The High Sheriff of Shropshire

The High Sheriff of Shropshire

High Sheriff Badge
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January 2022

and the dawn of a new year

1st January: My wife Clare and I spent the first few hours of 2022 pounding the streets of Shrewsbury town centre.

We were out with the wonderful Shrewsbury Street Pastors on their

New Year’s Eve patrols looking to help anyone in difficulty.

The primary aim of this committed team of Christian volunteers 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.”

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 were formed.

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.

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.

Clare and I, pictured left, about to set out with the Street Pastors.

4th January: I had a meeting with David Sidaway, chief executive of Telford and Wrekin Council, when we discussed a range of issues relating to the borough.

11th January: Clare and I attended the first quarterly legal service of the year in Stafford.

The service at St Mary’s Collegiate Church marked the ceremonial launch of the Hilary term at Stafford Crown Court – in English law court sessions are divided into four sittings, the other three being Michaelmas, Easter and Trinity.

We, along with other visiting High Sheriffs and their consorts, were welcomed by High Sheriff of Staffordshire James Friend DL, for tea and coffee, at the County Buildings.

The Recorder of Stafford, Her Honour Judge Montgomery QC then arrived along with the court party. Mayors and other civic dignitaries followed.

Members of Staffordshire Police then joined all parties for the procession to the church, which included judges and court clerks, along with the High Sheriff of Staffordshire’s Chaplain, Under Sheriff and Police Cadets. Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire, Colonel David Leigh, and his wife, also took part.

The service was followed by a Champagne reception and lunch at The County Buildings.

Clare and I at the Stafford Legal Service.

16th January: Clare and I attended Worcestershire Shrieval Service, hosted by the county’s High Sheriff Richard Amphlett, at Worcester Cathedral.

We were amongst other High Sheriffs and their consorts, judges, senior police figures, the Lord Lieutenant of Worcestershire Lt Col Patrick Holcroft and other civic dignitaries.

The service was sung by the Cathedral Choir, conducted by Director of Music, Samuel Hudson.

Mr Amphlett read from the First Book of Kings in the Old Testament and His Honour Judge James Burbidge QC, Recorder of Worcester, read from St John’s Gospel. Hymns included I Vow to Thee My Country.

The sermon was delivered by the High Sheriff’s Chaplain, Rev Canon Peter Kerr.

The collection was split between the Cathedral and High Sheriff charities, which largely focus on supporting mental health services.

After the service, we enjoyed refreshments in Chapter House.

With West Mercia Police Chief Constable Pippa Mills, Assistant Chief Constable Julian Moss and his wife Nicola, in Worcester Cathedral
With High Sheriff of Staffordshire James Friend entering Worcester Cathedral.

20th January: I had a Zoom meeting with Chief Superintendent Paul Moxley, of West Mercia Police, when we discussed a range of matters relating to local policing.

20th January: I attended a Zoom meeting to help plan this year’s Shropshire’s Outstanding Communities (SOC) competition.

As with last year, the very best of Shropshire will be celebrated. The competition aims to create a feelgood factor by casting a spotlight on all that is positive about the county and its people.

Communities across Shropshire can put themselves up for recognition by the scheme – and the definition of community is broad, from a town or village to a housing development, street or block of flats.

This is very much an extension of traditional competitions like Best Kept Village or Britain in Bloom, which celebrated places that were the loveliest in appearance.

SOC celebrates community spirit, the collective effort that adds to the pleasure of living in a place for its people. Taking a pride in your town, street or village’s appearance is part of it, for instance through volunteer litter-picking groups or those who voluntarily mow verges and plant public borders.

But this initiative is as much, if not more, about relationships, bonds, identity and about focusing on where people have come together with a collective investment in their neighbourhood, where attitudes and interests are commonly shared.

It’s about good neighbourliness, looking after one another, a community’s sociability and about collective day-to-day attitudes and actions that make life that little bit better for everyone.

It is about celebrating the Shropshire communities that have a strong sense of their own identity and in which their residents have an emotional stake. It shows off communities that aren’t just places where people reside but that have a heart and soul.

So, congratulations again to last year’s inaugural winners – Belle Vue and Coleham in Shrewsbury in the Large Village category and Edgmond in the Small Village category.

Church Stretton and Wellington were joint winners of the Outstanding Town section. Best Community Organisation was West Mercia Search and Rescue, with Park Lane Centre in Woodside, Telford, runner-up.

I had the pleasure of presenting the awards at a ceremony at Ironbridge Gorge Museum.

20th January: Today I welcomed the news that Shropshire Council has approved plans to buy 60 houses to use as temporary accommodation for homeless people.

It is estimated the £5million scheme will save £1million year on the current cost of the council paying for bed and breakfast and other short-notice accommodation to help people who are homeless.

A report to the council warns: “Homelessness cases currently continue to rise and show no signs of abating.”

Charities like The Shrewsbury Ark and Stay – Telford are also doing wonderful work to help rough sleepers and homeless people, providing both immediate care and longer-term support to try to turn around their fortunes.

The subject of homelessness and rough sleeping is something I’ve raised on several occasions during my shrieval year. I’ve endeavoured to shine a light on those working to make lives better for those who, for whatever reason, find themselves without a roof over their heads.

23rd January: The village of Edgmond, near Newport, has really embraced the Queen’s Green Canopy. The initiative invites people from across the UK to plant a tree to celebrate Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee this year.

Everyone from individuals to scouts and girl guides, schools, villages, cities, counties and businesses are being encouraged to play their part to enhance our environment by planting trees during the official planting season between October and March. Tree planting will start again in October 2022, through to the end of the Jubilee year.

As part of this, an extensive tree planting scheme has been carried out at Harper Adams University. Thanks to volunteers from the university and Edgmond Wildlife Group who turned out on yesterday and today to plant 70 different fruit trees next to a public track at the university.

Every one of fruit and nut trees planted is either a different species or variety, including a wide range of apples, pears, plums, mulberry, hazel and walnut and many others. They were labelled, planted, staked, tied and guarded against rabbits. Clare and I were happy to go along today to support the initiative.

In addition, the excellent 1st Edgmond Scout Group is busy creating a new garden area opposite the Village Hall.

Edgmond is clearly doing its bit for the environment, and to ensure its delightful little patch of Shropshire remains as charming as ever.

Lending a hand at the Edgmond tree planting.
Some of the tree-planting team of volunteers.
1st Edgmond Scout Group team working on the new garden.

24th January: I sent my congratulations today to Wrekin Rowers on their epic feat in completing the Atlantic Campaigns Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge.

Stuart Shepherd, Martin Skehan, and brothers Gary and Stuart Richards, arrived at the finish line in Antigua after 40 days, 12 hours and 33 minutes on the Atlantic.

They have raised £105,000 for charity with their remarkable feat of endurance.

Wellington – and indeed all of Shropshire – can be justly proud of this intrepid quartet.

28th January: I spoke this evening at a Zoom gathering of members of South Shropshire Inter-Faith, who were holding a Holocaust Memorial. Making a speech via Zoom is not easy for anyone for your words sometimes don’t have the impact that they would in person. However, this was different – the subject matter alone ensuring it was a moving experience for all.

This is such a powerful and important annual memorial that I thought it worth reproducing my speech in full below for those interested.

‘Yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day. Commemorations such as this are essential in a civilised world.

Shropshire is such a comparatively gentle place in which to live, that it is sometimes difficult for us to grapple with the concept of genuine evil. Whilst we are not immune to social ills such as poverty and crime, extreme violence is rare. We live in relative safety.

We are fortunate to be a part of a free and democratic country with the right to express opinions – to criticise the government of the day – without the fear that a Gestapo-type officer will come tapping on our door at midnight.

We are free to follow whichever religion we choose – and equally free to follow none at all.

It’s not always been so. In Britain’s long and colourful history, Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Quakers and others have, at various times, found themselves out of favour with the state and public opinion. Individuals suffered death and exile for their beliefs.

But all that was in the medieval age. By the 20th century, we liked to think that we lived in more enlightened times. It was a century of fantastic strides in medicine and technology with new treatments and preventative vaccines, cinema, television, air travel, the moon landing, mobile phones for virtually everyone, and the advent of the internet. It was a century that saw the spread of democracy and strides forward in equality.

And yet two horrific world wars and various other atrocities dragged us back to the dark ages.

The Nazis’ anti-Semitic genocide of the 1930s and 40s’ shakes us to the core, not least because it encompasses all the cruelties we associate with the ancient world – a conquering power’s enslavement, torture and murder of defenceless civilians, and the cheapness of life – and transports them to the modern age.

Never again, Europe vowed in 1945.

Yet in the 1990s, war raged in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, when the beastly policy of ‘ethnic cleansing’ employed by the perpetrators had echoes of the Holocaust. The atrocity at Srebrenica, in July 1995, is etched on our memories. More than 8,300 men and boys were massacred by Serbian paramilitaries, simply for being Muslim.

Stalin’s death camps in the ‘50s, the mass suffering in India, Palestine, Vietnam, Cambodia and Rwanda and the racist persecution of apartheid South Africa all postdate the Holocaust.

Yesterday marked the 77th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the largest Nazi death camp. Every year on this day Holocaust Memorial Day takes place.

This evening we show our solidarity with the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, alongside the millions of other people killed under Nazi persecution and in subsequent genocides.

Most were ordinary people like us and our families – doctors, teachers, lawyers, businesspeople, accountants, plumbers, carpenters, unskilled labourers, housewives, students . . . . little children. Like us, they had their own dreams. Like us they shared meals with family and jokes with friends.

The roots of the Holocaust lay in prejudice, which grew like a cancer into the ultimate expression of man’s inhumanity to man.

And here and now, in 2022, prejudice remains a sad fact of daily life, with social media often the weapon of choice, spreading poison virtually unchecked.

Whether displaying misogyny, racism, religious intolerance or homophobia, these keyboard warriors treat their fellow human beings with contempt, delighting in the fear and upset they cause safe behind their wall of anonymity. A characteristic is that they often use language that degrades and dehumanises their targets – sound familiar?

All of this is why decent, kind, thoughtful people – the vast but often silent majority – can never rest in the battle to uphold civilised standards of behaviour.

And we in Shropshire play our small but significant part. In my travels around the county as High Sheriff, I’ve met thousands of people. Many work for organisations, or volunteer for charities, that exist solely to make life better for their fellow citizens.

Those struggling with physical and mental health, poverty and deprivation, are given a helping hand by complete strangers, showing genuine care and compassion. Kindness rather than cruelty – the polar opposite of the Holocaust.

Education, as ever, lights the path to a better world. It is why the lesson of the Holocaust must always be taught. And why Holocaust Memorial Day must forever remain on the calendar.’