'Women hold this city together': Sheffield rolls out honours in centenary year

Women's contribution to society, says Anne Murphy, too frequently goes under the radar.

Wednesday, 25th April 2018, 9:45 pm
Updated Thursday, 26th April 2018, 11:16 am
Women's contribution to society in Sheffield was highlighted at the Town Hall. Picture: Ian Spooner

Sheffield's Lord Mayor has just handed out awards to more than 50 women who, in a very real sense, keep the city going - from making sure irreplaceable community facilities survive to boosting the health of ethnic minorities and overcoming tragedy with strength and dignity.

"It's a fine example of what women do all over our country - all over the world, actually - in all communities," she says. "They are not recognised for their work but they are very important."

The event, billed as an opportunity to honour Sheffield's 'mighty women', took place yesterday at the Town Hall and was part of commemorations to mark 100 years since the right to vote was extended following the Suffragettes' landmark campaign. Councillors were asked to put forward women in each of their wards who make a special effort and difference locally, and the nominations included people of all ages and from a wide range of backgrounds, such as activists, parents, academics and a priest.

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Sue Pearson has a unique story among the group. The retired teacher and great-grandmother, who turned 90 last week, was born Susanne Ehrmann in Prague in 1928 but became one of thousands of mostly Jewish children offered an escape to Britain on the Kindertransport just before the Second World War. She left her parents behind, becoming the only member of her family to survive the Holocaust, and was given a home in Sheffield.

She spoke on Holocaust Memorial Day earlier this year, sharing her experience at the Winter Garden as part of a personal mission to educate young people about the horrors of the Nazi genocide.

Sue, of Nether Edge, says the Town Hall gathering was 'particularly good'. "There's such a lot of voluntary work goes on in Sheffield - it's not only women, but they do most of it. For it to be recognised in this very pleasant way is a big plus, I think."

Sheffield has been a 'very good city to live in', she thinks. "The City of Sanctuary very much fits in with my beliefs. I still do talks to get kids to appreciate each other's differences, because I think that's the only way forward, if we accept diversity and enjoy it."

Other nominees included Annalisa Toccara - one of the City ward winners - who set up Our Mel, an organisation that aims to raise the self-esteem of black and minority ethnic women (Mel is short for the skin pigment melanin). Lindsay Boot and Jackie Naylor, both of Darnall and teaching assistants at Phillimore School, were highlighted for collecting an impressive £250,000 to regenerate the nearby Phillimore Park, while Maureen Greaves was applauded for founding a food bank in High Green as well as showing 'faith and forgiveness' after her husband Alan, a church organist, was murdered in a random attack at Christmas in 2012.

Dr Lerleen Willis, a former tutor at Sheffield University, works with the Sheffield Action for African Caribbean Health group to draw attention to health issues, such as the prevalence of diabetes and prostate cancer in black men. "Women see things that need doing, and they get on and do them," says Lerleen, of Ecclesall. "They might not be blowing their own trumpet but quietly in a corner they're looking after one another and their community."

The prostate cancer campaign ran in 2014/15, and resulted in several men being diagnosed. "For the first time they could see all the symptoms and either they or their wives realised they probably needed to go to the GP, and it was caught in time for them to be treated."

Meanwhile June Luxon was chosen for her commitment to the Grimesthorpe Family Centre, where she has run a youth club for over 30 years. She singlehandedly saved the centre when it hit financial difficulties in 2013.

"I've always been part of the area. It's just about knowing there's somewhere for children to go, because there's nowhere at all. I volunteered for the youth club because I'd already been involved in Guides and the Boys' Brigade. My daughter helps to run it now with my husband, so really it's a family-run business at the moment," says June, 71, who has juggled her duties with working full-time for the NHS as a ward clerk, and at British Steel, over the years.

"A lot of women hold this city together, especially volunteers."

The idea for the awards ceremony came from Darnall councillors Mary Lea and Zahira Naz, who were planning a similar event in their ward, but suggested the initiative should be broadened to encompass the whole city.

"Lord Mayor really is a privileged position but one thing it does do is educate you about the number of volunteers we have in Sheffield, who year in, year out keep our communities alive, and they are often women," says Coun Murphy.

Sheffield played a key role in the campaign for women's suffrage before the Representation of the People Act came into force in 1918, allowing women over 30 to vote. A resolution demanding the vote was passed by the Sheffield Female Political Association in 1851 and presented to the House of Lords, while Women's Social and Political Union founder Emmeline Pankhurst sent her daughter, Adela, as a local organiser for the group. A 'suffrage shop' was opened by the WSPU on Chapel Walk, where educational classes were held and merchandise was sold.