As I approach the declaration ceremony for my successor as High Sheriff of Essex and hence the end of my year in office, I have maintained my programme of visits and events. The final two will be on Saturday 1 April when I visit Grays to help celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Essex County Fire and Rescue Service during the day, and then Basildon in the evening for a concert to be given by the Basildon Choral Society supporting St Luke’s Hospice.
Support for the emergency services is one of a number of strands of activity that have run through my year. Earlier this week I spent a shift with the volunteer Community First Responders operating from the Chelmsford ambulance station. With the ambulance service under great strain, it turned into a long shift finishing in Braintree attending to an elderly person who had fallen in their house. Fortunately they were not seriously hurt and with support from the clinical adviser in the ambulance control room, the well trained volunteers were able to deal with the situation. I also saw the Essex Police ‘Force Control Room’ at work this week. I spent a morning with there, learning about its work including new and innovative ways of responding to calls from victims of domestic abuse. New technologies can enable victims to be put in rapid video contact with trained officers who can then both gather evidence and give advice as required. Demand on the Control Room remains high, and Essex Police continue to encourage the public to use 999 only for genuine emergencies and to use the many other methods of contact whenever possible.
Another major strand of activity throughout the year has been meeting and supporting the community and voluntary sector across the county. This came to a happy climax with the High Sheriffs’ Awards evening attended by 180 people at Hylands House on 8 March. Working with a panel, I had chosen 23 groups working in the area of community safety to receive certificates and financial awards. Of those, five were selected to receive trophies to celebrate their outstanding work. Winners came from around the county, working in different fields of community safety – from domestic abuse to fraud prevention. I am grateful to Essex Police, Essex County Fire and Rescue Service, Essex County Council and Chelmsford City council for their support for these significant awards.
Civic and ceremonial events have continued too. In the last few weeks I have celebrated with the High Sheriffs of Rutland and Suffolk at their Justice Services at Peterborough and St Edmondsbury Cathedrals respectively. Each such service around the region has been very well supported, distinctive and enjoyable. The glorious buildings provide a sense of grandeur but also speak to the continuity of many of our national institutions including the Judiciary, the Lieutenancy, the Church itself, the military and the Shrievalty. While the uniforms, judicial and clerical dress might be rooted in history, the purpose and themes of the services remain as important and relevant today as in times past.
I have also joined with ‘Mayors and Chairs’ as they have celebrated the achievements of their communities. The attendance of the High Sheriff helps recognise the importance of local volunteering beyond the city or district boundaries. Over the last week or so I have joined celebrations in Epping and Chelmsford. It is impossible to overstate the value of the contributions made by individuals and local groups of all sorts, and it has been a joy to help acknowledge that.
This final week has seen me ‘back in court’, on both occasions at Chelmsford Crown Court for happy events. I was invited by the Resident Judge, HHJ Morgan, to present Court Awards to several people who had stood out to Judges for their brave or commendable actions in a number of different cases. It was humbling to hear each of the stories that had resulted in criminals being brought to justice and victims cared for. The formal ceremony, in Court number 1, was followed by a jolly tea party giving Judge Morgan, my Under Sheriff and me the chance to meet the award winners and their proud families.
The second visit, earlier today, was for the farewells and valedictory speeches for HHJ Charles Gratwicke who is retiring as a Judge. For a number of years he was the Resident Judge at Chelmsford Crown Court, and more recently a ‘peripatetic murder Judge’ on the South Eastern Circuit. He has been a good friend to Essex High Sheriffs, and more generally to the community in mid-Essex where he is the Honorary Recorder of Chelmsford. Fine speeches were led by Lady Justice Whipple, a Lady Justice of Appeal in London over a video link. A full court included many former High Sheriffs, all with fond memories of Judge Gratwicke. We wish him well.
The Staff of Office will be out in public again next week as I hand it to my successor Mr Charles Bishop after his declaration as the 843rd recorded High Sheriff of Essex in the Council Chamber of County Hall in Chelmsford. It has been an immense privilege to serve as High Sheriff of Essex and to have met, and thanked for their service, so many people in organisations of all sorts dedicated to the wellbeing of the people of the county. I now look forward to supporting my successors as they have supported me during this year.
The final words of thanks must be mine to my wife Philippa who has been by my side, and taking many of the photographs, throughout this remarkable year. I simply could not have done it without her.