When I was first approached to let my name go forward for nomination as High Sheriff of Essex, the reality of holding the office, while daunting, seemed a long way off. As the year of my likely appointment by Her Majesty, the late Queen, approached, planning started to take over, but there was still a sense of ‘time in hand’. However, as soon as the year started, with the declaration ceremony in April last year, the pace quickened rapidly. It is now a sprint to the declaration ceremony for my likely successor in just ten weeks time.
All the former High Sheriffs I have spoken to tell of the slight frustration that just as we are getting the hang of the role and learning how we can best ‘add value’ to the County, the year comes to an abrupt end. But I shouldn’t complain; it has been like this since the year 1258 when the term of office was fixed as one year!
I expect, like others, I am doing all I can in the remaining weeks to get around the county to thank those working in criminal justice, those working to make their communities safer, and many others who are dedicated to building and sustaining more caring communities.
Awarding High Sheriff certificates to community champions has been a real pleasure throughout the year. It is a small gesture, but one that can mean a great deal to those who sometimes don’t realise the extraordinary value of their volunteering. The collage below captures some of those moments. I thanked the chair of trustees of a community radio station in Basildon doing great work with young people locally; a long serving volunteer with Park Run in Chelmsford; a young girl supporting her local community centre in Witham; and the manager of a thriving village hall in Stambridge. On each occasion I learned so much about the local communities and gained a further insight into the value of our many community groups.
Throughout the year I have promoted and attended a number of concerts where I have thanked the choirs and orchestras for what they do to enrich community life. They have each selected a local charity to promote at the concerts. The most recent was in the wonderful church of St John in Epping. The Epping Chorus, conducted by Simon Winters, gave a moving performance of Karl Jenkins’ Mass for Peace – The Armed Man. I spoke briefly to commend the choir and also the volunteers of 3Food4u – a local charity that has grown rapidly since the start of the COVI D pandemic, providing food and now many other services to those in need.
Before the end of my term I will also have a couple of excursions to neighbouring counties to join in events with other High Sheriffs. We have worked well together, sharing ideas, contacts and even a few events beyond the traditional Justice Services. Just this week, six of us visited the Military Corrective Training Centre in Colchester for excellent briefings. It was good to see the expert military and civilian staff there able to address rehabilitation in such a positive and effective way. Sadly this is so rarely possible in our civilian prisons which remain under such extreme pressure.
In the remaining weeks I have visits planned to prisons, days in court, a visit to Essex Police and another to the Probation Service. I will be helping Mayors and Chairs of District Councils celebrate their busy years, and visiting Police Cadets, Scouts and a couple of schools. I am pleased that my simple theme of supporting volunteers and volunteering has remined very relevant. Everywhere I go, volunteers either oil the wheels of our community ‘systems’ – or they form the wheels themselves. Even yesterday, when I visited the Essex Coroner’s Court there were volunteers of the Coroners Court Support Service supporting those facing the sad duty of attending an inquest. All the professional staff in the Coroner’s Office conducted proceedings with great care for the families and other loved ones, but the volunteers were there too, to give the extra help that can make such a difference to those facing an unfamiliar and potentially distressing experience.
The year has taught me much about how the not-for-profit sector plays such a crucial role across our communities. It has also shown me how much pressure there is, not only within the criminal justice system but also on communities right across the county as the cost of living challenges bite. I expect there will be more to learn before the end of my year in office – but also much more to celebrate as volunteers and professional together seek to make our communities safer and more caring.