From the lecture theatre to the council chamber: How one Sheffield student balances university with political duties

Sophie Wilson, who is a final-year University of Sheffield student and a councillor.
Sophie Wilson, who is a final-year University of Sheffield student and a councillor.
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Students are known for spending their spare time sat in the pub and if not enjoying a drink or two, they'll probably be in bed recovering from the previous night's antics.

But not for University of Sheffield student Sophie Wilson - you'll probably find her in the council chamber.

Sophie runs a Twitter feed called Things on My Councillor.

Sophie runs a Twitter feed called Things on My Councillor.

Sophie will graduate from her English Literature course in the summer but is already busy working as a councillor, representing the people of Beighton.

The 22-year-old began taking her interest in politics further when she started her course at the University of Sheffield in 2015.

Fast-forward two-and-half years and she is now a councillor herself, hopefully with a graduation ceremony to come in the summer.

Sitting on the sofa of her student house in Crookesmoor, Sophie said: "I've always been interested in politics through school and then when I went to university I grew up and realised there was all these problems in the world and I wanted to do something about them.

Sophie runs a Twitter feed called Things on My Councillor.

Sophie runs a Twitter feed called Things on My Councillor.

"In 2015, one of my flat-mates was a Labour party member and we helped Oliver Coppard who was the candidate for Sheffield Hallam. I was living in Endcliffe Village at the time, we had an election party and when we lost the election it was such a shock.

"I joined the party a few days later because I was so confident we were going to win and I wanted to make a difference."

Sophie, who will sit another exam this week, grew up on Tithe Barn Lane, Woodhouse, at home with dad Richard, mum Karen and younger sister Katie, 19.

The former Aston Comprehensive School pupil said she was a Jeremy Corbyn supporter and backed him during his leadership campaign in September 2015.

Coun Sophie Wilson

Coun Sophie Wilson

"I got really involved at a time when politics and the Labour party were changing so it was a good time to get involved. There was a massive surge in membership and I went to some great events," she said.

Sophie was elected as the disabilities officer for Sheffield Labour Students in 2016 before going on to become the group's new campaigns officer last year.

Sophie was busy studying for her second-year exams when former Labour councillor Helen Mirfin-Boukouris stood down on Thursday, October 12, 2017, to focus on her PhD.

She explained: "I was selected on September 11 and then it was just a one-month campaign. It was really quick - I said I was interested, I was shortlisted and then selected by a vote.

"I was originally due to stand in May because I would have finished uni by then but I spoke to my family, had all the paperwork ready and decided to go for it.

"I was really worried because the Lib Dems had taken Mosborough last year."

But the doubt soon turned to elation when Sophie took the seat, polling 1,640 votes. The Liberal Democrat’s Bob McCann was her nearest challenge with 899 votes.

It's not just the case work of representing people in Beighton in the chamber that keeps Sophie busy.

She is also a member of the South Yorkshire Archaeology and Archive Committee and the council's children, young people and family support scrutiny and policy development committee.

"I am so busy," she joked. "I really am but I just take it one thing at a time. I don't really get stressed.

"Uni have been really understanding and they sort of understand that sometimes I am going to miss a lecture because I'm in a meeting."

While Sophie certainly has a busy diary, she says she still has time for the odd drink with friends.

She joked: "What I have got to do is not get too drunk and perfect the art of going out with a hangover.

"In all seriousness I can just go out and have one or two drinks and I'm fine."

She has also found the time to become something of an internet sensation with her bizarre Twitter feed Things on My Councillor (@TingsonSophie), which is exactly what you'd expect - pictures of Sophie balancing random objects on her head.

"It was my sister's idea. She's crazy and she set it up at Christmas," Sophie joked.

Ambitious Sophie said she was still unsure what the future would hold for her but encouraged fellow students and others of similar age to get involved in politics.

"I just went to see what opportunities come my way," she said. "I think it's hard to say: 'I want to be this or that' because you never know what's going to happen.

"I was about 18 or 19 when I first got involved and I think people are nervous and doubt themselves at first because they are so young and that's genuinely what I thought at first.

"But to anyone thinking about getting involved in politics, I would just say: 'Go for it.'"