A busy Autumn coming up

Following the excitement of the Jubilee and Summer holidays, then the sudden and sad death of our beloved Queen Elizabeth and her most fitting funeral, together with the accession ceremonies of King Charles III, I am now preparing for a busy autumn in a reflective mood.

The problems that we were worrying about a few weeks ago, sadly have not gone away and it could be a tough winter for many.

Signing the book of condolence at County Hall in Chelmsford before proclaiming the accession of King Charles III on 11 September.

I am planning a number of events, some traditional and some new. On Sunday 9 October at 3.30pm, I will be attending the annual Justice Service at Chelmsford Cathedral and I am delighted that two neighbouring High Sheriffs will be joining me for it.

Many of those involved in the criminal justice system in Essex and beyond will come together in a special service dating back many years. The annual assizes, when High Court Judges travelled from London to preside at major cases, used to be preceded by a church service, appealing to God to grant the judge and all those involved with the administration of justice, wisdom and humility in the conduct of cases, and guidance to arrive at a just and fair outcome.

The church may be less central to the lives of many today, but the sentiments remain just as important. If you would like to attend the service but have not been invited, some places may still be available. Please enquire at essex@highsheriffs.com

Chelmsford Cathedral, where the annual Justice Service will be held on Sunday 9 October at 3.30pm

The administration of justice remains a key concern for High Sheriffs, though we no longer have a formal role. To promote general interest in relevant topics I am delighted that friends at ARU in Chelmsford, Essex University in Colchester, and Chelmsford Cathedral have helped me arrange three evening ‘Conversations on Justice with the High Sheriff’.

Dame Vera Baird KC – Guest speaker at the first of my ‘Conversations on Justice, at ARU on 3 November.

The first is on 3 November at ARU in Chelmsford when I will be delighted to welcome Dame Vera Baird KC, the Victims Commissioner for England and Wales to discuss ‘Progress in tackling violence against women and girls’. We will be joined by Dr Theresa Redmond an ARU researcher in this important field. The event starts at 6:30pm and is open to all. You can book for this free event at Eventbrite here.

On 7 December, the former Chief Constable of Essex, Stephen Kavanagh QPM visits from Interpol, where he is Executive Director of Policing Services, to explore ‘We are all in it together – crime, safety and justice in an increasingly fractured world’.  He and I will be joined this time by Dr Kat Hadjimatheu from Essex University, which is kindly hosting the event, for what should be a fascinating evening. Booking for this free event will open shortly. The third and final session will be at Chelmsford Cathedral on 25 January when the Right Reverend Bishop Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani explores with me and local experts the subject of ‘Housing is a justice issue’.  At a time when many of us follow topics through the snippets in social media, or through rolling news updates, please join us for a more relaxed discussion of these interesting and important topics, with a chance to ask questions and join the debate. Eventbrite links to book a space at these events will follow.

My third strand of activity this autumn is to help promote music events where, in addition to an evening of good music, the role of local charities can be highlighted. On 15 October I will be attending the Southend Symphony Orchestra concert in Hadleigh where Essex Community Foundation will be featured. Then on 8 November I plan to attend the Stondon Singers concert in Galleywood which will be promoting CHESS, the Chelmsford based organisation supporting the homeless, and on the 19 November I hope to attend a concert by Chelmsford Singers, with more to follow in December.

Do please follow me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook for more for more details of these concerts where I am thanking the concert organisers and the charities for all they contribute to the wellbeing of our communities across Essex.

Finally, on Saturday the 26 November I am organising a fundraising concert featuring friends who sing as ‘Essex Voices’. It is at Layer Marney church, preceded by a reception by kind permission of Nick and Sheila Charrington. The concert is in aid of the Essex High Sheriffs’ Fund at Essex Community Foundation  (registered charity 1052061) which supports groups across Essex working to make their communities safer.

The magnificent Layer Marney Tower photographed by former Essex Police officer Matthew Mallett

Invitations to this lovely evening will issue very shortly but if you would like to attend, please get in touch through essex@highsheriffs.com.

I have a feeling that the next few months will pass even more quickly than the last few. I hope you will follow me through these blogs to share my journey as I continue to experience our remarkable county.

It’s holiday time!

Beach huts at Walton-on-the-Naze on a sparkling summer day. A photo by Matt Mallett from my book on the 25 years of the Essex High Sheriffs’ Fund with Essex Community Foundation.

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.

Presenting the High Sheriffs’ Probation Service award to Sue Taylor

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.

Some of the team at the holiday club run by UTurn4Support in Clacton-on-sea

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.

The striking front cover of the book I have edited on the Essex High Sheriffs’ Fund

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 essex@highsheriffs.com 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.

Volunteering and Partnership

Exploring and encouraging Volunteering is the main theme for my year as High Sheriff. Over the past few weeks I have seen at first hand how volunteers, of many different sorts, are essential not only to the effective operation of the criminal justice system, but also to helping in organisations that encourage young people and others lead fulfilling lives, and to enriching the life of our communities.

The hugely successful, Essex Police organised, ‘Community Goals’ football tournament at Great Baddow on 9 July supported by Chelmsford City players and many others, volunteering their time.

Just a couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of spending a day visiting the magistrates courts in Colchester and Chelmsford. Magistrates deal with over 95% of all criminal cases but it is easy to forget that they are all volunteers, giving typically a couple of days a month to their court duties. They are well supported by the professional staff of HM Courts and Tribunal Service, and this partnership between well trained volunteers and professionals within the statutory or community and voluntary sector is replicated in many parts of the criminal justice system and beyond. If you are interested in finding out about becoming a magistrate you can do so here.

On a visit to St Mary’s Church Kelvedon I was able to see the excellent ‘unpaid work’ being carried out by ‘People on Probation’ (POPs) under the experienced supervision of Probation Officers. The POPs are welcomed by church volunteers who ensure the right work gets done!

Last week I was briefed by the team that draws together all those who volunteer with Essex Police to help make our communities safer. These volunteers total nearly 1500 and range from very experienced members of the Special Constabulary, to youngsters who have recently joined the Volunteer Police Cadets. All around the county, there are Active Citizens and Police Support Volunteers and others giving their time to help make their communities safer. You can read more about the work of volunteers within Essex Police here.

Without effective partnership and coordination, however, there is always a risk some of this effort would be wasted. I have been pleased to see those partnerships at work as I attended the meetings of community safety partnerships in a number of districts. I also joined a conference to share learning from the development of community safety hubs. In most districts across Essex, these now bring together many of the different agencies that need to work closely to deliver safer communities. Many of those hubs host regular meetings where local charitable and voluntary sector organisations can contribute both to identifying local problems and, working together, to finding and implementing solutions.


At the Beehive in Thurrock, many local community and voluntary sector groups are co-located; an efficient accommodation solution and one that allows for easy partnership working.

On a visit to Thurrock, I visited the Foodbank at Corringham, and KidEco and Baby Bank at Lakeside, each meeting essential needs of those facing financial hardship. I went on to The Hive, the HQ of Thurrock CVS (Community and Voluntary Services). It was heartening to learn how the CVS encourages both volunteering and partnership working across all the organisations it supports. I was reminded that within the charitable and community sectors there are not only volunteers, but also many highly skilled professionals delivering badly needed and expert services, often commissioned by, and working closely with statutory services.

Abberton Rural Training in full swing (building a new pond among other tasks) where I was delighted to present a High Sheriff’s Certificate to Joe, now a staff member, who has done much to support those, who like him, live with Autism.

I so enjoyed a visit to Abberton Rural Training at Wormingford, which offers a variety of learning opportunities, in a rural setting, to those struggling in many different ways with their mental health or having additional learning needs. This blending of expert professional and volunteering effort within a charity, to meet what would otherwise unmet needs, is deeply impressive.

So too – in a completely different context is the work of the Essex and Hertfordshire Air Ambulance Trust (EHAAT). I visited their North Weald base last week, appropriately with Sally Burton DL, the High Sheriff of Hertfordshire. EHAAT is a charity raising all the funds needed to keep the two helicopters and fleet of specialist road response vehicles operational with crews and doctors. The NHS fund the expert paramedics who work on the crews. Those paramedics also work shifts in the ambulance control room, providing essential coordination between EHAAT, the ambulance service and hospitals. This ensures that those critically injured in our counties get the best help as quickly as possible, and are then moved to where they can best be treated. The voluntary support needed to sustain this highly professional, hi-tec emergency service, working hand in glove with our NHS, is similarly remarkable.

NHS paramedics work not only on the Essex and Herts Air Ambulance helicopters and response vehicles alongside doctors, but also at the Ambulance control room, triaging calls. Here is the Hi-tec simulation suite at the North Weald base where they can practise both on the ground patient care (here in a night club setting), and, in a separate space, continuation care on the helicopter – complete with the noise!

It is a huge privilege as High Sheriff to be able to visit these many different organisations and to learn about, and witness, the remarkable work they do for those in need across our county and to enrich the lives of our communities. Partnership working between them is always important, but the more so when resources everywhere are being squeezed. And I haven’t yet met an organisation that doesn’t need more volunteers: to train as a magistrate or a police support volunteer; or to work in the many charities helping those in need; or in their governance as a Trustee; or as a fundraiser. If you can find a few hours a week – or a day or two a month, perhaps supported by your employer, why not explore the many options?

Celebration

June has been a busy month of celebration. The Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen has been a constant and joyous theme, but interspersed with this have been celebrations with several Essex based charities. Over the past week the celebrations continued as our armed forces moved onto the stage during Armed Forces Week.

Our Lord Lieutenant commenced the Jubilee celebrations with a service at Chelmsford Cathedral, attended by dignitaries from around the county. Red, white and blue flowers added to the occasion which was enjoyed by all those present and broadcast on the Cathedral’s Facebook channel. You can still watch it on You Tube here.

The Cathedral celebration was closely followed by a magnificent ceremony at Castle Park in Colchester where the guns of 7th Regiment Royal Horse Artillery fired a 42 Gun Salute to mark the Jubilee. Such a salute is a rare occasion and we are lucky that the event was hosted in our county by a resident Regiment, part of 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team.

The same evening I joined the Mayor of Chelmsford and many hundreds of Chelmsford residents for the lighting of the Jubilee Beacon at Oaklands Park. The Chelmsford Singers sang – and Jonathan Swan played the specially commissioned piece for the Bagpipes. It was altogether a very special evening.

Jubilee services were held at churches around the county as, town by town, people came together as they have for centuries, to celebrate a very happy Royal occasion. I attended several including one at one of our finest churches, St Mary’s in Saffron Walden – one of the great ‘wool churches’ largely built in the 15th and 16th centuries funded by the wealth of the Essex wool trade. You can read a history of the church here.

The Vice Lord Lieutenant, the Mayor and Town Clerk of Saffron Walden, and me, with partners together with the Macebearer at St Mary’s Church

During the month I was also pleased to attend several happy celebrations with Essex organisations, though sadly I missed joining Keep It 100 and ECVYS for their evening events as I was under the weather for a few days. It is hard to pick highlights, but Chelmsford CVS organised a very successful Volunteer Festival in the High Street; Lads need Dads held a terrific awards event at Princes Theatre in Clacton-on-Sea; and North Avenue Youth Centre in Chelmsford held their AGM and lovely awards ceremony followed by a barbeque that we all enjoyed. The charity and voluntary sectors contribute so much to community life and it right that we celebrate with them as they transform lives.

Enjoying the barbeque after the North Avenue Youth Centre AGM

Celebrations at the end of the month didn’t let up as Essex Police held a long service awards evening, and the county celebrated Armed Forces Week, the more special this year because of the Jubilee. Towns raised flags to mark a local Armed Forces day, and our Essex based military units organised events, with the 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team putting on a spectacular show on Abbey Fields in Colchester. Essex is also proud to host the Royal Engineers at Carver Barracks in Wimbish. I was honoured to be invited to take the salute at the Jubilee Parade of 35 Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Search) and to present their Jubilee Medals. After the constraints imposed by COVID19, celebrating in such a way felt very special indeed.

As this month of celebration draws to a close, there is much to reflect on: the 70 years of faithful service of her Majesty the Queen: the loyal and brave commitment of our police and armed forces: and around Essex, day by day, the work of many voluntary and community organisations. Their employees and volunteers work tirelessly, seeking to make communities safer and more caring places. I have been deeply impressed by those I have already met, and now look forward to meeting many more during the summer and autumn.

There truly is so much to celebrate.

A Focus on Young People

My theme for the year is volunteering, with a particular focus on those who work so hard and willingly to make their communities safer and more caring.

Almost all the conversations I have had in these first few weeks of being High Sheriff, have highlighted how important it is to try to ensure our children and young adults get the best possible start in life. Many who face early challenges go on to do really well; but investing in young people, without question, brings huge benefits. Many organisations I have met regret the decline in the provision of council-led youth services, but the voluntary sector has a real focus on young people.

The stories I have heard have often been inspiring – such as the fabulous work done by the members of the Essex Boys and Girls Clubs, which are mostly run by volunteers. Right across the county, affiliated clubs offer a wide range of activities for young people. With the expertise and resources EBGC have built up over many years, many of these activities can be made available to those who otherwise could not afford the excitement of adventurous holidays; and some can be delivered especially for those who might otherwise find themselves in trouble.

Commending Rita and Ray Williams, mainstays of the Thaxted Youth Club for 30 years, at the Essex Boys and Girls Clubs annual dinner

But spending time with a group of youth leaders from different organisations in Chelmsford highlighted for me the risks that young people can face, particularly when excluded from school. The grooming of young people into drugs gangs is a reality, despite the innovative work of Essex Police, working in partnership with many others, for example the Essex Violence and Vulnerability Unit. Those organisations and individuals working to provide safe spaces for young people and to offer a sense of ambition for their future is commendable.

I was pleased to recognise the initiative taken by Luisa Di Marco to set up ‘Keep it 100′ and to help bring the Knife Angel to Chelmsford recently.

Presenting a High Sheriff’s Certificate to Luisa Di Marco

Support for our children can sometimes be necessary even from the earliest days. In Billericay I visited Baby Basics who provide baby items such as clothing and other essentials, all in a ‘Moses basket’ , for new parents in need to see them through the first few weeks. They share a community hub that also acts as a base for the Schools Pastors, yet more volunteers who provide a listening ear to students in local senior schools.

Visiting the Billericay Community Hub where the
Baby Basics charity is based

Sadly, things don’t always work out for families and children. Hearing about the work of our Family Courts from our Resident District Court Judge was sobering. Domestic abuse has significantly increased over lockdown and many children have been affected as a result. Other youngsters have themselves found lockdown hard to handle, and it was distressing to learn of the considerable difficulty of finding safe and secure places for those in greatest need, and at risk of harming themselves.

On the more positive side it was wonderful to hear how satisfying it can be to place children successfully into adoption and to see them flourish. Our Family Court judges have an exceptionally difficult job and I fear their work is undervalued and their work not sufficiently well-known. I look forward to spending more time with them.

Engaging young people as early as possible in positive activities is recognised by everyone to be the best solution to many problems. Giving children the skills to have self-confidence is an important step. A delight for me was judging the Might Oak public speaking competition for Year 4 children in Essex schools. The final rounds were held at Anglia Ruskin University in Chelmsford and I was hugely impressed, not only by the children’s high standard of public speaking, but also by the commitment and enthusiasm of their teachers and those organising the competition. (If the public speaking was slightly nerve-racking for the children, judging wasn’t a doddle either!)

The winning team from Our Lady Immaculate school in the Mighty Oak Public Speaking competition

There are many organisations that offer teenagers and young adults the chance to learn new skills, disciplines and enthusiasms. I’m looking forward to seeing the work of the Volunteer Police Cadets later this year, but was pleased this week to visit the Headquarters of the East Anglia Reserve Forces and Cadets Association. Across the Eastern region (so wider than just Essex) there are 338 cadet units where nearly 2,000 officers and instructors, almost all volunteers, take responsibility for and train 12,500 cadets. This commitment from volunteers to our young people is so valuable. Thank you all!

With Col Ray Wilkinson, Chief Executive of the East Anglia Reserve Forces and Cadets Association

Possibly most impressive are those organisations run by young people for young people. The hugely successful Essex Young Farmers Show highlighted what can be achieved by dedicated and hard working volunteers showcasing their skills and promoting farming, still so important to Essex, and offering a really great day out to the local community.

Meeting the National Chairman of the Federation of Young Farmers Clubs, Ed Gaitland, and Essex Clubs Chairman, Ellie Gemmill

There are of course, many other groups, some large and some small, offering similar support for our children and young adults. I’m looking forward to meeting many of them over the coming year, and especially those who work with children who might otherwise be led into anti-social behaviour or crime.

I have learned it can be tough work for the staff and volunteers who run those organisations; but also how rewarding it can be. The testimony of those whose lives have been turned round – for the better – has been compelling and heart-warming.

If Music be the Food of Love

Orsino may have been wanting more music simply to cure his love for Olivia, but music of all sorts plays an important part in the lives of many, if not most people.

I have grown up with music; a piano in the house, record players and radios; and from an early age singing in choirs. At King Edward VI Grammar School in Chelmsford and at church and Chelmsford Cathedral I sang, and I also played ‘cello in the school orchestra. Wonderful teachers set me on a path of amateur music-making that I still enjoy.

Across Essex, amateur music groups of all sorts; choirs, orchestras and bands large and small of every variety, week by week practise and prepare for the concerts, church services and shows that add so much to our community and cultural life. Enabling and supporting this great wave of amateur music making are the many dedicated professional musicians who teach, train and lead.

Hutton and Shenfield Choral Society performing recently.

The COVID pandemic presented huge challenges to music professionals and to volunteers on the committees who organise all these groups. It was a hard struggle for everyone. As ‘volunteering’ is the main theme of my year as High Sheriff, I thought, as regular concerts resume, I would help promote some of them across the county, to give me the chance to say ‘thank you’ to those who have worked so hard to keep alive this important aspect of community life.

Many music groups also perform to help promote or raise funds for local charities. Most of these, too, have had tough time during COVID. To help give those local voluntary groups some extra publicity, I am also inviting the music groups I visit simply to team up with a local charity to help promote their work. This will give me the chance to say, on behalf of all of us in Essex, thank you to those charities for the work they do to care for those in our communities who need a bit of extra support.

The first of these concerts is on June 11th at Great Waltham with the Waltham Singers, promoting the Chelmsford charity, Sanctus which provides meals and other services for those in need in the city. You can read details here. It will be a great concert.

I will give details of future concerts on social media, so do keep an eye on Facebook and Twitter.

Perhaps music can, truly, be the food of love.

Tapestry

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.

The start of a new Shrievalty year

A view over Harwich – the town where I was born.

Thank you, and well done, for finding your way to this ‘Blog’. I hope to write at least one each month during my year as High Sheriff of Essex, sharing my journey in this extraordinary role. I am grateful to Dr James Bettley, himself High Sheriff in 2019, who created and maintains this excellent website, and who offered to host these articles here. One great advantage for me is that I do not have to retell the history of the role of High Sheriff as there is so much information on this website, and all so much better researched and written that I could possibly have achieved. Do enjoy reading the many excellent articles.

It is a great honour and privilege to have been appointed to serve as High Sheriff of Essex, a role for which I assumed responsibility this week. Essex is the county in which I was born, in Harwich police station, and where I have lived most of my life. I have a great affection for it, and while I think I know the county quite well, I am sure I will learn so much more during this year. As you can read elsewhere in this site, the main role of the High Sheriff now is to support the voluntary and community sector and particularly those organisations working in the fields of criminal justice and community safety.  

As a trustee of Essex Community Foundation for five years, I have got to know much about the voluntary sector across Essex, but there is still so much more for me to learn about the vital work, often unseen, that so many people contribute to making Essex communities safer.  I am also looking forward to learning more about the work of our courts in Essex, the police and other emergency services, the probation and prison services. I know how important the work of the probation service is, and while it is inevitable and right that some who offend serve time in prison, I am keen to learn how that time can be used, where possible, to turn around people’s lives to avoid them reoffending.

My overall theme for the year is volunteering. Volunteers are the lifeblood of our communities, working not only in the charitable and voluntary sectors, but often, and unrecognized, in many organisations on which we rely, such as the police, our hospitals, the fire service, the lifeboats and other essential services. I am looking forward to learning so much more about how volunteers serve their communities, and to encouraging everyone to consider volunteering to enrich their lives, as well as those of others.

If you are involved in the voluntary and community sector across Essex and you think during my year that I could help you, through a visit, perhaps thanking your volunteers or by giving publicity to your work, please do get in touch with me at essex@highsheriffs.com.

One of my own interests is choral singing. During the year I hope to encourage music groups across Essex, who offer so much to our local communities, by attending concerts where local charities can also be featured.  The first on 11 June, is a concert by the Waltham Singers who will be promoting a Chelmsford based charity. More details will follow soon. As we come through this dreadful pandemic it has never been more important to build community links and a community spirit. I hope in a small way that I can encourage this.

During the year I will be organising other events, some to bring together those who volunteer, some those who care about justice in our communities, and some just for fun and to raise money for the High Sheriff’s Fund. You can read about the Fund and the awards it supports here.

Thank you for your interest – and please come back for more! You can also follow me on Facebook at High Sheriff of Essex, on Instagram at Nick Alston (high_sheriff_of_essex) and on Twitter at @Essex_HS