It seems to be almost mandatory for High Sheriffs to have a dog (or two), but we are temporarily without one. However, this week more than made up for that lack, first with the unveiling on Friday 12 April of the National K9 Memorial in Oaklands Park, Chelmsford. This is a national memorial to police dogs, for which Paul Nicholls QPM, a former Essex police dog handler, has been planning and campaigning and fundraising for about thirty years. The actual memorial, a bronze statue of a handler with two dogs, is the work of Great Totham sculptor John Doubleday, and seems likely to become a firm favourite with visitors to the park, especially as it is a very child-friendly size. The memorial was blessed by the Bishop of Chelmsford and unveiled by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, in front of a crowd that included representatives of police forces (and their dogs) from across the whole country. From various speeches made, and a demonstration by Essex Police, it was interesting to learn about the contribution that dogs make to policing, often at the risk of their own lives, and to see the wonderful bond that exists between the dogs and their handlers. It is a very special relationship, not least because the handlers know they are sending their dogs into situations where they may be injured or even killed, and the dogs will defend their handlers and other officers with all that it takes.
The next day found Lucy and me in the company of many more dogs, this time accompanying their owners on the annual walk that raises money for the Essex Rural Fund, under the aegis of the Rural Community Council of Essex. This well-established event is organised by David Boyle, vice president of the RCCE, who plans the route, and Nicholas Charrington, chairman of the RCCE, who ferries the walkers around in the Layer Marney Routemaster (this week, looking especially glorious having just been repainted) and organises sausages and soup for lunch. This year we started at Byham Hall, Little Maplestead, where we left our cars and were taken in the bus to Hedingham Castle. From here, after a talk on the castle from Jason Lindsay, we walked back to Byham Hall via Great Maplestead (stopping at the church to pay homage to Sir John Deane, High Sheriff 1610–11) and Little Maplestead churches. After lunch we walked to Hill Farm, Gestingthorpe, where Ashley Cooper showed us the site of the Roman villa discovered and excavated by his father, and the museum that he created in the farmhouse and outbuildings. The weather was a bit mixed (including a hail shower) but the countryside universally glorious, in a part of the county that can seem really quite remote.
Two other events this week that I was fortunate to attend highlighted the achievements of people rather than dogs. On Tuesday there was a ceremony at Chelmsford City Racecourse at which John Jowers, Chairman of the County Council, paid tribute to a diverse collection of voluntary organisations who have received grants from the County Council’s Essex Fund, administered by the Essex Community Foundation; and on Friday evening Lucy and I attended the Mayor of Chelmsford’s Community Evening at Hylands House, a reception and dinner for people nominated by Chelmsford City Councillors in recognition of their contribution to the community. It is a lovely way to show our appreciation and thank people for what they do, and Yvonne Spence, whose term of office comes to an end in a few weeks, said it was for her the highlight of the mayoral year. Both events demonstrate what an enormous part voluntary bodies play in our communities, and how much we depend on those who work so hard to keep them going.