and the season of goodwill
1st December 2021: Clare and I attended the annual Telford & Wrekin Council Civic Carol Service. The Christmas celebration, in association with Telford Christians Together, was held Oakengates Theatre. The service included music from Abraham Darby Showband, Telfordaires and Hadley and District Orpheus Male Voice Choir. A wonderful curtain-raiser to the festive season.
4th December 2021: We attended a ‘Celebrating Shrewsbury High School’ drinks reception.
It has been an exciting year for the school as its junior and senior pupils reunited on the Town Walls site, after many years of the prep school being in Kennedy Road and then off Roman Road.
The festive event, attended by more than 100 people, celebrated Shrewsbury High School and the people, past and present, who have contributed to its success. It was also a wonderful way to belatedly mark the 135th anniversary of the school, celebrations for which were put on hold last year because of the pandemic.
The evening was something of a trip down memory lane for Clare and I, too, as our daughter Lucy, now 27, is a former pupil of the prep school.
5th December 2021: I attended the West Midlands’ Annual Justice Service in Coventry Cathedral.
The regional event was hosted by High Sheriff of the County of West Midlands, Mrs Louise Bennett OBE DL. The ceremony has, until now, always taken place in Birmingham, so the move to Coventry was a fitting way to mark its being the City of Culture 2021.
Mayors and mayoresses, cadets and leading multi-faith figures joined key representatives in the judiciary and magistracy, courts and tribunal services, police, prison and probation services, emergency services and health care professionals, for the ceremony which was attended by over 400 invited guests who helped pay tribute to all those who work in the administration of justice in the region.
The service was also attended by Col George Marsh MBE TD DL, representing Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant, and was given in the presence of Lady Justice Thirlwall DBE, Lady Justice of Appeal, and Lord Justice Haddon-Cave, Senior Presiding Judge of England & Wales.
The Dean of Coventry and Chaplain to the High Sheriff of the West Midlands, the Very Reverend John Witcombe, officiated at the service. He spoke of Coventry’s status as a city of peace and reconciliation and the importance of helping those around us to achieve their full potential.
The afternoon ended with a reception and choral music from Fridays’ Choir – a community interest company founded by Tyler Campbell to provide a safe, sociable event for 15-to-17-year-olds every Friday and steer them away from knife crime, gangs and violence.
Over 60 guests also enjoyed an exclusive, VIP tour of the Turner Prize exhibition, taking place at the nearby Herbert Art Gallery and Museum.
8th December 2021: Clare and I attended Shrewsbury Street Pastors annual Carol Service. This joyous occasion was held in the inspiring surrounds of Shrewsbury Abbey. Much more of the Street Pastors at the end of the month.
9th December 2021: I held a Zoom meeting with Chief Superintendent Paul Moxley, of West Mercia Police, during which we discussed a range of local policing matters.
9th December 2021: Homelessness is a tragedy at any time of year. But having to sleep in a shop doorway in the depths of winter, when Christmas celebrations – however limited by Omicron – are happening all around, seems like an added cruelty. Organisations like Stay are working flat out to try to ensure that doesn’t happen.
It’s worth noting that, in housing the homeless during the pandemic, Telford & Wrekin has been second only to Bristol in the entire country!
Stay spearheaded the Rough Sleeper Task Force, which included representatives of the local authority and charitable partners.
Stay and the task force linked up with five hotels in Telford & Wrekin Borough to provide emergency accommodation for rough sleepers during lockdowns, as part of the national drive to try to halt the spread of coronavirus.
Stay has helped over 400 rough sleepers since the pandemic began but says there is still more to do.
Clare and I visited Stay’s headquarters in Telford Town Centre where CEO Terry Gee talked us through the charity’s work and five-year plan.
Stay marked its 30th anniversary last year and in the years that have followed has steadily grown to a point where at any one time it is supporting over 150 young people in a variety of schemes and services with different partner organisations.
Stay has 70 units of accommodation based at several locations around the borough. These range from a room in a shared house to a self-contained flat.
The aim is to add another 12 units in the next year.
Stay acts as an umbrella for a variety of partners across housing, health, social care, mental health, addiction and the Third Sector, which enables a co-ordinated approach to ensure those who need help aren’t accidentally overlooked and get the support that suits them best.
10th December 2021 Clare and I spent the day in HM Coroner’s Court in Shrewsbury with the Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin Coroner, John Ellery.
The inquest was the tragic case of Lewis McFarlin, a lift engineer who died in a factory accident aged just 24.
The jury of nine members returned a verdict of accidental death.
In Shropshire, there are 4,500 deaths a year of which 1,500 have to be assessed by a coroner on a general basis. However, there are approximately 300 that require more detailed scrutiny by a coroner.
16th December 2021: I gave a 10-minute presentation to my peers on how I see the role of High Sheriff in the 21st century. I told an online seminar of High Sheriffs from across the West Midlands that I believe the principal aim for a year of service was to make a difference.
The role of the modern High Sheriff is so different from the more formal role of centuries past, with the Lord-Lieutenant now assuming the senior role. I believe it is imperative, as High Sheriff, that you have a good working relationship with the Lord-Lieutenant, as I believe I have with our own incumbent, Anna Turner.
I told the seminar that our role is to make a valid contribution to the county, to support and encourage the judiciary, emergency services, the voluntary sector, the Crown and the Lord Lieutenant, across all faith groups. We are also there to support crime fighting and prevention.
We must stand up not just “the great and good” but also the disadvantaged, and the many unsung heroes in our community, I explained.
I also stressed that it was important to be proactive, as I have endeavoured to be, rather than reactive. At the beginning of March, I emailed 150 key contacts with a covering letter. In March and April, I made up to 150 Zoom calls. It was a great way of making initial contact with a view to meeting in person later in the year.
In Spring there were initial face-to-face meetings, often in small groups and, from June, visits opened up completely.
The areas of county life I’ve covered have been diverse, from law and order, education and tourism, to mental health and homelessness. Along the way, I’ve encountered some fabulous charities, large and small, and met some truly inspirational people of all ages and backgrounds.
One of the greatest satisfactions is being able to help smaller organisations or link them with contacts who can help.
I told the seminar of one of my greatest concerns – the number of
children who drop out of school and lose their way. A recent BBC report said that there were 100,000 untraceable children who had dropped out of their chosen school.
Some are from dysfunctional families and slip into drugs, alcohol or the lure of County Lines gangs. Our magistrates tell us that their greatest issue is with those young people.
I told my fellow High Sheriffs of the importance of mass communication, through local press, social media and platforms like a High Sheriff’s website. This is not for any personal glorification but to showcase how the role of High Sheriff is still relevant today and, indeed, can be a force for good.
In everything I have done in 2021, my overriding aim has been to champion Shropshire.
19th December 2021: I read at the St. Chad’s Church annual service of nine lessons and carols. It was held in the Shrewsbury’s church’s car park in the light of rising Covid-19 cases – a socially-distanced outside service was aimed at reducing the risk of spreading the coronavirus. Though it meant that the usual 900-strong congregation was significantly thinned out, it showed a responsible and caring attitude.
We all wrapped up warm for an uplifting Christian celebration.
25: A special day for enjoying time with family. And some of us doubtless reflected, in quieter moments, on those loved ones who brightened our Christmases past but are no longer with us.
31: Clare and I spent New Year’s Eve with Shrewsbury Street Pastors.
We were out until 3am pounding the streets with this committed team of Christian volunteers. Their primary aim is the protection of young people who converge on Shrewsbury town centre to socialise – and they have saved lives.
Street Pastors’ Director of Operations, Steve Jones explains: “While the town’s venues are a relatively safe place to meet, inevitably some young people encounter problems through too much drink, recreational drugs, high emotions and relationship difficulties.
“As a result, a fun evening can quickly turn into distress, sickness, loneliness and anti-social behaviour,” Steve says.
Street Pastors offer comfort and practical help. Part of their formal training comes from Samaritans, which enables them to support people who may have suicidal feelings. The rate of river deaths in Shrewsbury has fallen dramatically in the 10 years since Street Pastors was launched.
Steve explains that in the past year, Street Pastors have handed out nearly 2,000 lollipops – great for calming a potentially violent situation – 102 blankets, 252 bottles of water and 480 pairs of flip-flops, primarily to barefooted young women whose high heels have become too painful to walk in.
Street Pastors patrol on foot and in ‘The Donkey’, a donated ex-police van in which vulnerable individuals can get a hot drink and some privacy. Volunteers are fully trained in First Aid – including using ‘The Donkey’s’ defibrillator. They also receive throwline training from Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service, for river rescues.
Street Pastors monitor rough sleepers, notifying homeless charity The Shrewsbury Ark of cases, and providing on the spot comfort in the shape of Winter Survival kits containing hats, gloves and scarves.
Indeed, Barbara Blakeway from Sambrook had knitted six scarves for rough sleepers which she donated on New Year’s Eve to The Street Pastors to hand out – a very kind gesture.
The Shrewsbury Street Pastors are heroes, giving up their time and the comforts of home on sometimes freezing evenings, to help complete strangers.
The organisation has a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, well-deserved recognition for all it does for the people of Shrewsbury and those who visit.
“Though we are all Christians, we don’t preach at people. We are there to help,” Steve says.
We have just celebrated, once more, the birth of Christ. More than 2,000 years later, Shrewsbury Street Pastors are taking Christian values of kindness and charity out onto dark streets, countering fear, isolation, aggression and distress with practical help and huge reserves of compassion.