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The Sheffield culture guide written by in-the-know locals

Opus Independents

Festival of Debate. Photo by Dora Damian

Opus has been giving platform to ideas for change in Sheffield since 2008. Whether that's by publishing the words of citizen journalists in Now Then magazine, bringing local poets to the stage at Wordlife, or prompting conversations on the state of the nation and the world at the Festival of Debate.

As Opus relaunches the Now Then App – bringing the best bits of the magazine to your pocket, alongside discounts, directories and more – we spoke to director Flick Jackson about the past, present and future of the organisation and why their alternative resource for the city is so valuable today.

How would you describe Opus?
I’d describe Opus as a force for good in Sheffield. We believe we can live in a place where everyone works to make things better for each other. ‘Better’ to us means fair, diverse, accessible, independent and heard. That’s why we champion social causes, independent business, not-for-profits, emerging talent and healthy debate.

Since 2008, we’ve run projects including Now Then Magazine, Opus Distribution, Wordlife, and Festival of Debate – they connect us to each other and to music, arts, culture, ideas, action, and conversations that will make change. We also take on a variety of bespoke commissions and funded work.

More than anything, we’re here to make it easier to contribute to change for the better.

What values drive the organisation?
Opus grew organically from a group of friends and when we started we knew we wanted to be value-led. Over the years we’ve been refining our values so we can use them to inform our approach to projects. For example, one of our values is independence so we choose to work only with independent traders. Another is participation, so we make sure everyone has the opportunity to contribute to our platforms, such as writing for Now Then or hosting an event at Festival of Debate.

Inclusivity is a really important value that we know we need to be doing much better on. For us, it must mean striving to be inclusive of underrepresented groups and not only amplifying their voices, but involving them in decision-making, strategy and governance at all levels.

Over the last 18 months we’ve begun an active and on-going process of making new connections and working with people and organisations who represent marginalised groups across the city, while evaluating the way we work so we can create a truly representative organisation and one in which everyone feels welcome, included and listened to, and crucially, has the opportunity to affect real change.

What projects have you been particularly proud of recently?
At the start of June, we wrapped up the sixth season of Festival of Debate which saw us deliver 90 events over 6 weeks. It’s grown to be one of the largest non-partisan festivals of politics in the UK and this year we worked with more than 70 organisational partners and hosted some amazing speakers including Afua Hirsch, Paul Mason and The Guilty Feminist.

We’ve been involved in UBI Lab Sheffield which is a collaboration between multiple organisations and individuals to explore the potential of a Universal Basic Income and the possibility of a pilot in the city. In June, Sheffield City Council councillors were asked by UBI Lab Sheffield to back a motion supporting a pilot. The motion was supported and passed which is a massive step in the right direction towards getting the much-needed evidence about what works with UBI.

We'll also be celebrating the 138th issue of Now Then this coming September.

What are you working on at the moment/next?
Through Wordlife and as part of a wider project with Sheffield Hallam University called Justice For Her, we’ve commissioned an Indian poet from Mumbai called Simar Singh to write a poem about violence towards women in India. The poem is being turned into a poem film which will be marketed and distributed across India through third sector organisations with the aim of raising cultural awareness of violence against women.

We’re also going to start sharing content from a variety of independent media publications including The Canary, DeSmog, The Meteor, Media Lens and openDemocracy, via the Now Then App. It’s never felt more important to get unfiltered news that’s untainted by corporate ownership out into the public sphere so we’re really looking forward to playing our part in drowning out the din of mainstream media.

More broadly, the Now Then App is becoming a really valuable resource for breaking news and exclusive stories about Sheffield. We’re spearheading the local economy revolution by championing the independent traders we know and love and encouraging everyone to support them. You can download the Now Then App for free.

Are there any changes you would like to see in Sheffield?
Fully resourced Universal Basic Income pilot.

A better system for an inclusive neighbourhood democracy, to rival the Barnsley and Wigan models.

Citywide licensing for privately rented housing.

A move away from the Strong Leader Model and to an updated version of the committee model in Sheffield City Council.

Sheffield to become a national leader in reducing its carbon emissions to net zero by 2030 or before, in line with SCC plans, and pioneering new approaches to living more sustainably.

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