Last week I recorded some recollections of meeting Her Majesty the Queen for Basildon’s Gateway 97.8 for broadcast on the Saturday of the Jubilee weekend. I had to choose a song and selected ‘Tapestry’ by Carol King from the album of the same name that I have grown up with since it was released the year I went to university. It was a tough year as my mother died just after Christmas at the end of my first term.

As I reflect on my first three weeks as the High Sheriff of Essex, I might reflect, with gratitude, that my own life has been a rich tapestry, with an ‘ever-changing view’. Rather, I am struck by the extraordinary tapestry – of rich and royal hue – formed by the community and voluntary sector in Essex, working with partners in local councils, the police, religious organisations and many others.

The opening of the ‘Me Myself and I’ unit at the Knightswood Centre at Asheldham on the Dengie.

So far, I have visited groups serving those with hearing loss, those living with dementia, the suicidal, the hungry, the poor, the recently arrived in England, the isolated – and many others in need. Some groups are long established, some new. Some are part of a national network, some very local. Some are faith based; some not. All rely on volunteers who, again echoing Carol King’s words, “have seen suffering among those they don’t know”.

The St John Ambulance Cadets receiving an award at the ‘Heart 4 Harlow Awards’ evening.

Our councils, at their best, support and celebrate the work of these groups, and I have already shared in that cheer too, with presentations in Chelmsford, Maldon, Harlow, Colchester and Southend. There is also much evidence of good coordination either led, or supported, by the local coordination groups – such as Maldon CVS or Community360, in Colchester.

Presenting a High Sheriff’s personal award to the Transport Team at Community 360 in Colchester.

I knew the role of High Sheriff would give me the opportunity to ‘see and feel’ this ‘wondrous woven fabric’; and so it has proved. But there are always clouds. There is much anxiety about recovery from COVID-19, and now the rapidly rising prices of food and fuel. There is also some worry about replacing those volunteers who stood down during the pandemic. Volunteering is the theme for my year as High Sheriff and I have already seen how many opportunities for volunteering there are across Essex and the variety of these roles. Your local CVS  – or Volunteer Essex – are great resources to find openings near to you.

Andrew, a volunteer with Hearing Help Essex, helping fix a client’s hearing aid in Witham.

Again in Carol King’s words, I have met many people in these first three weeks who say, every day, to those they may not know, ‘You’ve got a friend’.

That gives me great hope.

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