Support Trust, have pledged £2,000 for the matching pot. To reach the £4,000 target, we need online donations between 28 November and 5 December from the public. For one week only, we’ll be matching your online donations so that they are worth double to Museums Sheffield. You can donate now by visiting The Big Give Christmas Challenge website.

This is an opportunity to do something tangible for Sheffield. We were recently voted the ‘happiest city in Yorkshire’ (Rightmove, 2017) – let’s keep it that way, for as many people, and in as many ways, as possible.

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!

Counter Context achieves hallmark of PR excellence

We are delighted to announce that Counter Context has achieved the Communications Management Standard, our latest news release provides more detail.

Sheffield communications and public affairs company Counter Context has achieved the Communications Management Standard (CMS), a mark of excellence within the public relations industry.

The CMS is awarded by professional body the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA), which represents and regulates over 20,000 PR companies in the UK. As a member of the PRCA, Counter Context opted to apply for the accreditation to acknowledge its dedicated approach to business management, staff development and customer service.

The accreditation process involved a rigorous assessment of nine core business areas including leadership and communication, business planning, financial management, diversity and client satisfaction. An independent assessor scored the company against strict criteria, combining principles of the ISO 9001 international quality standard and the Investors in People award.

Counter Context secured the accreditation after proving compliant in all areas of the assessment. Managing Director, Alexis Krachai said,

“This is a fantastic achievement for Counter Context and I am extremely proud of the entire team. They deserve recognition of their hard work and consistently high standards and this accreditation does just that.

“From our internal communications and employee development, through to our finance management and client feedback mechanisms, we have robust systems and processes in place delivered by an outstanding team of professionals. Gaining the CRM mark demonstrates to our clients that they are buying a professional service from a communications company that is committed to excellence.”

The beautiful game

Last month, Sheffield’s local Derby saw the city divided in its support but united in excitement. Our MD Alexis wrote for Sheffield’s local publication The Star about the potential a strong Premiership football club could bring to the city. 

One half of the city celebrates. The other drowns its sorrows. Last month’s Steel City Derby showed again why Sheffield is the true capital of football.

Anyone at Hillsborough or watching at home witnessed why football is the greatest game on earth. Five years of frustration went out the door as United went two up. The noise was deafening when Wednesday levelled. Ecstasy turned to agony as United regained the lead 90 seconds later and went on to score their 4th. At fulltime 30,000 wanted the world to end. 2,500 Blades saw their dreams come true.

Why does it matter so much? The three points won and lost seemed an afterthought. It was about bragging rights. It was about pride. It was about avoiding going to work or school on Monday to face the banter that follows any local derby.

Many say that money has changed the game. Sky high ticket prices. Players on silly money. Games that kick off at times to suit the TV broadcasters, not the fans. The challenge for owners is how you balance running a multimillion pound business whilst keeping a strong bond with fans and communities. I am not always sure we get the balance right.

One thing is clear though. Football in Sheffield is on the up. United’s charge up the table since their promotion does not look like running out of steam. Wednesday is in the middle of a wobble but will likely be pushing for promotion at the end of the season.

Whatever happens we need a team back in the Premiership. A seat at the top table brings profile and money. Profile and money brings investment and jobs. Not persuaded? Football supports 5000 jobs and generates £330m a year in Manchester. There is no way that city would have grown like it has without the success of United and City.

With success will come challenges. How to maintain affordable ticket prices but provide the modern stadiums that the game increasingly demands. One question will keep coming up. Will our two clubs one day share a stadium? The head says it is probably inevitable. The game is more and more about money and bigger stadiums make financial sense. The heart says no way. You only had to be at Hillsborough on Sunday to know that red and blue do not mix.

Perspective on: the political backdrop

By Leigh Bramall, Director

The political environment looks set to continue the febrile theme we witnessed in 2016 and the first half of this year. As we progress ever closer towards Brexit becoming a reality, there are signs that nervousness and caution among investors is growing. Equally as concerning is the uncertainty emanating from our own UK Government. With a weakened prime minister and a split in Cabinet on Brexit direction, the policy positions of the UK Government seem fragile at best.

In the North of England, we now have our first elected mayors for City Regions. Nationally however, despite re-affirmations of a commitment to the Northern Powerhouse, actions have spoken louder than the lukewarm words. The Government’s commitment to Cross Rail 2 came at the same time Chris Grayling seemed to be blowing distinctly cool (if not cold), on Northern Powerhouse Rail and announced a backtrack on electrification of the Midland Mainline.

The combination of a focus on Brexit, at the same time as a cooling on the Northern Powerhouse, reinforces the view that the case to government for investment outside London is never definitively won. It requires constant pressure. The case for pressing national government for investment to boost growth, and good policy locally to drive innovation and development, is clearer than ever before.

A good public affairs strategy will be extremely valuable in helping developers, investors and public institutions alike to strengthen their case.

The political environment can often influence the success of developments. An example is the trend of universities investing in their estate to compete nationally and internationally. Universities are becoming more prominent in driving local economies, playing a leading role in public-private partnerships. However, as highlighted by Brexit, divides can exist between elite institutions and significant sections of the wider public. When universities do expand, these dynamics need to be understood and addressed carefully and strategically.

In our experience of working with universities on their capital estates programmes, we have delivered strategic, thoughtful and robust stakeholder engagement and public consultation. This involves engaging a wide number of stakeholders such as university employees, local MPs and councillors, community and special interest groups and the media, to increase awareness, understanding and support for the programme.

Perspective on: renewable energy

By Emily Marshall, Associate Director

Over the years I have spoken to many people about their views on renewable energy whilst consulting on the various plans and proposals for large scale wind and solar developments. There has always been a general consensus that the earth’s climate is changing due to anthropogenic factors and that we should do something about it. The debate has continued as to what, exactly, that something is.

Renewable energies have been criticised as being:

expensive, inefficient, requiring subsidies, intermittent and ugly. A few remarkable things have happened in a relatively short period of time to help counter these criticisms.

The price of wind and solar technologies has dropped significantly, with costs of renewable technologies worldwide having decreased by 60%. Rapid cost reductions and technological improvements mean government financial support is not needed. By 2020 the cost of renewables is set to be less than the current power price. There is no longer a trade-off between low carbon and low cost.

What’s more, wind turbine blades are now harnessing the same power from 10knots as they did before with 20knots, setting the stage for unprecedented growth.

What about intermittency? The issue of storage has long been the Holy Grail of renewable energy. ‘Grid scale’ battery installation is now happening across the UK.

Battery storage is also a key government R&D area, with the Government poised to invest £246m.

There’s still an (ugly?) elephant in the room…

Strong public opposition often accompanies proposals for schemes being announced. Counter Context delivers effective consultation and engagement to increase understanding and acceptance in communities. This year, we have facilitated 20 public consultation events around Norfolk for the world’s largest offshore wind farm. We have undertaken robust research and communications planning for a client in the solar industry and are ready to roll out the first stage of public consultation for a large scale solar farm.

All projects have risks. We work with our clients to reduce those risks by building understanding and trust, and deliver successful schemes with local support.

On the horizon for this sector is the outcome of responses to the industrial strategy green paper and how developers will deliver against ambitious price bids in the latest CfD auction. Finally, we are investigating what future government support will look like, following HM Treasury’s announcement that it would abolish the Levy Control Framework.

Perspective on: property developments

By Harriet Knowles, Account Director

As we headed into 2017, the real surprise was that it very much felt like ‘business as usual’. Development activity in the North continues apace, and at Counter Context, we’ve enjoyed supporting many new and exciting schemes.

We all waited with bated breath for the housing white paper. This eventually landed in February with much fanfare but little in the way of revolutionary policies to transform housing delivery. As we entered a new parliament, it became clear that housing delivery will not be at the top of the national political agenda and the onus will remain on developers to work within the existing systems.

One element of the housing white paper that has gained traction in Greater Manchester, under the new leadership of Andy Burnham, is the push for urban intensification in sustainable locations, over greenfield development. The housing crisis will not be solved without some Green Belt release. However, we certainly see a major role for schemes such as the Far East Consortium’s (FEC’s) sustainable new community at Angel Meadow in Manchester, which Counter Context has supported this year.

Whether greenfield development or urban intensification, the common thread is the need to include existing communities as proposals develop.

This is not only crucial to help unlock project consents, but to establish the principles of placemaking at an early stage.

On to commercial developments and the north of the country continues to present an attractive investment proposition. Counter Context has enjoyed a fascinating year of helping developers and investors from the South East and overseas to navigate the northern City Region landscapes to bring forward new schemes.

Away from the cut and thrust of regional politics, we still enjoy the more creative side of our work. One highlight of our year so far was organising a Wimbledon-themed launch for Acero, the latest Grade A office at Scarborough Group’s Sheffield Digital Campus. There can be no better proof of the northern down-to-earth approach than the Leader of Sheffield City Council getting stuck into a game of table tennis!

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.

HS2 is the route for opportunity

On Monday 17 July, the government announced the HS2 route. Our MD, Alexis, explores what this means now for South Yorkshire.

The government has now confirmed its solution for bringing HS2 to our region. A lot of ink and some political blood has been spilt getting to this point. The arguments for and against various options have been rehearsed time and again. Hopefully, we can now draw a line in the sand.

Communities near the new route need our politicians to come together to minimise the impact HS2 will have on their homes and businesses. They need a process that is clear and transparent. They need certainty and financial compensation. Business and political leaders need to agree how the arrival of high-speed rail can supercharge economic growth.

The hard work starts now. Compelling ideas are around every corner. We have a window of opportunity to come together to demand more action from government to give us the infrastructure our region needs to excel.

Here is what I think we need next. A commitment to fund a high-speed rail hub in Sheffield City Centre that connects HS2 with high-speed rail to Manchester and beyond. Final confirmation we will get a second HS2 station that is located even closer to Rotherham and Barnsley. A clear signal from Ministers they will support Doncaster Sheffield Airport’s bid to get a rail link directly off the East Coast Mainline. This rail link would bring our airport within less than 80 minutes’ travel time of London. Cargo and passenger numbers will go through the roof as airlines launch flights to new destinations. The benefits for global trade and travel from our region would be huge.

Closer-to-home travel also needs attention. The arrival of HS2 needs to be a catalyst for far better rail links, from Barnsley to Chesterfield and from Doncaster to Dore. With better connectivity will come more businesses. More businesses will bring more jobs and more investment.

A world-class rail network, including an airport with a direct connection to the capital, would put our region on a different footing. We would rival regions around the world. We would be able to compete for investment and events we can currently only dream of. Want an example? Silverstone have said from 2019 the F1 Grand Prix will need a new home. Is this too fanciful? Perhaps; but the government’s announcement means we are building up a head of steam. Let’s grab the opportunity.