Favourite Things: Lifetime in city has been an education for Sheffield teacher

Head of Sixth Form at Birkdale School, Helen Parsons with sixth form pupils outside the schools sixth form building. Picture: Andrew Roe
Head of Sixth Form at Birkdale School, Helen Parsons with sixth form pupils outside the schools sixth form building. Picture: Andrew Roe

Helen Parsons, aged 51, is the head of sixth form at Birkdale School. Born in Sheffield and living in Dore with her girls Jenny and Lucy, she has spent most of her life in the city apart from three years as a history undergraduate at The Queen’s College, Oxford University and two years teaching in Manchester. This September it is 25 years since she joined the staff at Birkdale as head of history and 20 years ago, as senior mistress, she welcomed the first girls into the sixth form, marking the start of co-education at Birkdale. On Saturday a reunion lunch is being held at the school for all Birkdalians who attended Sixth Form between 1995 and 2010 to celebrate the impact co-education has had on the life of the school.


Having grown up in Dore, I feel extremely lucky to have returned to live there with my own children. I went to King Ecgbert School where I was privileged to be taught by a number of very inspirational people who have had a profound effect on my life. Head of history, Hazel Hoffman, encouraged my love for the subject and was the driving force behind my application to Oxford. She always believed I would get in, even when I didn’t. I also owe a great debt of gratitude to my history teacher Pam Carlson for her fantastic notes on the Tudors which still form the backbone of the A-level course I teach!

Haddon Hall

Although strictly speaking Haddon is outside Sheffield, my ‘favourite things’ would not be complete without it. Since I first visited as a teenager, I have been in love with the place. The medieval hall with its minstrels’ gallery, the long gallery and small chapel are all features I will never tire of visiting. The gardens are perfectly in proportion and not too ornate, beautifully perfumed with rose scent in summer. Walking round, it is so easy to imagine what life must have been like in Elizabethan England when the house was owned by Lord and Lady Edward Manners in 1567.

Whirlowbrook Park

One of the most beautiful places in Sheffield. As a child, my mum would take my sister and I for picnics in the holidays and we would walk along through the woods until we reached the clearing with the picnic tables by the river. I have visited Whirlow in all its seasons and it is truly magical to see it in the autumn mist, the crisp of winter snow, the newness of spring and the warmth of the summer sun.

Birkdale School

Our school is an incredible place. The school community often refers to itself as ‘the Birkdale family’ and that is very much the part it has played in my life. The pupils are my favourite thing about Birkdale, especially the sixth formers. It is such a privilege to come into contact with so many young people who share their hopes, ambitions and fears with me. I am very aware of the massive responsibility that comes with this position and talking to them about how to plan their futures is exciting and challenging. It is wonderful to witness them realising their potential and moving on to the next stage in their journey through life. The staff would come a close second as people who I value for the massive support and friendship they give me. I am very conscious that I could not do my job without the fantastic team who work alongside me.

Ringinglow Road

One of the best roads in Sheffield. I have to confess it forms part of my route to and from work as a good way of avoiding some of the traffic on other roads into town, but the views it offers over the city are sensational. On a sunny morning you really feel like you are on top of the world. The Norfolk Arms pub has also been a welcome port of call on my way home where, in summer, it is good to watch the sun setting over Lodge Moor and Crosspool. In winter the cosy fire inside has provided a warm and relaxing end to the day.

Rother Valley Country Park

This year it proved a landmark for me when I completed Race for Life’s ‘Pretty Muddy’ challenge. I started running – or more accurately jogging - with a friend about two years ago and in 2014 completed a ‘personal best’ in the Race for Life at Clumber Park. This July I was encouraged to give Pretty Muddy a go – it was great fun. It was also important for me to know I was raising money for Cancer Research UK as my sister Kay died from cancer nine years ago.

Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet

A historic landmark on my doorstep all my life. Although my specialisms lie outside 18th-19th century Britain, the hamlet is an amazing reminder of Sheffield’s industrial heritage, which is so important to cherish. I still marvel at the way water can be harnessed to power machinery.