The High Sheriffs of Essex make quite a few awards of one sort or another. I’ve just been to HMP Chelmsford to judge the nominations for awards that I’ll be presenting at the end of March. Both staff and prisoners nominate other staff and other prisoners, as individuals or as teams. It’s a nice way of acknowledging and encouraging some of the positive behaviour to be found in the prison on the part of both staff and prisoners. Last December, as I wrote in an earlier post, I presented similar awards at the Military Corrective Training Centre in Colchester. Soon I shall be presenting High Sheriff’s Crown Court Awards, for which judges nominate people who have been instrumental in securing the arrest and conviction of criminals, often at considerable personal risk, and later in the month awards to staff of the Essex Community Rehabilitation Company who do such good work working with offenders on probation.
The High Sheriffs’ Awards, however, are those which are made each year from the High Sheriffs’ Fund, administered by the Essex Community Foundation since 1997. (The position of the apostrophe reflects the fact that the Fund has been built up by successive High Sheriffs.) These awards provide recognition and some financial support for schemes where local people or organisations tackle crime or social problems in their communities, or run projects which help to make their communities safer places in which to live. Since 1997 nearly 650 organisations operating in Essex, Southend and Thurrock have benefited from grants totalling £580,000.
Some High Sheriffs, I think, can find it depressing to realise just how much suffering and deprivation there is in their county. The fact is that in our communities there have always been those in need of support, and however hard we all try there always will be; what has changed is the way in which society provides that support, and, to a lesser extent perhaps, the nature of the need. Drug addiction, for example, was not a problem that the authorities had to tackle in the Middle Ages, when people were cared for either by their feudal lord or by the Church.
The system has of course changed since then, and there is much that is heartening about the way in which society deals with present-day problems. It seems to me that we have arrived at a model which, on the whole, works very well: a mix of what is provided by the state, what is provided by profit-making companies, and what is provided by the so-called third sector. And the third sector is a remarkable place.
It has two distinct advantages over the old-style charities. The first is that it is very much more professional in how it goes about the business of gathering, managing, and spending money. The paid staff, as well as being passionate about what they do, are better trained to do the job. The second advantage is that those who volunteer in the third sector are of all ages and backgrounds, and bring to it a wide range of experience. We also know that those who volunteer get as much out of volunteering as those they are helping, and enrich their own lives. That is an enormous benefit for society as a whole. How wonderful it is that so many people who might otherwise put their feet up want to give up so much of their time to volunteering, and equally wonderful that so many people – many of them the same people – give money to support this activity, not least by donating to the High Sheriffs’ Fund and the Essex Community Foundation.
With the High Sheriffs’ Awards we celebrate all that is good about our voluntary sector, and having engaged in one way or another with some seventy charities and other voluntary organisations over the last eleven months I can testify to the enormous amount of good work that is being done, covering a very wide range of issues, including hate crime, homophobia, racism, homelessness, addiction to alcohol and drugs, reoffending and rehabilitation, knife crime, and modern slavery.
This year, the High Sheriffs’ Fund received forty-eight applications requesting a total of £230,000. Clearly, we could not meet that demand – and here’s where the magic of the ECF comes in. I’m delighted that the High Sheriffs’ Fund has been able to support twenty organisations with grants totalling £33,000. On top of that, the ECF has been able to add a further £57,749 to these grants from its other funds. Of the remaining applications received, it is likely that twelve organisations will also receive grants. This means that of the forty-eight organisations that originally applied for a High Sheriffs’ Award, thirty-two will receive grants totalling £124,000.
Winners of the five cups and shields (l to r): Inclusion Ventures, Wilderness Foundation UK, Safer Places, Teen Talk (Harwich), and North Avenue Youth Centre
In addition to the regular awards of grants ranging from £500 to £2000, there are five special awards:
- the High Sheriffs’ Shield for outstanding contribution to community safety in Essex: Safer Places (Harlow);
- the High Sheriffs’ Cup for community support making Essex a safer place: Teen Talk (Harwich);
- the Essex County Council Bowl for extra effort to deliver programmes direct to the community: Wilderness Foundation UK (Little Waltham);
- the Essex County Fire and Rescue Shield for an organisation’s work with young people: Inclusion Ventures (Clacton);
- and the Essex Police Cup for the work of organisations and individuals in the community: North Avenue Youth Centre (Chelmsford).
These are outstanding organisations in a very strong field of award winners, among the many organisations that I’ve visited and been enormously impressed by. One of the winners wrote to me afterwards, ‘it was such a huge surprise and I was really holding back the tears as I know how much this meant for all our team and participants… and personally of course. I am so proud of the team and what we do.’ As are we all.