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The end of an extraordinary year

There have been 2 wonderful musical events this month. The first was the Hertfordshire Schools Gala at the Royal Albert Hall. Organised by Hertfordshire Music Services and with the very talented Rufus Frowde as the Artistic Director and Conductor, there were two performances featuring massed Hertfordshire primary and secondary school choirs, the Hertfordshire County Youth choir and the Hertfordshire Schools’ Symphony Orchestra. The programmes featured music and dancing and the first ever performance of ‘I am Alban’, a new piece by Anne Dudley with words by Ian McMillan.

The second wonderful evening of music was provided by the excellent Band of the RAF Regiment in the perfect setting of the Haileybury chapel. We had a programme to suit all musical tastes and excellent solo performances too.

On a bright, sunny day my chaplain Caroline Franks and I visited the Oshwal Centre to see the Shikharbandhi Jain Deraser. The beautiful temple, completed in 2005, was Europe’s first traditional Jain temple to be built on virgin land, using authentic Indian craftsmen, methods and materials. We joined in a ceremony, and were shown round the site and the halls next to the temple (popular venues for weddings and large gatherings) by leaders from the community before joining hundreds for lunch. Volunteers help cook donated food and there is a wonderful tradition of giving to the temple and to others.

Caroline and I went to a rather different religious ceremony for the collation of the new Archdeacon of St Albans, Rev Canon Dr Jane Mainwaring, at the pretty St Mary’s parish church in Hemel Hempstead. The Bishops of St Albans, Bedford and Hertford were all in attendance and the new Archdeacon preached an excellent sermon about how we should not be anxious about taking on new roles, because all we are required to do is to offer ourselves and let God do the rest.

My last visit to fine cathedrals around the country was to St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds for the Suffolk Justice Service, where we heard Rev Jonathan Aitken talk about his work in prisons and rehabilitation of offenders.

I spent a happy lunch time in Ware with a women’s group organised by Herts Welcomes Refugees, who hold a twice monthly sharing lunch. This was well attended and despite some language limitations we managed to share stories of the inspiring women in our lives (with the help of a translator) as it was International Women’s Day the day before. Suddenly at the end a Syrian lady began to sing and a number of her friends joined in, a moving reminder of how hard it must be to be away from home, cultural traditions and all that is familiar.

Safer Places run a number of refuges in Herts and Essex for women and children affected by domestic abuse. I visited their refuge in Turnford and spoke to dedicated staff as well as a number of clients who bravely told me their stories. As well as difficult issues around security, there are often many children at the shelter who may not be able to attend their own schools as it is not safe for them, and it can take some weeks for them to get a place at a local school. There is a lovely school room/nursery where they can be supported. Some clients stay just a few days and many return to their partners, others stay longer whilst housing is arranged. The staff support them all in a positive and non-judgemental way, empowering women to make their own decisions about their futures.

I sadly missed a number of Civic events due to my accident last month, but was pleased to attend the Mayor of St Albans’s Banquet and Ball at Sopwell House to raise money for her charity, Citizens Advice St Albans and District (also one of my High Sheriff Award winners).

In addition to the High Sheriff Awards, I was pleased to be able to make a number of grants at the end of my year using money raised from my fundraising events. I have held two events this year, a Taste of Herts Summer Picnic and a Community Choirs concert, and the money from these is going to two wonderful groups of charities that work with people with learning difficulties, disabilities, mental health problems and dementia.

The first group use horticulture and growing flowers, fruit and vegetables and they are:

  • Earthworks

  • Growing People

  • Mudlarks

  • Sunnyside Rural Trust

The second group use music, singing and drama and they are:

  • Music 24

  • Electric Umbrella

  • Herts Musical Memories

  • Herts Inclusive Theatre

Huge thanks to Sharon Struckman, Gini Trower, Louise Landman, Henny Buxton and Emma Robarts who helped me organise the events.

From the middle of the month, events were cancelled or postponed due to increasing concern about the Covid 19 virus and its spread. Meetings were conducted by Skype or other online platforms. Sadly, Awards events for Hertfordshire Girlguides and the Fire and Rescue Service were postponed, as was the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust launch of the Hertfordshire’s State of Nature Report. Similarly, the new Hertfordshire Matters report launch was postponed as was the official opening of the Hertfordshire Law Clinics, organised by the University of Hertfordshire.

A talk I was to give on ‘Stronger Communities, Interfaith and Integration in Hertfordshire’ to the Harpenden Rotary Club was cancelled, as was one on ‘Hertfordshire Minorities: a view of the justice system’ for the East Herts Magistrates’ Bench meeting.

Visits to the Brownies in Buntingford, to Round Diamond School in Stevenage for the anniversary of their crossing patrol and to the Generations Together project between elderly residents of Edwin Nott House and Hillshott Infant School were similarly cancelled. I was also sad to miss the official opening of the Bhaktivedanta Manor new Shree Haveli building, lunch with the Lady Mayoress at the Mansion House, a citizenship ceremony, the Holi event at Bushey Academy and the Welwyn Hatfield, St Albans and Hertsmere Domestic Abuse Forum Conference on the Impact of Domestic Abuse on Minority Groups, all of which had to be postponed or cancelled.

My final High Sheriff event of the year was to have been the High Sheriff’s Law Lecture at the University of Hertfordshire. Mr Justice Turner was to talk on “Enemies of the People - the public perception of the judiciary of England and Wales”. He has kindly offered to re-schedule this for later in the year and so I am hoping that my successor Henry Holland-Hibbert and I will invite him back jointly.

As I reflect on the last year, I am aware that it has not only been a great privilege to serve as High Sheriff but also a unique opportunity to meet new people and do new things, and I will be joining other past High Sheriffs in saying that I do not think that my life will ever be the same again. It is a gift to be able to hold this ancient office. There are so many people who work hard for Hertfordshire, particularly those that work to ensure justice, keep us safe and work for social justice, and it has been humbling and inspiring to learn about what they do. So many give of themselves and of their time as volunteers to help others in need. I have been warmly welcomed everywhere, my opinion is valued, my interest appreciated and my contacts and connections gratefully received. All this because I hold this ancient office, and it is so important that the role of High Sheriff continues to support, encourage and thank all those who contribute to life in our county.

I would like to personally thank all those who have supported me across so many different areas, and in particular my Under Sheriff Richard Taylor, Chaplain Caroline Franks and PA Nicky Stokes, without whom the year would not have been nearly so much fun. My successor Henry Holland-Hibbert, supported by his wife Kate, will make a fine High Sheriff and I wish him all the very best for a successful and enjoyable year.

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