Thom Arnold is 23 years old and president of the University of Sheffield Students’ Union. Originally from North London, he initially studied maths at UCL but after taking a year out he changed direction, headed north and moved to Sheffield to study international relations and politics. Part of the attraction, he admits, was having the Peak District on the doorstep, having been a climber since he was 10. Thom worked as a climbing instructor for five years.
It’s easy to forget how large and how peaceful Sheffield is at times. I first went up to the Cholera Monument – you can see it on the hillside behind Sheffield railway station, near Norfolk Park – at night to take a photo for a friend, for whom the place held a special meaning. Looking out, perched on the hillside, the city rises up before you, its lights glittering in the moonlit sky. The modern skyline against a backdrop of rolling hills helps to explain Sheffield’s nickname as ‘the largest village in England’. It really is an enchanting place.
Crookes Valley Park
Like all kids, I used to look forward to the occasional snow days when I was at secondary school but the snow you get in London doesn’t really compare to the dumps in Sheffield. In the run-up to Christmas last year I dug out my snowboard. Unfortunately there wasn’t quite enough snow to board all the way to the Students’ Union, but with a few fellow boarders I went for a play in Crookes Valley Park.
This was great fun, although you had to be careful that you didn’t end up shooting into the reservoir! It’s a particularly beautiful place to be in summer when the cherry trees blossom and you walk along paths amid swirls of pink petals! I chose Crookes Valley Park as the place to leave my Martenitsa, a red and white string bracelet and part of a Bulgarian tradition to welcome the spring. The University of Sheffield definitely gives you a cultural experience!
During my first year in Sheffield I lived in halls in Endcliffe Village which meant that my route to Ecclesall Road took me through the Botanical Gardens. I didn’t much appreciate the walk back uphill with heavy bags but I certainly couldn’t complain about the surroundings.
I’ve seen bear pits still used in Switzerland but I do find the bear pit in the gardens, complete with bronze statue. a little strange. I did love the weekly walks, however, and I did most of my revision on the grass surrounded by the drifting scent of beautiful flowers whilst being pestered by cheeky squirrels!
City centre living
In contrast to London, where I grew up, Sheffield is a quiet city. This year I relocated to the city centre – I live just off High Street – which has certainly delivered on a more vibrant lifestyle. It’s brilliant to be able to walk out of the front door, and be confronted by markets, fairground rides and traditional food stalls sprawling their way up Fargate.
If you are in the city centre it’s worth making a detour to the Peace Gardens. They’re a beautiful place in their own right and in summer a lovely place to chill out whilst the fountains tinkle around you. But there’s also often a lot going on there. I loved being able to drop by for a concert during the Tramlines festival or for a ‘beach’ experience during the summer months.
Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street
There’s a small plaque set into the paving at the entrance to Upper Chapel, which says: ‘You are invited to enter and enjoy this sanctuary garden. The chapel is open for meditation and private devotions.’ The invitation sums up the small courtyard perfectly. It does feel like a sanctuary.
Venturing into the courtyard is like entering a different world. The noise and bustle of Sheffield’s centre is sucked out, plunging you into a peaceful tranquility. It’s a perfect place to ponder your way through a book beneath autumn boughs with beautiful statues guarding your peace and quiet.
Sheffield railway station
The first time I came to Sheffield I had this outdated idea of a dirty, industrial city.
Walking out of the station to be great by a wall of water is a perfect cure for such ideas and by the time I reached Sheffield Students’ Union my image of Sheffield had been transformed to one of green spaces, courtyards and fountains.
I started climbing when I was 10. Since then it’s played an important role in my life,and featured in my decision to study at the University of Sheffield – alongside its academic reputation and the Students’ Union, of course!
Ironically, I’ve not ended up doing as much climbing as one expect since being based in Sheffield, but I do like to get out to the Peaks with a bouldering mat when I get the chance.