Favourite Things: On the eve of the Kelham Victorian Christmas Market, Niki Connolly looks back on her nine years in Sheffield
Niki Connolly is events and marketing manager at Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust, which holds its Victorian Christmas market this weekend. She came to Sheffield in September 1993 as a student at Sheffield Hallam University, planning to return to her West Midlands roots! She joined SIMT in 2009, working at post-flood Kelham Island Industrial Museum, Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet and, more recently, Shepherd Wheel. She is looking forward to dressing up in a posh Victorian frock and a red hat at the market.
Way back in 1993, on looking through the UCAS guide I developed a romantic notion of Sheffield based on one sentence – “Sheffield like Rome is a city built on seven hills…” Appealing to the quasi-romantic in me and having been born in Coventry, a place so flat that speedbumps are the nearest we got to experiencing vertigo, I arrived in Sheffield just a couple of weeks later. I love the feeling of being enveloped by the surrounding hills. It’s like the city is giving you a reassuring hug.
My walk to work
Most mornings I make the most of some free therapy with a brisk walk to work along the River Don. Due to the flood, the rising river levels are never far from our minds. Today, I gauge any risk by the water lapping against King Canute’s chin, a fabulous stone carved in the river itself to mark the opening of the new Pocket Park on Nursery Street.
Full Monty on the map
In our twenties, my friend and I went on a ‘Thelma and Louise’ tour of the west coast of America. Here I realised just how much the rest of the world knew about Sheffield’s steel industry thanks to film The Full Monty. The museum attracts visitors from all over the world, to see the renowned Little Mesters Stan Shaw and Pete Goss as well as collector Ken Hawley, the epitome of ‘Made in Sheffield’.
A few years ago, whilst recovering from a life changing illness, the simple act of walking became very important to me. My goal was to take a few more steps every day, and with this being hilly Sheffield, most of those steps were a real challenge. I sought haven in a family owned Italian coffee shop with a warm welcome and friendly place for me to share laughter and tears with friends. My love of Italy comes from having an Italian lodger for many years whom I now visit each year. Gusto, now in Norfolk Row, gives me a taste of Italy a little closer to home.
I have a playful memory of being a student and experiencing ‘foot versus snow’ of the kind I’d never known before. I eagerly purchased my first and only pair of Doc Martens to brave the wintry walk from Bramall Lane to Collegiate Crescent. ‘Proper snow’ returned to devastate what would have been the 19th Victorian Christmas Market in 2010. The cancellation of the market was devastating and had a huge impact on everyone involved when we took the unprecedented step to cancel the event. From snow, to floods, this year we’re due some sunshine!
On a sunny day at Abbeydale there’s smoke and magic in the air, yet it took me nearly 17 years of living in the city to visit and I wish I had a penny for everyone I meet who says the same. The hamlet embodies what the city was brought up around – waterpower and working lives. Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust has recently secured £1m from the Heritage Lottery Fund to restore the site, securing its future for generations to come.
Our Silversmith Workshop
I’ve been studying silversmithing and jewellery making for four years and use the workshop at Hillsborough College under the expert supervision of our lovely tutor Sue. The quality of work coming from our class amazes me and I’m always excited and proud to bear a Sheffield stamp from the Assay office just up the road and my work can now be found in the museum shop.
I love antique shopping with mum when she comes to visit, so I was thrilled to see the Sheffield Antiques Quarter springing up in the Abbeydale area. I’m a bit of an antiques groupie having appeared on Dickinson’s Real Deal and I was delighted to have met my favourite expert, Charles Hanson, in Sorrento last summer.
There was one other thing that originally inspired me to come to Sheffield and it was the promise of a fantastic night out with great people. I arrived in Sheffield not knowing a soul and now 20 years on I can count at least three of my closest friends as people I met during that very first fresher’s week at University.