The High Sheriff of Shropshire

The High Sheriff of Shropshire

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March 2022

Heading down the home straight

2nd March 2022: I visited Ironbridge to see the aftermath of the recent floods and was so impressed by the response of the community and Telford & Wrekin Council.

I joined Shropshire’s Lord Lieutenant Anna Turner, Telford & Wrekin Mayor Amrik Jhawar, council member for Ironbridge Carolyn Healy and the council’s highways and engineering chief Adam Brookes, for a tour of the affected areas.

Over the years, Ironbridge has regularly flooded but in recent years there has been a catalogue of devastating flooding in the Gorge. Now, though, with strategic planning and state-of-the-art flood defences, the latest flooding has largely been alleviated.

The flood waters came up to 6.6m, luckily just short of the 7m that the defence barriers can hold back.

We were all so impressed by not only everything that Adam Brookes and the council have done to alleviate the flood damage, but also the resilience of a number of the businesses, some of whose owners we met.

We met Nigel Byard, who runs Ironbridge Antiques, Arts & Crafts. During the prelude to the flood, he and others were working 15 hours a day to jack up all the antique displays on pallets and to sandbag the building.

Scott Jones of Ironbridge Interiors explained how they had adapted their building for flood damage, including creating sumps within the showroom floor.

We also spoke to Keith Hicken of Abode. He has seen many floods over the years and showed the high-water mark from one, 20 years or so ago. He had absolutely nothing but praise for the council for both its flood defence system and resurfacing of the road and moving the centre line to maximise the effect of the flood barriers.

This was another example of a community coming together in adversity and acting positively rather than simply accepting their fate.

Surveying sandbags left over from the floods in the company of Lord-Lieutenant Anna Turner.

5th March 2022: The tourism industry is so important to Shropshire’s economy and there have been great strides over the past year in trying to provide a more co-ordinated approach to attracting visitors.

I attended a meeting at Theatre Severn to discuss the first draft of the county’s new Destination Tourist Management Plan.

The meeting was organised by Andrea Fox, the Culture and Tourism Manager at Shropshire Council, with presentations given by tourism consultants Melanie Sinsicle and Katrina Kerr.

Shropshire Council has not had a tourist plan since 2017, so this is very much a move in the right direction.

The plan provides a template for a new ongoing tourist strategy. Shropshire is a most wonderful county but does not have a trophy tourist centrepiece as some counties do.

There are the Ironbridge Gorge Museums, some wonderful towns such as the medieval county town of Shrewsbury, Ludlow with its fabulous food and antiques culture, Bridgnorth and Oswestry amongst others. There is also some stunning countryside, particularly the South Shropshire hills and the lakes at Ellesmere. The Severn, the longest river in England, runs through Shropshire and we also have wonderful network of canals.

The Destination Management Plan aims to look holistically at all of Shropshire’s offering. It works on the basis that there is probably not a single entity to attract people for a whole week but if Shropshire can offer a cocktail of different attractions/destinations, it can substantially grow its tourism offering.

One of the most significant benefits of the scheme is that there is a fully budgeted PR campaign using a third-party PR agency to promote Shropshire in both the national and regional press – and this has already borne some fruit.

I summed up the meeting, thanking Andrea, Katrina and Melanie for the report to date. However, I made the point that this was work in progress and that it was imperative that those key members in the room took it forward into a deliverable business plan with an economic reality to benefit us all.

I also stressed the importance of both councils, Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin, working closely together.

It is satisfying that Shropshire’s tourism plan has moved a long way over the past 10 months.

10th March 2022: RAF Cosford Museum is one of Shropshire’s tourism treasures – as well as a great educational resource.

It draws 450,000 visitors a year and there are exciting plans aimed at raising that to 750,000.

These were outlined at tonight’s launch of the RAF Cosford Museum Midlands Development Programme, which Clare and I attended.

The museum complex houses 55,000 objects and offers a fascinating day out. As well as aircraft enthusiasts and lovers of history, it is of tremendous value to schools.

The attraction can draw on a large population based within an hour’s drive and there are great road and rail links – the M54 and Cosford rail station on the main line to Birmingham and beyond.

Cosford already engages well with the community with several events including its annual air show. The development project will build on this over the next few years.

It was great to see Shaun Davies, Leader of Telford & Wrekin Council, and its chief executive David Sidaway at the launch. Telford & Wrekin Council certainly recognises the potential of Cosford to be a jewel in our tourism crown.

Guests at the launch of RAF Cosford Museum’s Midlands Development Programme.

12th March 2022: The welfare of our Armed Services personnel, past and present, is an issue I’ve done my best to promote over the past year. So, I was delighted to attend the seventh annual Armed Forces Match Day at Shrewsbury Town. There was a guided tour around the military fan park, a chance to chat to representatives of the military charities present and to watch the match – unfortunately Town lost to Oxford 2-1, but you can’t have it all. Well done to the organisers, Shrewsbury Town in the Community, headed by chief executive Jamie Edwards and Shropshire Council Armed Forces Covenant lead Sean McCarthy respectively.

Once again, mental health charities were at the fore, with wellbeing often an issue for those leaving the services after many years. It is reassuring to see that so much support is available.

Organisations that attended the Match Day were SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity, Royal British Legion, Combat Stress, Help for Heroes, Walking With The Wounded, MOD Veterans UK, Shropshire Council Outreach Project, The Rifles, RAF Shawbury, the Army Careers Centre, Army West Midlands Brigade Outreach Engagement Team and 101 Theatre Support Battalion REME.

The photograph shows the match ball being delivered by RAF Shawbury.

19th March 2022: I attended the first Caldecott Arts Festival in Whitchurch along with our Lord-Lieutenant Anna Turner and North Shropshire MP Helen Morgan. The festival, to celebrate the work of 19th century children’s book illustrator Randolph Caldecott, was a day long series of events around the town and was the idea of Dr Norma Raynes.

At the festival’s heart was a superb exhibition of illustrations by 1,000 local children and young people, aged four to 18. It was curated by Wem artist Sarah Evans, who challenged the young artists to draw something reflecting the natural world. Sarah then traced the work onto silk and coloured it. The result was 18 large canvasses with 30 illustrations on each, unveiled at the festival. Wonderful! Well done to all those who took part. The challenge, now, is to find a permanent home to display this largescale work.

Other festival activities around the town included a children’s ballet dancing display and a Schools’ Out Club.

Famous in his day, Randolph Caldecott is honoured today by the Caldecott Society in his native Cheshire, while in the USA the annual Caldecott Medal is awarded for best children’s illustration. Today’s festival recognised that he lived in Whitchurch for six years in the 1860s.

This festival was a tremendous idea, honouring a man who, while no longer a household name, made a huge contribution to the art of children’s book illustration in Victorian times and inspired generations of artists that followed.

23rd March 2022: I attended Ludlow Charity Race Day, which raised more than £100,000 for Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust.

The Trust is the custodian of 35 scheduled ancient monuments and listed buildings and operates 10 museums situated in the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site; including Coalbrookdale, which is regarded by many, as

being one of the most important historic landscapes in the world. It was here in 1709 that Abraham Darby first began smelting iron using coke as a fuel instead of charcoal. The innovation that radiated from this small

Shropshire village changed the way people live, work and communicate across the globe.

The Trust’s Fund for the Future fundraising appeal will ensure that

the history of Coalbrookdale is protected for future generations.

To date £650,000 has been raised with the aim to raise another £350,000 over the next year to hit the £1million target, which will be doubled by a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant.

There was a lunch, charity auction and raffle before an afternoon of exciting racing.

27th March 2022: My High Sheriff’s Legal Service was held in Shrewsbury School Chapel with 200 invited guests.

This was the chance to give thanks for the Queen’s Peace in the presence of leading regional figures in the judiciary, the police, visiting High Sheriffs and our Lord-Lieutenant Anna Turner.

As my shrieval year draws to a close, it also gave me the chance to thank all those who serve our wonderful county. I’ve met so many volunteers and key workers over the past 12 months, from so many different charities and organisations, who all make such a difference to people’s lives. I was delighted some of them were able to join us at the service and reception afterwards in Alington Hall.

Today’s service gave me the chance to speak about my year in office. I reflected on the beauty of Shropshire, the many delights of living here but also the social issues we face – such as county lines drug dealing and domestic violence – which are so often hidden from general view. Many of victims are children and young people. It’s been my privilege over the year to meet some inspirational people who are trying to help.

I also touched on tourism – the lifeblood of Shropshire – and the excellent new initiatives I’ve been able to get involved in during the past 12 months, as the county fights back from the effects of the pandemic on health, the economy and wider society.

Many thanks to the Bishop of Shrewsbury, Rt Reverend Sarah Bullock who delivered a wonderful sermon on the theme of neighbourliness, cautioning that we should beware of judging strangers solely on appearance, as we all have untold personal stories.

Prayers were led by my High Sheriff’s Chaplain, Reverend Christine Simpson, there were Bible readings by the Rt Hon Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division, and my son Marcus Morris-Eyton.

The Shrewsbury School Choir sang St Francis’ Prayer; O Thou, The Central Orb; Psalm 150 and the Magnificat from St Luke.

Together we all sang the hymns Love divine, all loves excelling; Dear Lord and Father of mankind; Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy, and I vow to thee my country.

Many thanks to the Lord-Lieutenant and the High Sheriff in Designation Selina Graham – who succeeds me next month – for their contributions to the service. Many thanks also to Shrewsbury School Chaplain Reverend Andy Keulemans, for his warm welcome.

The collection was in aid of Shrewsbury Street Pastors, who do such wonderful work supporting those who need help on the streets of the county town late at night.

Below is my speech in full, which captures my reflections on the past year.

My theme for the year has been to champion all of Shropshire.

Ours is a beautiful and largely unspoilt county, unknown by many throughout the rest of the country. It is England’s largest landlocked county – yet with a population of less than half a million. Large parts are sparsely populated.

Unlike most shire counties, Shropshire has no city.

Its wonderful landscape, attractive market towns, and picturesque villages, with their wealth of historic architecture, suggest a rural idyll.

However, Shropshire is not without its problems.

Covid has made life difficult for us all, particularly those less advantaged.

Problems faced by a significant minority, so often, are around social deprivation, mental health, drugs and alcohol addiction. These have been a recurring themes during my shrieval year.

When I took office, I had no idea that Shropshire had 14 county lines drugs gangs and the Borough of Telford a further eight.

So often the targets of these gangs are young people of school age, sometimes struggling with education, or simply our modern world. They are lured by the temptation of drugs, mainly cannabis, and the relatively easy money that can flow from relatively low-level drug dealing.

For some, it is a downward spiral into hard drugs and crime; others, with help from charities and the police, are able to see a better future.

Many of these people, both young and old, need hope and the belief that there is a better life out there for them.

The police and the charity sector work closely together to both provide support and to create a future for these young people. Ideally working with them from a young age, perhaps in their schools and colleges.

There are a number of organisations that can help in this sector. In turn we all need to support and help them.

A perfect example of this help is Bright Star Boxing in Shifnal, run by Joe Lockley. Joe is an inspiring man who had been through difficult times himself. Bright Star Boxing provides a boxing academy for these young people to, initially, vent their frustrations in the boxing ring. But, crucially, they are also mentored, providing a vital support network.

Virtually all of Joe’s mentors have been through a journey, often with drugs, alcohol, some suicide attempts, and others prison. They are able to mentor the young people from within – with the powerful benefit of bitter personal experience – rather than being a lofty outsider.

Domestic abuse is another social evil that so often, rather like an iceberg, lurks beneath the surface of everyday life. It is so often out of sight.

Indeed, part of the challenge is that many of the victims are understandably reluctant to come forward to give evidence against the perpetrators – through fear, economic dependence, the overriding desire to keep a family together, or a combination of all three – and so feel trapped in a life of terror.

Our police force and judiciary do all they can to protect those who suffer at the hands of these sadistic bullies – and charities such as women’s refuges also perform vital work.

After all, every one of us has a right to feel safe in our own home.

Charities and those operating in the third sector are absolutely vital, particularly so with public finances under such pressure

These include so many organisations and charities offering children’s services, homelessness and mental health support amongst others.

Shropshire and the wider county embracing Telford & Wrekin has so much to offer, both to those within and outside.

In my year of office, I have worked with Shropshire Council who have commissioned a Business Destination Plan for Tourism and now appointed an excellent PR agency to promote the county.

Shropshire has so much to offer:

  • the medieval county town of Shrewsbury.
  • Ironbridge Gorge Museum, a World Heritage site.
  • South Shropshire hills.
  • Our beautiful market towns such, as Ludlow, Bridgnorth and Ellesmere amongst others.
  • A raft of outdoor activities such as walking, riding, camping, glamping, canoeing in our wonderful and beautiful countryside

Lastly, I would like to thank all those who give so freely to making our county better. Whether these are the judiciary, including our resident judges, magistrates, and the probation service.

The emergency services; including the police, fire, army, RAF, ambulance, the charity sector and, of course, the NHS who have been under such pressure over the last two years.

We are all truly grateful to all those unsung heroes.

I believe that the High Sheriff role is as relevant today as it has ever been with the ability to be able to connect, nurture and thank all those who give so freely to those who need help in our wonderful county.

Finally, I would like to say a heart-warming thank you to Madeleine Butcher, my Under Sheriff who has organised today with meticulous precision. Sadly, recently health has not been kind to Madeleine and she has not able to be with us today. In your absence, I cannot thank you enough. You have been the perfect Under Sheriff both to me and the previous seven High Sheriffs you have served. Madeleine is now stepping down and the role will be taken over by Sallie- Anne O’Byrne as from April.

8th April 2022: I discharge my final duty as High Sheriff of Shropshire 2021-22 by handing over to my successor Selina Graham, in a service at St John the Baptist Church, Willey.

May I thank all of you who have supported me so wonderfully during my year and made the experience so rewarding. I should like to wish Selina every success for her shrieval year.