We had a really wonderful and happy evening of celebration at the High Sheriff Awards this year, with so many inspiring groups and organisations to recognise. My thanks to Stuart Storey our compere for guiding me professionally and gently through the evening, and to my PA Nicky Stokes for all her work in particular on the videos, slides and the design and layout of the programme.
This year, the Awards reflected my themes of promoting stronger communities, integration, and work with and across faith groups. So, in addition to the usual social justice category, these formed the categories of awards. I also made 4 Personal Awards to individuals who work in law and order and the administration of justice, which are the traditional areas supported by High Sheriffs.
My panel (to whom also many thanks) and I were delighted to receive a large number of applications for the Awards and it was an extremely difficult job to reduce these down to a shortlist. Representatives from the panel met with the 14 shortlisted candidates before reconvening to discuss their findings.
We decided that all those shortlisted were very worthy winners and so this year they would all receive Awards and cheques. However, in each category we gave one winner a special mention as being outstanding.
Here is a little more about the winners.
Faith based Community Projects
1. Camp Unity
Having run successfully as a camp for Jewish children for a few years, local faith leaders in Borehamwood had the idea of running the camp for children of all faiths. It was a great success, with friendships made between the children and equally important engagement between their parents too. There was a reunion in December and plans are underway for a repeat of the camp this summer.
Interfaith work can sometimes mean dialogue between leaders without much grass roots engagement and I think this is a great example of that practical engagement - doing something fun and cooperative that really brings those of different faiths and backgrounds in a community together, and allows for gentle exploration and appreciation of difference. As my friend Rabbi Alan Plancey always says, it’s about unity not uniformity.
2. Open Door
Open Door does excellent work in St Albans, supporting the Night Shelter and Drop-in centre in Bricket Road and funding 2 support roles.
In 2017 Open Door got together with 6 of the city churches in St Albans to talk about providing extra beds for homeless and rough sleepers during the winter months. This led to the Winter Beds project, which now provides 5 extra beds at Trinity United Reform Church from the beginning of December until the end of March. That’s not just when the Council calls the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol – that’s every night for those 4 winter months and it takes an amazing 7 volunteers per night to facilitate this. I was incredibly impressed by the dedication and non-judgemental attitude of the volunteers, many of whom come from the churches, and this is a great example of a faith based project working for the local community.
3. One Vision Project
The project started out with a desire to engage the congregation of the Stanborough Park 7th Day Adventist church in community issues and has led to a well-respected and easily replicated local project to bring all sorts of groups together to make Watford a better place for all. The One Vision founders realised that when everyone works together, their aims, ideas and resources can be used more efficiently and effectively and that’s what I love about this group – it’s all about being better and stronger together.
They organise Community Days which are well attended by lots of different local stakeholders – including many small local charities, representatives from the Council, the Mayor and politicians, faith groups, the police – and that means that rather than working in silos everyone can work together, avoid duplication of effort and take a whole community approach to tackling challenges.
4. South Hill Centre (special mention)
The Centre is built around the church which provides financial and personnel support but the focus is on working with other organisations to provide a range of services for local people. It’s about promoting an active and socially integrated community and helping those in need.
The Centre runs youth groups, seniors lunch clubs, language lessons, offers employment support and support for those who are struggling with domestic abuse, carers and toddlers groups, targeted groups for ex-offenders and much more. It runs as a Foodbank distribution centre and its beautiful spaces are widely used as a venue for meetings by charities, council and other local organisations.
South Hill Centre prides itself on putting love and care at the centre of everything it does. It is just such a fantastic example of a charity that has at its heart supporting the whole family and adding value to the local community, bringing all sort of groups together and responding to changing local need.
The children supported by Chexs get involved in all sorts of activities, but what I really like about this charity is the emphasis on whole-family support. The charity works with underperforming and dis-advantaged children in an area that is in the 10% most deprived nationally, raising aspiration, confidence and self esteem. This can be seen to have a direct effect on behaviour and attainment.
Parents are helped with communication and behaviour management strategies and Chexs works in partnership with local schools to identify young people needing support.
I went to their brilliant Family Fun Day last summer and saw for myself how families came together to support young people and each other, and how this integrated those who had been supported by Chexs programmes into the wider community.
2. Jackie’s Drop-In
You have really got to see it to believe it at Jackie’s Drop-In! The efforts of Jackie and her family to transform the Centre into a safe, stimulating and fun environment for those with learning difficulties and disabilities is quite amazing. Not only have they done most of the work with their bare hands, they give of their time incredibly generously, as well as raising funds themselves too.
They have thought of so many different ways to help people engage, relax, learn skills, enjoy company and socialise and it is hard to under-estimate the pleasure the Centre gives to those that use it. We need to help them ensure the long-term future of their building because Jackie’s provides something that is much needed and greatly valued, and that makes its users feel empowered, included and integrated into their community.
3. Recover (special mention)
It’s very hard if you have been facing challenges, perhaps with addiction or mental health, to move from receiving front line support straight back into employment or even into operating in social situations. You need a safe and supportive environment in which you can get used to routine, learn skills, gain work experience and socialise. This helps build confidence and increases self-esteem and I saw all that in action when I visited the workshop at Recover.
Donated furniture is up cycled and then sold. Fantastic, creative, original items are made in the process. Participants move from receiving one to one support to working independently and finally to training and supporting their peers.
Recover has the all-important local partnerships too, to ensure that support is joined up and reaches those that need it. I am very impressed by what Recover does to re-integrate its participants back into society. The post treatment support they offer is so important and this can make all the difference between someone continuing to struggle, or moving forward to a new and positive future.
1. Stand By Me
It’s very important to know that you are not alone when you suffer a bereavement and it can be a particularly difficult and isolating experience for a child or young person, who may go on to suffer poor mental health and other behavioural difficulties. This charity offers specialist support through group programmes as well as ‘Contact Me’, a programme that provides structured training for schools to support bereaved young people in their care.
Stand By Me now has its own Young Ambassadors, a bereaved young person who has been able to move from being supported to supporting others.
I went to their annual Remember-me day and this was a joyful day of mutual support and happy remembering for all the family. I spoke to many who said how invaluable the support of Stand By Me had been at a difficult time.
2. Young Carers’ Crew
It can be hard to imagine what the day to day life of a young carer may look like and how sometimes having fun with your friends and being young and carefree is just not possible if you are responsible for the care of a family member.
I was impressed by the volunteers who recognise this and give their time to support these young carers in North Herts and Stevenage. They provide a fortnightly youth group with recreational activities including cooking, arts and crafts and sports.
Young carers are around 3 times more likely to experience mental health problems than their peers and over a quarter miss school or experience difficulties. It can be extra challenging if a young person is caring for a relative with an addiction or mental health problem so this support for young carers is vital.
3. Resolve (special mention)
Resolve delivers five projects from 3 centres in Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City and most recently Letchworth helping people to deal with substance misuse and homelessness.
The abstinence-based drugs and alcohol treatment services are personalised and free to access for everyone. The Sparks Community Café in Hatfield, in the same building as the night shelter, is run on a ‘pay what you can basis’ for the whole community, and also provides an evening meal for the night shelter guests. Outreach workers build trusting relationships and bring rough sleepers and homeless people into the shelter, where there are 12 beds all year round. Once safe and stabilised, clients work with the day teams to access services and move to independent living.
No one can fail to be impressed by the amazing energy and commitment of Joe and his team to help people to help themselves. Treating people with dignity and respect and empowering them to make good, positive decisions is at the heart of what Resolve does.
What a great name for a charity, and what a great idea to relieve food waste and food poverty at the same time and to re-use and recycle non-food items too, all of which would otherwise end up in landfill.
Surplus food rescued from supermarkets is sorted by volunteers and perishable items are very creatively turned into lunch, to which all are welcome in a church hall in Borehamwood on a Wednesday. Volunteers from across the community also make preserves and chutneys and help with the community garden, and run a knitting club using donated wool to make items for premature babies and young cancer patients.
The rest of the food goes into a Pantry, open 364 days a year and 24 hours a day, from which members can take items, making a small donation towards running costs if they are able. I think it’s fantastic to bring people together to work towards a stronger, waste-free community.
INS started out supporting the elderly Irish community in Stevenage but now 75% of the members are non-Irish.
INS has a team of 8 volunteers who make 800 visits a year to housebound or vulnerable elderly people, helping combat social isolation. Another really helpful service they offer is assisting with completing forms to obtain support and financial assistance.
I met amazing volunteers at INS, as I have done at all the charities, who organise all sorts of social afternoons, health awareness events, tea dances, a film club and much more. And I think the Christmas Savings Club, which encourages better money management, is an excellent idea. INS help older people feel part of the community, and their contribution to it makes it stronger.
3. Best Before Café
We all know food lasts for ages beyond its ‘best before’ date but the supermarkets cannot continue to have it on the shelves and it gets wasted. Once you begin to understand how much good food goes to waste you realise how important it is that charities like this find a use for it. Once a week on a Wednesday in a hall in Letchworth food rescued from supermarkets is available to all and some of it is turned into lunch for everyone. Those who are able to, make a donation for the food that they take but everyone is made to feel that they are helping solve the problem of food waste.
What I love about the Best Before Café is that the model is so simple and so easy to copy. Of course, as always its success relies on the great efforts of volunteers who collect, sort, cook and facilitate, but the only costs are the weekly hire of the hall and this is covered by donations for the food. And the local community is strengthened by everyone coming together to shop, eat and combat food waste.
4. Citizens Advice St Albans and District (special mention)
There is an amazing range of free, confidential and impartial advice given by CA in St Albans, where 100 trained volunteers work with staff to provide support face to face, online and by phone. Although a member of the national CA group, all the branches are separate charities and the St Albans and District branch is really an exemplar of expertise, organisation and efficient use of resources.
Face to face advice is available in the Civic Centre on 5 mornings, 4 afternoons and one evening a week and there are outreach sessions in 4 other towns and villages too. There are specialist services for particular problems or groups of people, and eight in ten of the thousands of people who come for assistance each year say CA has helped solve their problems.
This is a wonderful service and the model is all about stronger communities - of volunteers from the community supporting those in need in the community. CA is so well known, so maybe the enormous contribution to working in and for the community, using members of the community to help others, is taken for granted and we felt that the St Albans and District CA is an excellent model of organisation and efficiency and a real example of a service that makes communities stronger.
1. Phil Abrey
Phil is the managing chaplain at our prison in Hertfordshire, HMP The Mount. I was lucky to be invited to the prison and to meet Phil early on in my term of office and I have been back to see him a number of times, including to the Carol concert that he organised at Christmas. I am always impressed by his inclusive and non-judgmental manner and how he has the respect of all in the prison community. Phil does an extraordinary job in challenging circumstances, and has done so for an amazing 18 years. He really has made a difference to the lives of so many.
2. Emma Gardner
Emma is a team leader at Watford County Court. It’s important to recognise the staff at the courts who work behind the scenes, often in stressful circumstances, and Emma does a remarkable job in her care of her colleagues, organising mental health awareness events and encouraging a huge range of charitable fundraising activities to bring everyone together and help others in the process. She’s an inspiration and her contribution to her community is greatly valued.
3. Harjit Singh
Harjit Singh has been a Community Development worker for the Fire Service for 18 years, focussing on community engagement. I have got to know Harjit over the course of the last year as he is involved in so many projects in Watford that help bring the community together. He also plays an active role in his local interfaith group, as well as supporting the Herts Interfaith Forum. He is a great example of someone who works tirelessly to build stronger communities.
4. Duncan Wallace
Before he retired at the end of last year, after over 30 years of police service, Duncan was the Sergeant at my local police station in Buntingford. He is also an acknowledged expert in rural policing and was the East Herts Rural Neighbourhood Team sergeant. Duncan believed that being contributing and trusted members of the community allowed him and his team to work in partnership with others to tackle crime and keep people safe. He has a wide network of contacts across the rural community and it is this emphasis on community engagement, and mutual support and cooperation, that made his work so effective.