#WomenMakeSheffield is our campaign to tell the stories of the many women and feminists, past and present, who make the Steel City great. To round off Black History Month 2021, we’re celebrating some of the vital, pioneering projects and organisations led by Black women in Sheffield. This blog highlights just some of the Black women and collectives who continue to fundamentally shape and enrich the city’s cultural life, strengthen ties between local communities, and make Sheffield a vastly more exciting place to live.
Writer, activist, broadcast journalist and self-described ‘South Londoner up North’ Désirée Reynolds is one of Sheffield’s leading creatives. Since the release of her debut novel Seduce back in 2013, Désirée has written widely, penning plays and short stories, facilitating creative writing workshops and much more; her writing is a tool for exploring Black and Brown women’s experiences at the intersection of race and class and disrupting the white, male gaze.
Since March 2021 Désirée has been Writer in Residence at our partner organisation, Sheffield City Archives, where she’s been tracing untold stories and listening for voices in the archive. Reflecting on her residency for Now Then magazine, Désirée reflects on how ‘in these archives marginalised lives are spectacle’, fated to either hypervisibility or complete erasure, with conspicuous gaps and silences where the material traces of a life should be. Using a range of creative methods to weave these stories, Désirée’s residency concludes with ‘Dig Where You Stand’, a citywide exhibition with hubs at Theatre Deli, the Moor Market and Sheffield Central Library from 25-30 October 2021.
As both a writer and a cultural facilitator, Désirée has long been involved with Off the Shelf Festival of Words, now in its thirtieth year. This year she’s curated Black Women Write Now, a strand of events happening throughout Saturday 30 October featuring poetic responses to Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, conversations with – and readings from – Leone Ross, Nadifa Mohamed, Patrice Lawrence, Margaret Busby (pre-recorded, online), and Olivette Otele (pre-recorded, online).
Founded by theatre practitioner Mojisola Elufowoju in 2012, Utopia Theatre represents and celebrates voices of the African diaspora. Combining African theatre and storytelling traditions with Western theatre practices, Utopia focuses on theatre production and touring, nurturing new and emerging playwrights and storytellers of African origin, and African theatre in the community. As residents at Sheffield Theatres, Utopia is the only African theatre company in the North of England; it encompasses more than forty theatre professionals working in every capacity.
Utopia Baobab is the company’s project to secure the future of African storytelling by developing and honing the creative talents of a group of African playwrights through a tailored mentorship programme, the production of three new plays, and the publication of a book. Amidst the uncertainty that the pandemic has cast over the future of the theatre industry, Utopia’s African Theatre to your Home online streaming platform provides another means of shoring up the future and legacy of the company’s rich portfolio of previous works; productions can be purchased to watch and download to your user profile. After more than eighteen months away from live performance, Utopia made its return to the British stage in September, with a double bill of ‘Here’s What She Said to Me’ by Oladipo Agboluaje and Zakes Mda’s ‘And the Girls in their Sunday Dresses’ at London’s Arcola Theatre.
British-born Somali poet and teacher Warda Yassin burst onto the UK poetry scene in 2018, when her first pamphlet Tea with Cardamom won the highly prestigious New Poets’ Prize. Since then Warda has gone from strength to strength, winning the Rebecca Swift Foundation Women Poets’ Prize and taking on the mantle of Sheffield Poet Laureate in 2020. Warda’s poetry marks ways around the city by memory, casts Sheffield in the warm light of familiarity.
Warda is a passionate advocate for engaging young people with poetry and creative writing, namely through her job as a secondary school English teacher and in her role as the coordinator of Mixing Roots, a project for young people of colour to find their voice through creative writing, run in partnership with Hive South Yorkshire. Warda reflects on her own creative journey, and her work with Hive, in this recent interview with the Star.
Based at the Wicker, ADIRA is a survivor-led mental health organisation for Black people of all ages, led by Ursula Myrie and Marjorie Frater. ADIRA offers a range of services including events to raise awareness of issues that specifically affect the Black community, engaging with and nurturing young Black people, and the ADIRA Listening Service, a safe, non-judgemental space for callers to talk through difficult issues and personal problems. Listening Service appointments can take place virtually, over the phone, or face to face at SADACCA.
ADIRA are marking this Black History Month with an African-Caribbean Market that brings together the experiences of the Windrush Generation, while celebrating Black culture through a range of live performances, song, dance, and food & clothing stalls. In collaboration with the Unity Project Sheffield and Action Collective, the Market runs from Monday 25 – Saturday 30 October 2021 at Fargate in Sheffield City Centre. As part of a wider programme of events held at Moor Market throughout the month of October, the market runs alongside a series of stalls, exhibitions and live performances platforming voices, both historic and contemporary, at the heart of Sheffield’s Black community.
If you’d like to support ADIRA’s vitally important work, the easiest way to do so is to attend one of their community events, or consider making a donation via their website.
Nyara School of Arts
Founded by writer and poet Danae Wellington, Nyara School of Arts is a Sheffield-based arts organisation bringing together members of the Black community. Since 2018, Nyara has provided vital spaces for artistic expression and development across a wide range of artistic disciplines. Spanning local film projects to engaging workshops focused on building skills in dancing or traditional methods of African storytelling, Nyara has played a critical role in building an artistic platform for the voices of South Yorkshire’s African and Caribbean communities. Playing an active role in challenging a cultural sector often dominated by white voices, Nyara has worked on critical projects such as Sistah:Sister – The Erasure of Dark-Skinned Black Women, an educational workshop exploring and deconstructing harmful representations of black women in on-screen media, produced for Sheffield DocFest 2021.
Currently Nyara is leading ‘Passing the Baton: The Legacy of the Windrush Pioneers’, a community-led heritage project aimed at documenting the experiences of Sheffield’s Caribbean community. Spanning multiple generations, the project brings together their individual stories and memories, weaving a collective narrative of Sheffield’s Windrush Generation, and its role in moulding the post-war history of the steel city. With the support of funding from Sheffield City Council, the interviews, poetry and film produced as part of this project will be housed in the Sheffield Archives for years to come. Those interested in seeing the film in person can attend its first public screening at Theatre Deli next Monday (1 November) at 6pm GMT.
Black History Month may be coming to a close, but there are still plenty of great events to get involved with this week! Check out Désirée Reynolds’s Black Women Write Now events at OTS this Saturday, head down to ADIRA’s African-Caribbean Market at the Moor and Fargate, or book your ticket for the premiere of Nyara’s ‘Passing the Baton’ at Theatre Deli next Monday (1 November 2021). You can also find related events happening in BHM and beyond, listed on Welcome to Sheffield, Our Favourite Places, and the national Black History Month website.