"Why Sheffield's Women of Steel statue is my favourite place in the city centre"

After completing a history degree at Edge Hill University, Michelle Rawlins, moved to Sheffield to complete her journalism qualifications at the former Stradbroke College, where she also met her husband.

Thursday, 6th May 2021, 6:00 am
Sheffield based author Michelle Rawlins with her new novel The Steel Girls.Picture Scott Merrylees

Apart from a short spell in Birmingham, she never left the city, making it her home, and went on spend the next 23 years working as a freelance journalist, specialising in real life stories for national newspapers and women’s magazines, before merging her love of the past with her passion for writing.Last year Michelle’s non-fiction book, Women of Steel, was published, telling the stories of the female factory workers who were recruited into the city’s foundries, that lined the River Don, during World War Two.

Last month, Michelle’s latest historical fiction book, The Steel Girls, the first in a series of wartime sagas, was published, based on the same women.

As well as writing, she teaches in the journalism department at the University of Sheffield She lives in Millhouse Green, with her husband, Iain, and two children, Archie, 11, and five-year-old, Tilly, and ‘crazy’ Cavapoo, Mabel.

Michelle Rawlins, author of the Women of Steel book, pictured at the Women of Steel statue in Sheffield. Picture Bruce Rollinson

The Theatres

I’ve always loved the theatre. As a journalist I’ve reviewed shows but even before that, one of my favourite nights out was a night at the beautiful Lyceum, the equally impressive Crucible or the historic City Hall. I’ve watched everything from the Full Monty, the Calendar Girls, musicals and adaptations of Shakespeare in Sheffield, as well as taking my kids to pantomimes and children’s shows. For at least a decade, I would go to watch a live performance with my late mother-in-law, Coleen and would get excited when the new season brochure would arrive in the post. Year on year, we would also, pick out several events to attend during the Off The Shelf Festival of Words, so when I was asked to appear at last year’s series of talks about the Women of Steel, it felt incredibly poignant.

For far too long, there’s been a very London-centric focus on the arts, but the North as a whole has so much to offer. I’ve seen equally, if not better productions, shows and talks in Yorkshire, as I ever have in the West End, and all for a fraction of the price.

Museums and galleries

My love of history means I’m naturally drawn to museums and one of my absolute favourites is Kelham Island. Thankfully, my kids love it too, especially the spectacular River Don engine. I have spent hours wandering around the halls, transporting myself back to the city’s industrial past, which has been invaluable to my ongoing research for my books. A visit to Kelham Island is also never complete with a visit to Craft & Dough, for nibbles and a drink, especially on a sunny day, where we sit outside and watch the world go by for an hour or so.

Women of Steel Statue

Without a doubt my favourite spot in Sheffield city centre, is Barker’s Pool, the home of the larger-than-life bronze Women of Steel statue. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve visited, proud that I am now part of telling the story behind this remarkable generation. I still find it astonishing to believe that if Kathleen Roberts, the woman who spearheaded the city’s campaign to recognise the women’s contribution to the war effort, hadn’t called The Star in October 2019, their stories may have remained untold and their invaluable part in history, never recorded. The statue and the marquette, homed in the Millennium Galleries, is now a permanent and well-deserved reminder of the sacrifices these women made, let alone the dangers they faced, risking life and limb to ensure their own menfolk, as part of the Allied troops, had the munitions they needed and parts for planes and tanks, to fight the long and at times relentless battle across Europe. The statue is not only a deserving tribute but also a beacon of inspiration for future generations, showing no matter what adversity you are faced with, there is always a way through.

Michelle is giving away a signed copy of her latest book, The Steel Girls. To enter, like the Sheffield Telegraph on Facebook, and send the team a message mentioning Steel Girls competition by next Thursday May 13, 2021.​​