Many of us, including me, will be enjoying time off in August to spend on holiday, perhaps with family and friends. It can be an important time for reflection and renewal, and I have been reflecting on my first four months as High Sheriff.
The first reflection is that the time has simply flown by, as former High Sheriffs warned me it would. More than a third of my time as High Sheriff has already passed. It has seen me visit most corners of the county for a range of purposes. Visits to charities in Thurrock, Southend, Colchester, Clacton, the Dengie, Billericay, Chelmsford, Braintree, Harlow and many more. I’ve met the military in Colchester and Wimbish and enjoyed concerts including those I am promoting that are supporting local charities in Maldon, Great Waltham and Waltham Abbey. I have also visited schools and colleges to judge competitions and speak about my role.
I’ve been to the new Essex and Hertfordshire Air Ambulance base at North Weald, and to one of our main ambulance stations. The focus for me, however, has properly been on those involved in the criminal justice system.
I have sat with a Judge in the Crown Court on the opening day of a murder trial, met with our senior Family Court Judge and our Tribunal Judges, and visited two of our Magistrates Courts and the teams who administer them. Essex Police have been welcoming and I have met those running the varied volunteer programmes within policing, as well as teams tackling rural crime and those targeting the most serious of the domestic abuse perpetrators across our county.
Within the criminal justice arena I have made good contacts with the Probation Service and with the Essex Youth Offending Service. The Probation Service invited me to present their annual awards at a lovely ceremony – the first time it has been held for 3 years. I also joined an ‘unpaid work’ team to understand the value of that both as a punishment and to the communities where the work is carried out. I have enjoyed connecting the Probation Service with groups which might offer additional unpaid work opportunities.
The most rewarding part of the role has to be the visits to charities and voluntary groups working with young people and others with additional needs of all sorts. Over the past two weeks during this worryingly hot summer, I have seen holiday activities in full swing. Some of these are open to anyone and are organised by groups to help fund their charitable activities. Others are especially for those who otherwise would not be able to enjoy a holiday at all.
But the demand on the charitable and voluntary sector – for volunteers and funds – to support those in need, especially at holiday time, is great. My theme for the year is volunteering and if you have ever thought of volunteering, or perhaps are now considering it for the first time, please do find out how you can help. Help of many sorts is required: as a front line worker; perhaps helping with administration of a group; or offering your skills as a Trustee. There are just so many opportunities, and there has never been a more important time to step forward, as we can be sure the next couple of years will be tough for many people. Your local CVS should be able to point you to volunteering opportunities in your area and there is a Volunteer Essex website that you can refer to.
The other great need, of course, is for funds. Over the years, successive High Sheriffs have build up a fund that offers sustainable funding to groups across Essex that are seeking in many different ways to make their communities safer, often by caring for those who otherwise would be at the mercy of criminal gangs. All monies raised by the High Sheriff are matched by Essex Police, with £1 for every £2 raised, from the monies recovered from criminals under the Proceeds of Crime Act. How satisfying is that?
Bids for grants are invited each year and awarded by a panel including former High Sheriffs, Essex Police, Essex County Fire and Rescue Service, and local authorities.
You can donate to the Essex High Sheriffs Fund here. I would also be delighted to post a copy of my book about the Fund, which contains more than 40 wonderful new photographs of Essex taken by Matthew Mallett, as well as chapters about Essex, Essex Community Foundation, the Fund, Volunteering and the High Sheriff! There is also a fascinating chapter on Police Crime Scene Investigation and ‘The Essex Camera’. What was that?
Order a copy of the book to find out – available in return for the ‘promise’ of a donation to the fund, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and address.
It is a real privilege to be High Sheriff, and I am looking forward to the rest of my year. Please now enjoy the rest of the summer, taking care in the continuing heat. Let’s also keep in mind those who are not in a position to enjoy a holiday – and those whose voluntary and charitable work supports them throughout the year. They need our support.