Full-on February – another busy month
2nd February: I was involved in a Zoom meeting with other High Sheriffs this evening, during which we discussed several issues and swapped thoughts on our individual interpretation of the role.
4th February: My wife Clare and I went out went out on patrol with Shrewsbury Police to see at first-hand the work they do in the community.
We were looked after by Sergeant Gary Lansdale and Constables Chloe Spiers and Caitlin Duncan, who took us out in their patrol car from 2pm to after 10pm.
It is easy to take the police and our security for granted, not giving a thought to their watchful eye, protecting us 24 hours a day.
West Mercia Police operate in three shifts – 7am to 2pm, 2pm to midnight and midnight to 7am.
Modern policing is different from the days of the local bobby on the beat.
There are still community police officers but much of their work is done from the police car, patrolling endlessly during their shift, either looking out for issues or reacting to reports received over the radio.
All 999 and 111 calls come into a new control centre at West Mercia HQ at Hindlip Hall and are then immediately passed to the appropriate local police stations. Incidents can vary significantly from shift to shift. Sometimes the station has to call in other stations or go to assist neighbouring forces.
Sadly, domestic abuse and drugs figure prominently. Luckily for Shropshire, murder is rare.
We came away reassured that the police provide a quiet arm of protection around us all.
6th February: Clare and I attended a Festal Evensong celebrating The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee 2022.
This was a wonderful, thoughtful tribute to our beloved monarch to mark the 70th anniversary of her accession. The venue was Hereford Cathedral.
I was honoured to be chosen to read, along with Sir Roy Strong, the veteran art historian, museum curator, writer, broadcaster and landscape designer, who has been a director of both the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Other readers included Shropshire’s Lord-Lieutenant Anna Turner along with the Lord-Lieutenant of Hereford, Edward Harley OBE. The High Sheriff of Herefordshire Joanna Hilditch and High Sheriff of Powys Peter James also took part. Leading civic dignitaries were amongst the guests.
Members of the clergy were headed by the Bishop of Hereford, Rt Rev Richard Jackson and Acting Dean Rev Canon Andrew Piper.
A collection was in aid of Queen’s Green Canopy, which is challenging the nation to plant trees in celebration of Her Majesty’s 70 years on the throne.
8th & 9th February: I was delighted to be involved in tree planting ceremonies in Edgmond and, the following day, in Newport. The trees were gifted from Harper Adams University at Edgmond as part of the Queen’s Green Canopy project, which challenges the nation to plant trees up and down the country to celebrate Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee.
In Edgmond, an oak tree was planted in Church Field, where I joined Harper Adams Vice-Chancellor Professor Ken Sloan, Edgmond Council Chairman Allan Wilson, and St Peter’s primary pupils Selina and Harry.
The Revd Prebendary Helen Morby and members of the parish were also present.
Councillor Wilson said that the tree will have a time capsule buried next to it and will be officially dedicated during of a series of Jubilee events in June.
At Chetwynd Deer Park in Newport, the following day, I joined Professor Sloan, Newport Show Manager Sally Western, Chairman of Trustees, Tony Asson – who is also a senior lecturer at the University – Park Warden Martyn Fallows and Show Vice-President Caroline Belcher to plant an oak next to the pool in the park.
10th February: I had one of my regular Zoom meetings with Andy Begley, Chief Executive of Shropshire Council in which we talked about several matters relating to the county.
11th February: I had my monthly Zoom meeting with Chief Superintendent Paul Moxley, of West Mercia Police, when we discussed a range of matters relating to local policing.
12th February: I had the pleasure of proposing a toast to Shropshire’s most famous son, Charles Darwin, to celebrate the 213th anniversary of his birth.
The occasion was an Afternoon Tea at 2 The Mount in Shrewsbury, where Darwin was born on February 12, 1809 and spent much of the first 30 years of his life.
I attended with Clare and our hosts were Glyn Jones and Mark Scutt, directors of the Darwin Birthplace Trust. Businessman Glyn owns the house which he is currently renovating with the long-term idea of it housing a museum to Darwin. Other guests included Mayor of Shrewsbury Julian Dean and Michael Dinneen, chairman of Shrewsbury Civic Society.
As I told the gathering, the occasion was particularly poignant for me as one of my forebears, Thomas Campbell Eyton, of Eyton Hall, Wellington, was a fellow naturalist and friend of Darwin. They corresponded for years – not always agreeing – and there is evidence that Eyton partly-funded the famous HMS Beagle expedition.
Darwin is one of the world’s most important figures, his theories on evolution changing our understanding of how the world developed and where we come from. Shropshire can be mightily proud of him.
FEB PIC 4: With Glyn Jones and Mayor Julian Dean.
15th February: I outlined my activities over the past six months to a meeting of Shropshire’s High Sheriff consultative panel, held at the Chamber of Commerce offices in Shrewsbury.
15th February: Clare and I visited Donnington Police Station this evening and were taken out on patrol. It made me appreciate, once again, just what a wonderful job our police do and how the majority of officers are hard-working, caring and diligent.
Sergeant Richard Jones provided an insight into the breadth of policing for the North Telford area.
We were then driven around by PC Rob Hughes, who clearly has a great passion for his job and an encyclopaedic knowledge of his area and individuals within it.
The main police station is at Malinsgate in Telford Town Centre but the area is extremely diverse. It is largely urban but also encompasses Newport and the surrounding rural areas.
As with Shrewsbury Police, with whom we patrolled last week, Telford Police keep a gentle eye over us all, quietly and largely from a distance.
Drugs, drink and mental health issues are at the forefront of the problems they face and are so often interlinked.
Through a combination of simple observation and good detective work they are aware of where most drug dealers live.
We are largely talking of cannabis with some cocaine. Heroin is, thankfully, rare. County Lines drug gangs are part of the problem. Run by gang leaders who often live outside the area, they target young people, many of school age, who are lured both by the kick of cannabis and the ability to make money by selling on drugs.
West Mercia Police has launched a major initiative to get into schools to work with young people, not only to warn them of the evils of drugs but also to give them hope and direction.
Many thanks to Sgt Jones, Constable Hughes and the rest of the team for their hospitality.
The police generally are such are a force for good, do so much behind the scenes to keep us safe, and deserve our help and support.
17th February: Clare and I attended University Centre Shrewsbury’s graduation ceremony at St. Chad’s Church.
Congratulations to the 200 graduates who received their degrees from Gyles Brandreth, Chancellor of University of Chester, of which UCS is a satellite. Television and radio personality Dr Brandreth is a former MP for Chester.
An honorary degree of Doctor of Letters was conferred on veteran television presenter and journalist Nick Owen – long-time anchor of BBC Midlands Today – for services to broadcasting.
Lady Ffion Hague was also awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters for her contribution to public service, broadcasting and literature.
Her presentation was inspirational, encouraging the students to use their education, work hard and push themselves forward in life – in fact, a consistent theme in all the presentations.
Vice-chancellor of Chester, professor Eunice Simmons and the head of UCS, professor Paul Johnson also played a prominent role in the ceremony.
UCS was founded in 2014 and now has 700 students. Its focus is on providing first class higher education to students, mainly from Shropshire and the neighbouring counties.
19th February: I had the pleasure of speaking to an online gala to celebrate Chinese New Year. More than 200 people took part, both in the UK and China, including a VIP from the Chinese Embassy in London.
The evening was a celebration of Chinese culture and included singing, drama, traditional dance and art.
I was invited to speak by Grace Tong, director of the Chinese Arts and Culture Centre, based in Telford. It provides a range of educational workshops for schools in the UK, as well as teacher training in Chinese language, dance, traditional games, religion, culture and so much more.
Its Mandarin and Cantonese tuition and translation services are not only valuable for schools but help to forge important business links between China and the UK.
The centre works with children from Early Years right through to secondary school, trying to make the world a smaller and friendlier place for the next generation.
In an uncertain world, it has never seemed more important that the hand of friendship is extended across all continents – that people of goodwill, no matter their race or religion, enjoy one another’s company.
The Chinese Arts and Culture Centre, based in Telford, does so much to foster this shared goodwill and understanding.
21th February: I attended the Telford Magistrates’ Court to sit in on an afternoon session.
There were a series of cases, the majority related to drink/drugs and driving. It was interesting that drugs were more prevalent than drink in this court session. One of the problems with drugs, both cannabis and cocaine, is it remains in the blood for many days.
Helen Thompson, who led the court, says that there are also an increasing number of family abuse matters. The police say that it is often difficult to get the victims to come forward to make claims against their partners, whom they invariably have no option but to remain living with.
My visit followed up on one last August when Chairman of the Telford Bench, Angela Channon JP, kindly showed me around the complex, which houses eight courts.
There are about 80 magistrates serving Telford and they, along with their counterparts in other courts in our county, are another example of Shropshire’s unsung heroes.
22th February: As severe flooding hit parts of Shropshire, I took to social media to appeal to everyone to stay safe. I thought it important to endorse the warnings of Lezley Picton, leader Shropshire Council and Shaun Davies, Leader of Telford & Wrekin Council, to steer clear of badly-affected areas. Several people had already been rescued by the emergency services who, as ever, did a fantastic job. I felt it important people kept clear of the River Severn, which peaked at record levels in Shrewsbury and Ironbridge with possible danger to life.
23rd February: Today is Shropshire Day, when the county’s colours are flown with pride. Shropshire flags were flown proudly around the county.
It is an opportunity for us all to show how much we love this wonderful county. It is perhaps a time to reflect on how lucky we are to live in such a stimulating part of the world with its stunning landscape, charming market towns, picture-postcard villages and very rich history.
The county day was chosen in honour of St Milburga, 8th century Benedictine abbess of Wenlock Priory, who died on February 23.
Shropshire Council led the way in marking this proud day for our county.
23rd February: Clare and I were among 50 guests who joined a celebration of the Marches Mosses Banners Project, at Theatre Severn in Shrewsbury. Members of Wem Youth Club worked with artists Sue Challis and Kate Johnston to create three, 7metre tall banners, which bring the Marches Mosses peatland to life.
Mayor of Shrewsbury Julian Dean was also amongst the guests.
This project came out of a collaboration between Wem Youth Club, Shropshire Wildlife Trust and Natural England. It is part of an overall project called Mosses and Marshes, led in the UK by artist Andrew Howe, who is working with Australia-based artist Kim V. Goldsmith to make links with another wetland of international significance at the Macquarie Marshes in New South Wales. The project was supported by an Arts Council England grant.
Anna Martin, Marches Mosses Events Officer for Shropshire Wildlife Trust, collaborated with the artists and supported the youth group members to learn more about the Mosses.
This was such an inspirational evening and we were so impressed by the efforts of the young people of Wem Youth Club under the dynamic leadership of Sue Challis.
The project helped us to appreciate just what an important natural feature we have on our doorstep. Wem Moss extends to about 2,000 acres of huge ecological importance. We were told that whilst mosses cover only three per cent of the Earth’s surface, they hold more carbon than all the world’s woodlands combined.
Peat bogs, thankfully, are now left as a natural reserve, with peat cutting stopped about 30 years ago.
The Wem youngsters were utterly enthralled by not only the history and the ecology of the mosses, but what they can see for themselves.
The event not only emphasised the importance of youth clubs in our communities, but also of preserving peat bogs with their significant carbon capture.
24th February: I attended a meeting of The Country Food Trust, a national charity which raises funds to provide nutritious meals to food banks throughout the country.
The meals are produced by a specialist food manufacturer, are game-based, high in protein and low in fat. They include pheasant casserole, pheasant curry and venison ragu.
The meeting, organised by Jo Hilditch, High Sheriff of Herefordshire, was at Eastnor Castle and attended by the charity’s new CEO, SJ Hunt.
The principal of The Country Food Trust is good, with the aim this year to buy 2.5 million meals.
There was a wide-ranging discussion about several issues.
The crux is that whilst the game birds can be either gifted or purchased for a minimum amount of money, they all have to be processed (including removal of lead shot) and distributed to the various charities throughout the country.
At present the processing factory is in York. Will Oakley, of Willo Game, who is one of the biggest game dealers in Shropshire/Herefordshire, said one of his problems is that he is at capacity because he simply cannot get butchers to process his game. He would, in principle, be happy to expand his processing facility but there needs to be an increase in the labour market in order to do so.
Another audience member suggested the Trust consider taking pork. At present, thousands of pigs are simply being buried because they either cannot be processed or there is no market for them.
I made the point that this was an ongoing issue and that pork would be a good addition to foodbanks.
There was also a discussion about being able to use surplus vegetables. The cost implications are relatively similar. I made the point that we sell carrots to Huntapac. These are taken from Shropshire to Lancashire and then distributed around the country, even back to supermarkets in Shropshire. They take the whole product leaving nothing in the field.
If any carrots are left in the field, harvesting, washing and processing them would involve quite a significant cost which is unlikely to be an economically viable alternative.
The real crux is that The Country Food Trust needs income from third parties to process both the pheasants and the venison.
There was talk of possible corporate membership and people shooting simply paying a levy.
The Country Food Trust is successful in drawing grants and other funds from community foundations.
Economics for The Country Food Trust model only seem to work for larger shoots. One shoot owner sells about 3,000 birds a year. He is now not only paying for the birds to be gifted to a third party but also paying for storage.
A further practical problem for the small and medium sized shoots is that the birds have to be kept in fridge conditions and need to adhere to modern health and hygiene protocols.
Another shoot owner said that he provides a levy of a pound a bird to all his paying guests. This produces about £8,000 a year.
But one of the smaller shoot owners said that if he was to increase his costs any further, his shoot would simply be uneconomical.
The concept is laudable but will need a great deal of enthusiasm from a group of Shropshire ambassadors to really make it work. The key will be getting a number of big estates on side to find ways for smaller shoots to process their birds economically.
28th February Clare and I were guests of His Honour, Judge Michael Chambers QC, at Wolverhampton Crown Court, where we sat in at the start of a murder trial.
Our Judiciary system is vital to our safety. With 85,000 people in prison, of whom over 65 per cent are repeat offenders, the courts are kept busy!
They have also become more specialist. Our own Crown Court in Shrewsbury, with two resident judges, has been somewhat reduced over the years and no longer deals with murder cases, which now go to either Stafford or Wolverhampton.
In Wolverhampton there is a high incidence of drug-related and gangland murders. There is also a strong Family Court, dealing with domestic cases.
We had lunch with several of the judges where we learned more about their respective roles.
A fascinating day!