2020 is the Year of Culture in Hertfordshire and I was delighted to open one of the first events, the Indian Raga Festival at the Watersmeet theatre in Rickmansworth. This was a day of workshops, competitions and an evening concert to celebrate Indian classical and modern music and dance. IndianRaga provides a global platform for professional performance and collaboration, primarily through video, and this event was organised by the London branch who chose a venue in Hertfordshire.
2020 also sees the centenary of the founding of one of the pioneering garden cities, Welwyn Garden City, and I was pleased to attend the Garden of Lights Festival to start off the centenary celebrations. There were speeches, a procession of children with lanterns, lights throughout the town and music too.
Crimebeat is the national charity of the High Sheriffs Association and makes awards each year to young people engaged in crime prevention. I was pleased to support 3 applications in January from Hertfordshire, one from the Police and 2 from the Fire Service and am delighted to say that Operation Edge has been awarded a Highly Commended certificate. This was a project run by Stevenage police with local secondary schools to make a short film about carrying a knife and knife crime.
My own High Sheriff Awards will also take place in March, and my panel met in January to report back on the shortlisted charities that they had visited and to agree on outstanding organisations.
I spent another day at Police HQ, including a morning out with Claire, a Volume Crime Scene Investigator (SOCO), who was attending to do forensic tests at a house that had been burgled. She provided reassurance as well as scientific expertise to a family that had lost jewellery and cash and whose house had been ransacked. Back at HQ I met with DCI Kent of the Major Crime Unit and watched a fascinating presentation on the thinking and operation behind a murder investigation which resulted in the conviction of the murderer of Helen Bailey.
Also at Police HQ, I met with the Police Chaplains who continue to try and understand the work of different areas of policing so that they can best support. This time we had a presentation about the pressures of working in a custody suite, and talked further about the Arresting Hunger project that provides food for officers who spend long hours of the day and night away from their stations and without food. I have also visited the East Herts chaplain Caroline Malcolm this month at Hertford Police station, where she has made the Reflection Room cosy and welcoming and provides cake as well as a listening ear.
Our Constabulary is part of a tri-force comprising Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire and I went over to Bedfordshire Police HQ to meet with the Bedfordshire High Sheriff and Jaswant Narwal, CPS Chief Prosecutor for Thames and Chilterns (which includes Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire). Also there was Inderpal Kaur-Singh, CPS Inclusion and Community Engagement Manager for the same area. We had an interesting discussion about the challenges facing the Crown Prosecution Service.
Visits to charities included a visit to the Best Before Café in Letchworth that aims to tackle food waste and poverty. So much food is rescued from supermarkets that would otherwise be wasted, and this is available to all to take (with a donation towards the hire of the hall if you feel able), and some is made into lunch at the café for all to enjoy free of charge. Everyone feels that they are helping with the problem of food waste, whatever their circumstances and as always volunteers make it all happen.
In St Albans I visited the StEPs CIC drop in session, supporting and empowering women. There was coffee, company and sharing of ideas to start off the week on Monday morning. Herts Disability Sports Foundation run sports activities for children and adults with disabilities all over Herts and I visited them at Lonsdale School in Stevenage to join an archery class, where it was all about participation and achievement.
Watford FC’s Community Sports and Education Trust held a great evening event at the football stadium to present their new strategy with a focus on education, wellbeing and inclusion. There were good interviews with stakeholders and beneficiaries as part of the event and Watford FC gives wonderful support to the local community.
The St Albans District food bank is run by wonderful volunteers who give their time to collect, sort, pack and distribute donated food to those in need. We could help them better if we checked our local foodbank’s website to see what items are needed before we donate in supermarkets (and they do not need any more baked beans!).
More work continues with partners from across the county on trying to help with employment for ex -offenders and those who face other barriers to employment, and I hope also to help with a new piece of work being commissioned to look at the provision of bereavement services across Hertfordshire.