Drawing depicting steel works in Sheffield

The Economic Miracle in Stocksbridge

The town of Stocksbridge lies in a valley in the foothills of the Pennines.

It is a geographically isolated community that was founded by Samuel Fox in 1842, when he started to make steel.

At its peak, over 10,000 people were employed in steelmaking and most of them lived in the town.

Stocksbridge steelworks produced steel of the very finest quality that was used all over the world.

Local employment and prosperity were derived from the steel industry, in which fathers and grandfathers had been employed.

The dependency on one major industry is what made Stocksbridge and its people so vulnerable.

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Picture by Robert Penistone

In the 1980s, contraction of the steel industry led to job losses of up to 90%, with a cascade of consequences to local businesses and individuals.

Throughout the 1980s, the catastrophic economic decline wrought havoc with everything including property prices and devastation of the high-street.

Local residents of working age were forced to migrate out of the town in search of work.

Derelict buildings and industrial decay were the outward physical signs of the economic fall-out.

But the unseen tragedy was the effect it had on local people.

The situation seemed hopeless and irreversible.

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In the mid 1990s, a group of local people realised there was no point waiting for outside help, so they came together with the common aim of making a difference and forging a new future for their community.

They formed the Stocksbridge Training and Enterprise Partnership (known as STEP).

Initially, it was as a community organisation and later it became a Development Trust.

The founding trustees had no background or experience in economic recovery and regeneration.

They just wanted to make a difference.

The first thing they recognised, was the need to support individuals.

From their repurposed headquarters, STEP offered help to find jobs, and support for people suffering from mental health problems.

They also offered online learning to re-skill and up-skill individuals to increase their employability.

For the purpose-built STEP Business Centre, they commissioned a unique business support programme specifically designed to boost business and financial know-how and enable businesses to self-rescue, prosper and grow.

STEP offered local solutions to local problems for local people.

The Stocksbridge economy has been transformed by robust, dynamic and diverse businesses that have created job opportunities for local people.

The town has attracted £millions of inward-investment that has regenerated derelict industrial sites and attracted visitors.

Stocksbridge is justifiably proud of its steel-making heritage; but it can also be very proud of the economic miracle that local people achieved on their own initiative

They won the British Urban Regeneration Association Award in 2002.

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