February has seen lots of work on the preparations for my High Sheriff Awards next month. We have 14 wonderful charities shortlisted in the categories that reflect my themes and focus this year – faith-based community projects, projects that support work on integration, on social justice and building stronger communities. My PA Nicky has done great work on the design of the programme.
This month I have spent time both in the Crown Court in St Albans and in the County Court in Watford. At Watford County Court, the judges and court staff work in challenging conditions in an out-dated building. I sat with District Judge Kevin Moses, then spent time with the court office staff and Emma Gardner, a Team Leader. Emma organises mental health awareness and charity fundraising events and works hard to keep morale high.
In St Albans I sat with the Resident Judge HH Judge Michael Kay QC. It is always such a privilege to observe the workings of the court process and to have the benefit of explanation and commentary from a judge. I also hosted the last of my lunches there, this time with guests invited into court to meet with the judges and talk about sentencing. Guests were Paul Crossley (Deputy Governor of HMP The Mount), Alison McDougall (West and Central Magistrates Bench Chair), Sally Martin and Rod Reimann (YOT), Val Beale (HACRO), Peter Burt (Senior District CPS), Michael Baker (retired Judge), and Kate Harvey (Senior Probation Officer).
I was pleased to be invited to the official opening of the new £2.3m police station in Hemel Hempstead with Lord Lieutenant Robert Voss, PCC David Lloyd and Chief Constable Charlie Hall plus local MP Mike Penning. This is in the heart of the town and shows a commitment to local policing.
I was invited to the first and only Royal visit of my High Sheriff year this month. HRH The Duchess of Gloucester came to Princess Helena College where she is Patron for a dance show, and was particularly delighted when the school house that has her name, Gloucester, won the house dance competition!
I visited another food bank, this time the St Albans District foodbank based in Harpenden, and amazing volunteers make it all happen as usual. The foodbank runs on the Trussell Trust model and I was reminded that we need to check on the websites of our local foodbanks to see what is needed before we donate, as the food packages must contain a mixture of set items. They certainly don’t need any more baked beans!
Also in St Albans, I visited the St Albans District Citizens Advice. Each of the branches are run separately and in this one 100 trained volunteers support staff in offering a huge range of free, confidential and impartial advice. They seem very well organised with efficient use of staffing and good monitoring and measuring of outcomes.
I was honoured to be asked to cut the ribbon for the official opening of the DENS Bike project. Simon and his team of volunteer helpers work with clients from the DENS shelters to restore and repair bikes, some of which become a mode of transport for those receiving support. They have had help in making a short film which shows not just what they do but how it helps. They produced a wonderful buffet too, in a very small kitchen, and cooking and eating together has become an important part of the project.
ASCEND in South Oxhey is a wonderful charity that does great work in a very deprived area of Hertfordshire. I met with some of the clients who were meeting for coffee and chat and then heading off for a drama workshop. Crafts and sewing are popular too. I heard about the new Healthy Hub and how the Building Better Opportunities project is being extended. A NHS community navigator works from there too.
I was delighted to go to a great performance by Herts Inclusive Theatre of Wizard of Oz, the panto, at the Pump House Theatre in Watford. As usual, the performance was inclusive and empowering and joyful. Robert and Celia Voss were there and I was pleased to see Ben Darmanin from the Momentun Performing Arts Academy, who I have introduced to HIT and I hope will send students to support their work.
The High Sheriffs Association organised an interesting visit for past, present and future High Sheriffs to Evensong at Westminster Abbey followed by a private tour of the amazing galleries in the triforium, and the Lady Chapel. We had a talk from the Dean and reception in the nave. We also had the Eastern Regions High Sheriff’s meeting this month, hosted near Colchester by the Essex High Sheriff. These events are designed to help future High Sheriff’s think about and plan for their years. I talked about continuity and whether to have a theme and we also had interesting talks from the charity Open Road, from the Essex PCC and from Essex Community Foundation.
The DL Interfaith panel met this month at St Paul’s church in St Albans as part of our visits to different faith groups across the county. We heard from their youth worker and several of their team about how they make the service more modern and how they use the church space. This is a building that is used by thousands for non-church based activities and is at the heart of the community. There is a close interfaith group here between this church, the St Albans Islamic Centre and the Masorti Synagogue and I returned the following week to give a well-attended talk on Interfaith in Hertfordshire at the invitation of this group. After the talk I joined a panel of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith leaders to talk about how we might actively engage more with difference and use social action as a way to unite us.
I also attended a meeting this month of the Hertsmere Forum of Faiths. Many representatives of different local faith groups were present and we had talks from the local Council on homelessness and wellbeing. This group is very well organised and well respected locally and was founded by Rev Canon Richard Leslie.
I was pleased to attend a reception to promote the imminent launch of this year’s programme for the Herts Festival of Music. There is much to look forward to!
The Young Carers in Herts conference, which took place on 20th February, was aimed at the estimated more than 8,000 young carers in Hertfordshire. We need to remember that caring may not just be physical help but offering mental support too.
The end of the month was disturbed by the fact that I had an accident – hit by a cyclist whilst visiting my daughter in Copenhagen – and had to spend 6 nights in hospital. Apologies to the South Hill Centre for cancelling my visit. Apologies also to the Chairman of North Herts District Council Cllr Jean Green for missing her Civic Dinner and Awards and to the Chairman of Three Rivers Cllr Paula Hiscocks for missing her Civic Service. The Under Sheriff Richard Taylor kindly delivered my talk on Stronger Communities, Interfaith and Integration in Hertfordshire to the Stort Valley Rotary Club.