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