On a beautiful hot day, I went out walking with Chief Executive Lesley Davies, Chair of Trustees, Mike Master and Tom Day, Head of Living Landscapes, from the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust to hear about plans for the Kings Meads Nature Reserve. They are thinking about ways to engage with new communities as they work to find ways for people and wildlife to coexist and thrive together. On a rather damper day, I was pleased to visit the Festival of Wildlife which they co-hosted with Tarmac. We had a tractor tour of this beautiful estate and learnt how the landscape has been improved with new wildlife habitats after the dredging work is completed, and how Tarmac actively manage their sites. Of course, we visited the famous ancient oak tree, recently featured on the BBC's Countryfile.
Herts Police CYP Gangs and Schools Team invited me to an event for young people at risk of becoming involved in criminal activity. This Lives not Knives event was supported by partner agencies including Youth Connections and Herts Sport Partnership. We heard graphic and impactful talks from a trauma surgeon, CPS prosecutor, reformed gang member and the mother of a knife crime victim. All the young people came voluntarily and hopefully this event allowed them to put in context the choices they will make about gang membership and carrying knives.
At Garden House Hospice I was pleased to meet staff members and chat to an in-patient who was very appreciative of the calm and enabling environment. This Hospice is also offering more services in the community and supports the Compassionate Neighbour scheme.
The Essex and Herts Samaritans AGM was well attended and this group are involved in lots of outreach work in Hertfordshire in schools and community groups, as well as providing volunteers working on the national helpline. They continue to have dedicated volunteers who do amazing work.
The Princes Trust Achieve Programme also does work in schools with children at risk of exclusion and I met with Andrew Cawthorpe, Head of Public Sector Partnerships for the East of England, to learn about this and other initiatives that help young people prepare for and get into work. Tilehouse Counselling in Hitchin also told me about work that they do to support young people with mental health problems and that the demand for their services is growing. The Operations Director for Children’s Services, Head of Services for Young People and Head of YC Herts all also kindly gave me time to explain how services for children and young people, especially those who are vulnerable or at risk, are managed at a county level. The challenge is how to allow for diversity in providing a local service offering whilst maintaining parity of opportunity and quality county wide.
Many different charities, voluntary groups and other agencies in Watford came together at the One Vision Community Day at Stanborough Park Church, where the congregation welcomed us at a service in the morning attended by many children and with beautiful singing. I helped the Lord Lieutenant presented an award to Liz Burns who works with a number of organisations in Hertfordshire supporting veterans. This was a great example of communities being stronger and better together.
On a boiling hot day I visited Growing People in Letchworth to meet gardeners and volunteers and see how wellbeing and positive mental health can be restored by therapeutic and social horticulture. Taking responsibility for a patch of garden, making decisions and seeing results in a supported environment can help on the pathway to recovery.
On the hottest day ever recorded in the UK, Welwyn Garden City resident Barbara Foster and some of her supporters set off to complete the last leg of her 2000 mile pilgrimage walking between all 42 of the Anglican cathedrals in England. She finished at St Albans Cathedral with a service at the end of her challenge. She has been raising money along the way for Freedom from Torture and although I was not dressed for a walk I was delighted to show my support by seeing them off!
There are great and easy opportunities to support charities and local groups financially when shopping online by going through The Giving Machine and I met with Richard Morris, the CEO and Founder of this Hertfordshire based company, to learn how this works. Spread the word!
Recover in Welwyn Garden City up-cycle furniture, and committing to a project brings not only new skills but also the important structure and social support that help ensure a full recovery and prevent relapse. They also make unique pieces and allow for creativity.
The Secret Society of Hertford Crafters came in the night to transform Parliament Square in Hertford into an Enchanted Wonderland. They knitted and crocheted a dragon, unicorn, fairies and much more and told me that they now have 108 members who use their crafting skills to bring happiness to their local community and raise money, this time for Children’s Integrated Playschemes CHIPS.
Finally, I was pleased to open the new community garden at Buntingford Police Station. Police chaplain Caroline Malcolm officiated, and we celebrated a great joint effort between Sgt Duncan Wallace and his team, the community including Buntingford Civic Society and local builders Nationwide with delicious homemade cake and tea.