The Unstoppable Volunteer

Sylvia (right) with her daughter and granddaughter at Limpsfield School
Sylvia (right) with her daughter and granddaughter at Limpsfield School

Story: Nikky Wilson

Sylvia Pennington is a woman with a mission, or to be more precise, several missions. She has lived in Burngreave since the 1940’s, worked and raised a family here, had more than her fair share of personal tragedy to face but has remained cheerful and committed to helping other people around her.

Coping with adversity

Born in Sheffield in 1934, Sylvia first moved to Burngreave at the age of 11, to a house on Clun Street. When she got married, she moved out of the area for several years but ended up moving back to a family house on Torbay Road where she has spent the past 47 years. Filled with photographs of her children and grandchildren, this is truly her home although she described her reaction when her husband first took her to see it. “Well we had two small children then,” she said laughingly. “And the front of the house was so steep, I just looked at it and couldn’t imagine getting a pram up and down all the steps. But I coped in the end, and my son was born here too.” And that really sums Sylvia up – someone who deals with adverse situations, usually with a smile. When asked what makes Burngreave home for her, Sylvia tells me about her life;

“Burngreave gave me my roots. I’m used to it and I’ve got lots of memories from this area. I’ve grown up here, lost two husbands here and raised my children here so I couldn’t live anywhere else. My first husband died of a heart attack when he was only 37 and so I had to bring the children up on my own, they were 9,8 and 3 ½. It wasn’t easy but I just got on and did it. I was on my own for ten years, until I married Frank then he died, that’s 25 years ago now.

“My kids have been my life. I raised them on ‘discipline with love’ and they’ve turned out fine. Same for my grandchildren – I let them know what I think but they seem to love me for it.”

Working hard for others

Ill health forced Sylvia into retirement from her work as a cleaner. However it didn’t stop her from doing other things;

“I thought , ‘Come on Syl! You’ve got to do summat! If you stand still, you’ll get depressed!’”

So her first volunteer post was as an Appropriate Adult, acting as a guardian for young people who get into trouble with the police and befriending them. Then she moved on to helping children with their reading at Byron Wood School. Her involvement with St Peter’s Church led to her becoming a lay parish evangelist and then a hospital chaplain, visiting patients at the Northern General Hospital, even as her own health deteriorated. When the local bus service that took her there was withdrawn, she still didn’t ‘retire’ but switched her attention to Limpsfield School where she again helps children with their reading. “I make them laugh, so at least they enjoy it,” she told me. “I’m a proper Yorkshire lass and I like to tease the students and the teachers, even the head teacher! So they all know me – a bit of humour helps a lot.”

Campaigning for B1 and B2

Sylvia’s become well know for her campaigning locally. She’s passionate about having a decent bus service in the area, one that has given her the freedom to do all her various voluntary jobs. In particular she’s anxious to get the B1 and B2 bus service restored in the area; “I’ve had to give up some of my volunteering because the service has stopped and for many people parking round the hospital is a problem. And it was a direct bus to Meadowhall!”

As an advocate for Burngreave, Sylvia is keen to let people know that the area is a good place to live. “I want things to be right here,” she told me, and she’s prepared to make an effort towards that. As a woman with a strong mind, plenty of enthusiasm and common sense, Sylvia continues to make a big contribution to people around her and provides inspiration to all of us to keep going. Congratulations, Sylvia, for all your hard work over many years!

This document was last modified on 2008-11-28 18:33:45.