And so my High Sheriff year draws to a close.
March began with a visit to HMP The Mount with my Under Sheriff and Chaplain to meet the new Governor, who is determined to improve safety, rehabilitation and community engagement, despite the challenges of severe staff shortages. I spent an afternoon at the Stevenage Education Support Centre, where children and teenagers excluded from school receive individual attention to work through their issues, often caused by violence at home. ELSA Next Generation recognises the need for difficult topics to be aired, running workshops on domestic abuse and addictions.
Broxbourne Mayor Paul Seeby championed 10 worthy winners of the BOB Awards at a ceremony in the Spotlight Theatre, with generous sponsorship from Sunset Studios and other supportive businesses. The theme of Stevenage Mayor Margaret Notley’s Civic Service was “Community”, led by her chaplain, but with readings from various faiths. Mayor Rishi Fernando held his Civic Service in St Mary’s in Ware, followed by a ceremony to recognise five special Ware residents.
Week Two was a week of celebrating volunteers. Helen Gray, Foundation Director of the Hertfordshire Community Foundation, steps down next month, so it was with great pleasure that I presented her with a High Sheriff’s Certificate for her outstanding work in the community, well beyond the remit of her job. The Lord-Lieutenant chose Moor Park Golf Club for a reception to recognise Hertfordshire residents awarded Honours over the last 18 months, and I attended a talk by the Ware branch of the Samaritans, whose mission is to reduce suicides, despite the charity nationally receiving a call from someone in crisis every six seconds.
The Christoforos Charity Foundation was set up by the parents of a teenager who was groomed on the dark web to take his own life. Broxbourne Mayor Paul Seeby and I met them in the Council Offices where they explained their determination to raise awareness of online grooming and cyber-bullying, by visiting schools and communities, and to provide free fun outings where phones are left at home.
The Earl of Wessex visited Ashridge House to plant an English oak just the day before he was given his new title of the Duke of Edinburgh. How special it was for the Berkhamsted school students and staff working on their D of E Awards to meet him.
The High Sheriff Awards 2023
This celebration of volunteers in the Hertfordshire community is a highlight of the High Sheriff year. Congratulations to all the fabulous winners and thank you to the panel who had to make the difficult choices amongst so many outstanding candidates. There is more information in the Awards section of the website, but here are a few photos for you to enjoy. The evening was very well attended, the winners were thrilled and I was able to recognise the many volunteers who make Hertfordshire a better place in which to live. And I was able to introduce TPD Sheriff and her handler PC Rebecca Clark to the guests!
This is the month for the Mayors and Chairs to celebrate their year and raise money for charity. Hertford Mayor Sue Barber laid on a fabulous evening with a stupendous musical performance by the Simon Balle School Big Band, in aid of Future Hope and the Herts Dramatic & Operatic Society.
Mayor of Hertsmere John Graham’s charity is Peace Hospice, so a magnificent concert by the talented young musicians at Purcell School was a delight. We are proud to have this wonderful international school here in Hertfordshire.
Dacorum Community Trust is Mayor John Birnie’s charity, and his Civic Dinner at Pendley Manor near Tring was well supported and much enjoyed.
I visited two other counties this month to support our neighbouring High Sheriffs. Peterborough Cathedral was the glorious setting for the Rutland’s Geoff Thompson to hold his High Sheriff’s Community Service to celebrate Rutland’s many volunteers. The Justice Service in St Edmundsbury Cathedral for Suffolk’s Major Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton emphasised his work with refugees during the year.
The Commonwealth flag was raised in St Albans with a fabulous display of pageantry, processions and presentations from the Museum + Gallery balcony. It was then an honour to present certificates to new British Citizens at a Citizenship Ceremony at County Hall, supported by my police cadet as swordbearer. While there I gave the Chairman of the County Council a framed copy of the Proclamation document I read out to Hertfordshire on the Accession of King Charles III for their archives.
A day in Watford began with a visit to Playskill, whose dedicated staff help children to reach their potential. The Watford Workshop, where adults over 16 are given employment and training as well as dignity, care and hope, is a remarkable and far-reaching asset in our county. I was then delighted to meet SVP Emily Stillman and team at Warner Bros. Studios in Leavesden, hearing about their extensive philanthropy in the local community. It was lovely to be escorted through the Harry Potter Studio Tour, chatting to the enthusiastic staff who look after the visitors along their way.
During my year I have met regularly with David Lloyd, the Police & Crime Commissioner in Hertfordshire. A visit to his office in Harpenden Police Station was an opportunity to review the year and make plans going forward, particularly in regard to my recent High Sheriff Drugs & Alcohol Symposium. A visit to the Hemel Hempstead Police Station involved congratulating the Intervention Team 5 on winning several top accolades as well as attending their afternoon briefing.
St Albans Cathedral is much loved in Hertfordshire. Welcomed by the Dean and given a guided tour by expert volunteers with the Lord-Lieutenant and his Deputies was wonderful. While there, a return visit to the HACRO art exhibition in the cells of the Museum + Gallery, which I opened back in November, was very worthwhile.
Stevenage has featured strongly in my year, so joining the St Patrick’s Day celebrations hosted by Irish Network Stevenage was a must. So too was the Civic Dinner at Brocket Hall given in aid of the Welwyn & Hatfield Women’s Refuge by Mayor Barbara Fitzsimon. The Refuge is a last resort shelter for families destroyed by domestic abuse.
A Saturday in the Stevenage Magistrates Court involved presenting certificates to the four schools who competed in the National Mock Trial Competition. The trophy went to the students of Sir John Lawes School in Harpenden, but thanks are due to the N&E Herts Bench Magistrates who volunteered to guide and judge. A few days later I attended the Magistrates Bench Meeting near Hitchin, where presentations were made to dedicated long-serving members after my talk on being High Sheriff, with an emphasis on my work with addiction. Adrienne Arthurs from The Living Room told harrowing stories but gave a positive outlook on their work with recovering addicts.
Joe Heeney founded the drug and alcohol charity Resolve fifteen years ago and has helped and touched hundreds of people’s lives in Hertfordshire. His retirement party was a fitting tribute.
Back to Watford to present a High Sheriff’s Certificate to Gemma Hirsch of Fitbuddies for giving her time to educate schools and students about the benefits of healthy nutrition and exercise. Juanita Prescott is the Head of Wellbeing at the Stevenage Leisure Centre, also helping the community with sessions on nutrition, remedial exercise, mental health issues and drugs & alcohol abuse.
My first and last weeks as High Sheriff involved a visit to the Women’s Refuge in Stevenage, where SADA (Survivors Against Domestic Abuse) works tirelessly to keep women and children safe.
My last Herts Chamber of Commerce lunch at Hanbury Manor near Ware included a talk on recovery from the pandemic by the Chief Executive of Herts Community Services NHS Trust, very relevant to my aim during my High Sheriff year to support those badly affected by the pandemic, especially the vulnerable and those with mental health and addiction issues.
The Law School at the University of Hertfordshire has played a significant role in the last year. What a superb finale to hear Marcus Taverner KC’s Law Lecture on “May the Best Lawyer Win”. It was well supported by the Vice-Chancellor and Law School Dean, attended by students, dignitaries, staff and guests, with a special presentation to inspiring student Anna Lampard who won the inaugural High Sheriff’s Law School Community Award.
My last week as High Sheriff was as busy as ever. A thank you lunch given in my honour by the Mayor of Stevenage Margaret Notley and the Stevenage Borough Council team, then presentations of High Sheriff Certificates to three deserving members of staff at the upmarket Davroc Ltd bathroom supply store in Hoddesdon. A glorious morning in the sunshine at Paradise Wildlife Park as Sun Bear Heights and Jaguar Jungle were opened by the Lord-Lieutenant, and charity Future Living in Hertford launched their fabulous new Bakery. This domestic abuse charity have appointed six young people from Simon Balle School as Ambassadors for the White Ribbon project to stop violence against women and girls.
Four Hertfordshire firefighters were at or near Buntingford Fire Station when a young boy went into cardiac arrest next door. Their prompt actions saved his life and it was an honour to present them with High Sheriff’s Certificates in front of the Chief Fire Officer, Buntingford Mayor and fire station crew. I then climbed to the top of the £92m SPECS building, under construction at the University of Hertfordshire to house amazing new facilities for STEM subjects, and attended a glorious STAHS Founder’s Day Service in St Albans Cathedral with a tribute to their chaplain who was retiring after 25 years.
We planted a tree in St Catherine’s Churchyard in Sacombe at my Declaration as High Sheriff of Hertfordshire this time last year. It was a pleasure to unveil a plaque with my chaplain Revd John Chitham and to recognise the wonderful church volunteers with a High Sheriff’s Certificate. My police cadets have been a tremendous asset all year, so a final visit was organised to their training session at Simon Balle School to present a High Sheriff’s Certificate to all the East Herts Volunteer Cadets for their community work. Then one last visit to Hertfordshire Police HQ to thank Chief Constable Charlie Hall and his team for their support during my High Sheriff year. It was also an opportunity to see the photo of us with PC Clark and my sponsored police dog Sheriff!
So my High Sheriff year of 2022-23 has come to an end. It has been an incredible experience, inspiring and rewarding, illuminating and full of discoveries, and such a wonderful opportunity to meet and work with the special people of Hertfordshire.