WHEN I was a student in Sheffield four years ago, you were lucky if you could find someone who had even heard of Swindon, never mind what the town was like or our links with important historical figures such as Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

But two weeks ago that all changed when The Star, Sheffield’s daily newspaper, printed a story about Swindon’s desire to emulate their regeneration success.

People across South Yorkshire read that Swindon is blighted by dismal concrete buildings desperately in need of regeneration while the Steel City has shed its grey city centre image and has been transformed.

So I volunteered to revisit my old university stomping ground and compare it with the town where I was born and bred.

And in my humble opinion, apart from obvious factors such as the sheer size of Sheffield and the fact their regeneration programme is well on the way whereas Swindon’s has only just started, there isn’t a lot to distinguish the two.

As we all know, Swindon was built on the back of Brunel’s decision to build his railway works in the town. Before that, it was just a small market town sitting on top of a hill.

It has now become the home to the headquarters of some of the country’s biggest companies.

Swindon Advertiser: I love Swindon

Sheffield also had one main industry – steel. When the industrial decline hit in the 1980s many of the factories closed. But thanks to the regeneration projects they have been able to attract new businesses.

One of the first things you notice about Sheffield as you walk around is the number of people under 35. With two universities, numerous colleges and dozens of schools there is a youthful feel to the city, but it doesn’t exclude its more mature residents.

While there is a large youth population in Swindon it doesn’t have quite the same buzz – but that is down to the fact we don’t have a university. It’s one of 23 towns that the Government has earmarked as prime locations to put a university and should those plans go ahead, within a few years I think we could give the northern town a run for its money.

Both places are located just off a major motorway and have fantastic links to the rest of their region, and the country, by road and rail.

Sheffield’s railway station has been given a major facelift (I should know, I had to battle workmen and hoardings anytime I wanted to catch a train while I was living there) but it is now an inviting welcome to the city.

Swindon’s station might not be as grand but it is a huge improvement to the sight that greeted visitors just a few years ago.

If you ask people what they like most about Swindon, nine times out of ten they will say the people. We’re a friendly bunch in this neck of the woods – and sadly at the moment we don’t have a lot to be proud of in terms of architecture (although the similarities between the University of Sheffield’s Arts Tower and the David Murray John building are uncanny).

Ask the people of Sheffield what they like about their city and they reel off a list as long as their arm... however, many of the things they name have only come about in the last few years.

While I loved Sheffield, at the end of my degree course I packed up my bags and came back to Swindon.

You only need to read some of the comments on the Adver’s website to see that some people may find it hard to understand why I chose to leave a vibrant, prosperous city but there is something about Swindon. Okay, we don’t have the big sporting centres, the purpose-built music venues, one-off shops or the transpost network that runs like clockwork... but the ideas are there and are under discussion.

Swindon has a bright future ahead of it and all we need is a little patience to see the tranformation take place.