Inspiration to brighten the shorter days
2nd October 2021: I was delighted to attend, along with my wife Clare, the St John Ambulance Service of Rededication and Thanksgiving for Shropshire. The venue was St Peter and St Paul’s Church in Wem. The County Priory Group Shropshire provide such an important service and it was a pleasure and privilege to support this wonderful occasion.
10th October 2021: Today is World Homeless Day. My thoughts turned to those rough sleepers I encountered during my visit Shrewsbury Ark.
Homelessness is a crisis that is very much amongst us. You only have to count the sleeping bags in doorways to appreciate that.
Both Clare and I have paid separate visits to Shrewsbury Ark, to witness at first-hand how the charity is helping those living on the streets to try to turn their lives around.
It’s important to appreciate that those unfortunate enough to be without a roof over their heads were not always in their current situation. Addiction to drink or drugs, or both, is often a common factor but something has led them to where they are now and it is sometimes something quite traumatic.
Many are victims of circumstances. Family breakdown often plays a part. Some, too, have learning difficulties but, for one reason or another, haven’t always had the help they needed.
Though appearances – and occasionally behaviour – may frighten people off, many are often beneath it all, well-mannered, gentle souls.
World Homeless Day was inaugurated on October 10 last year, to throw a global spotlight on the tragedy of those living without shelter, to encourage more people to get involved in helping.
I was keen to highlight the issue and am grateful to the Shropshire Star newspaper for giving me a prominent platform to speak about it in yesterday’s edition.
11th October 2021: I had one of my regular meetings with David Sidaway, Chief Executive of Telford & Wrekin Council, when we discussed a wide range of issues of interest to the borough.
12th October 2021: I have long thought that Market Drayton can make more of its association with dairy giant Müller to raise the town’s profile nationally.
I am sure the town could benefit more from having such a household name based there.
To that end, this afternoon I met with Müller CEO Justin Cook to explore how the company’s widely-recognised brand might draw more visitors to see what else Market Drayton has to offer.
I believe there is a natural synergy between Müller and Market Drayton – the healthy food industry allied to the healthy environment of a quintessentially English rural market town and the lovely countryside surrounding it.
I have always thought that Market Drayton has fantastic tourism potential with its wonderful period architecture, rich history, the Shropshire Union Canal, its street market, the annual Ginger and Spice Festival and the pretty villages and lovely countryside on its doorstep.
The challenge is getting visitors and day-trippers there. Market Drayton is not widely known. By contrast Müller is very widely known, selling its product range into nearly 75 per cent of all UK households and producing a third of all yoghurt eaten in the UK.
I was greatly encouraged by my meeting with Mr Cook, who is one of the country’s top industry leaders.
He totally takes up the importance to both Müller and the local community of working together. He sees that the Müller name has the potential to benefit Market Drayton in general.
In a practical sense, he would be prepared to envisage some form of community scheme whereby his labour force helps with local projects.
Müller Yoghurts and Desserts already makes a big contribution to the prosperity of north Shropshire, employing 1,000 people in Market Drayton, which is the company’s UK and Ireland headquarters.
The company has plans to invest £100million in the plant, which incorporates Müller Yoghurts, transport business Culina and an operation to repackage the company’s products for supermarkets in their ‘own brand’ name.
The private family business, established in Bavaria, southern Germany, 125 years ago, moved into Market Drayton in the late 1980s, attracted to the town by its proximity to a large concentration of dairy farms with a ready milk supply.
Mr Cook took over at Müller in May this year and has more than 25 years commercial, supplier chain and general manger experience at giants like Kraft, Mondelez International and Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE).
He is one of 15 special advisers recruited to a government task force to secure food supplies between now and Christmas in the face of a delivery crisis caused by a lorry driver shortage.
I left the meeting greatly encouraged.
14th October 2021: There was an online seminar this morning hosted by a terrific Shropshire social enterprise/CIC which is raising its national profile. PEGS – Parental Education Growth Support – helps parents who are being abused by their children.
Its founding director Michelle John is truly inspirational. She certainly inspired a fellow High Sheriff in far off Devon. Lady Studholme, who was among 174 who logged into the seminar, emailed me out of the blue. She wrote: “I have spent this morning listening to a remarkable seminar on an organisation based in Shrewsbury called PEGS.
“It was started in 2019 by Michelle John, who has a background in family law and domestic abuse, and when she experienced Child to Parent Abuse (CPA), she set up this organisation. She is absolutely remarkable and has made connections and collaborations across the country, and listening to those she helps, supports, guides, encourages, it is clear that not only what she started is much needed in an uncomfortable area of abuse, she has been and is raising this profile across the country very effectively.”
Having chatted to Michelle online and in person, I heartily agree. She is doing remarkable work in an under-publicised area.
PEGS’ latest initiative will see support for parents who are abused by their children stepped up thanks to the launch of a national covenant.
PEGS has partnered with the Department for Work and Pensions to create the CPA (Child to Parent Abuse) Covenant, in a bid to ensure organisations are able to effectively support both staff and service users.
Michelle says the main aim is to ensure that employers include CPA in their policies and practices around domestic abuse, as well as bringing the often-hidden issue to the attention of more organisations across the UK.
14th October 2021: This afternoon, Clare and I attended a formal occasion, the Warwickshire Legal Service, which was held at St Mary’s Church, Warwick.
15th October 2021: Clare and I attended the Herefordshire Shrieval Service this evening, held in the awe-inspiring Hereford Cathedral.
16th October 2021: I attended the unveiling of a memorial stone to William Griffiths, who fought at the Battle of Waterloo more than 200 years ago. Today’s ceremony was at St Mary’s Church at Moreton, near Newport, where William was born.
The ceremony was conducted by Rev Alison Hudson, who has recently joined St Mary’s.
The recognition for William was thanks to Shropshire War Memorials Association, which researched soldiers of the Coldstream Guards who fought at Waterloo in June 1815 and are in unmarked graves.
Shropshire branch of the Coldstream Guards Association provided funding as did The Waterloo Association.
William joined the Coldstream Guards in 1804 and, being unable to read or write, signed the enlistment form with an X.
He was discharged in 1818 and returned to Newport to work as a farm labourer in the Outwoods area. He died at Forton in 1867 and his daughter, Elizabeth Forrester, who was present at his death, arranged for him to be buried at St Mary’s Church in Moreton. His details are in the church burial book but the exact grave cannot be found.
Waterloo, in Belgium, was the site of the decisive battle – arguably the most important in 19th century British history – at which the Duke of Wellington’s army defeated the forces of Napoleon Bonaparte.
18th October 2021: Clare and I were delighted to be guests at the Rotary Club of Wem and District 41st Charter Celebration this evening. I was guest speaker at the dinner, held at The Old Rectory country hotel.
Wem is a lively town with a ‘can do, let’s get on with it’ attitude. The Rotary Club is very much a part of that, having done great work in the community and beyond over the past four decades.
20th October 2021: Clare and I visited RAF Cosford where we were hosted by Station Commander, Group Captain Gareth Bryant. After a tour of the site, we enjoyed lunch in the Officers’ Mess.
RAF Cosford is a major part of the Defence College of Technical Training (DCTT). It is at the centre of the RAF’s mission to deliver flexible, affordable, modern and effective technical training that meets the needs of the UK’s Armed Forces now and into the future.
RAF apprenticeships delivered at RAF Cosford were recently recognised as ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted.
RAF Cosford is also home to the popular RAF Museum and the world-renowned Cosford Air Show.
Aside from its contribution to the nation’s defence, RAF Cosford is a significant local employer and a great asset to the community.
21st October 2021: I was absolutely delighted to make presentations to the winners at the inaugural Shropshire’s Outstanding Community Awards.
This initiative celebrates the very best of Shropshire. Communities from across the county put themselves up for recognition by the scheme – and the definition of community was broad, from a town or village to a housing development, street or block of flats.
There were joint winners in the Town section – Church Stretton and Wellington Town Council. Large Village winner was Belle Vue and Coleham, in Shrewsbury. Small Village category winner was Edgmond.
Community Organisation winner was West Mercia Search & Rescue, with the runner-up award going to Park Lane Centre in Woodside, Telford.
Winners received a plaque and £1,000 to be spent on something to benefit the community and runners up received a certificate and £500.
SOC celebrates community spirit, the collective effort that adds to the pleasure of living in a place for its residents. Taking a pride in your town, street or village’s appearance is part of it. The initiative is perhaps 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 was wonderful to celebrate such achievements at a very upbeat evening at The Engine Shop at Ironbridge Museum.
It was a double celebration, with the launch of the Community Foundation in Shropshire.
The Community Foundation has been making grants available to Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin-based charitable, voluntary and social enterprise organisations for the last four years and, so far, has awarded more than £1million to benefit Shropshire and Telford communities. At conservative estimates more than 50,000 local residents have benefited from a Foundation grant.
The Foundation in our county has been administered from neighbouring Staffordshire, as Shropshire has not had its own community foundation for many years.
However, a new local Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin based steering committee, equivalent to trustees, has now been set up. The plan is to build a significant sustainable endowment to benefit people in the county in perpetuity, charity networking groups, and initiatives to promote closer collaboration and partnership working between civil society organisations.
Planned initiatives for the next 12 months include:
Vital Signs – analysis into the hidden needs of local communities across Shropshire, including through in-person consultations and focus groups.
Deep Impact – an impact analysis of how individuals across the county benefit from grant funding, from the Foundation and others, and the impact it has on their lives as individuals, rather than just on the organisations funded.
Shropshire’s Outstanding Community – the continuation of the competition to promote community cohesion and to recognise some of the fantastic work that goes on across the county
Revitalising Trusts – a Charity Commission-backed initiative that has been running for three years, but is new to Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin, to bring dormant and moribund charitable funds back into use, for the benefit of the county.
Ambassador’s Scheme – to appoint and recognise people across the county who can help fulfil these aims.
It is an exciting development for the county and one which has the potential to help a great many people over the coming years.
22nd October 2021: Whilst in Shrewsbury I was delighted to meet up with ladies from Lingen Davies Cancer Fund at their stall in the Square. This charity has made such a difference since it was launched in 1979 by the then Mayor of Shrewsbury Bernard Lingen and local accountant Frank Davies. It has contributed around £18million in today’s prices to improve cancer services for the people of Shropshire, Telford and Mid Wales. The charity estimates around 75,000 people have had their cancer treatment and care improved as a result. Please keep up the great work.
22nd October 2021: I had the very great pleasure of launching the annual Charity Christmas Card Shop at St Mary’s Church Shrewsbury with the town’s Mayor.
The Charity Christmas Card Shop has been a fixture in the town for many years, raising a tremendous amount for a wide range of great causes. It is wonderful to see it back in operation after last year’s November lockdown put paid to it.
There are 33 charities, local and national, involved this year. The shop is open Monday to Saturday, 10.15am to 4pm, until December 4.
Charities selling cards are Hope House & Tŷ Gobaith, The Harry Johnson Trust, Severn Hospice, Headway Shropshire, Lingen Davies Cancer Fund, Rea Valley Riding for the Disabled, Sight Loss Shropshire – SVAB, Shropshire Cat Rescue, SDCS, Midlands Air Ambulance Charity, Signal, West Shropshire Talking Newspaper, League of Friends – Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, Shropshire Rural Communities Charity, Haycop Conservation Group – Broseley, Shropshire, Guide Dogs UK, Age UK, MND Association, National Trust, Save the Children UK, Oxfam Great Britain, Diabetes UK, Epilepsy Research UK, Self Help Africa, Marie Curie UK, Parkinson’s UK, RNLI, RSPB Love Nature, Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, IWA – The Inland Waterways Association. Derwen College is not selling cards but is providing volunteers to help run the shop.
24th October 2012: Clare and I attended the Ellesmere Civic Service at Blessed Virgin St Mary’s Church.
25th October 2012: I attended a Business Breakfast to promote the Armed Forces Covenant, at the Army Reserve Centre in Copthorne, Shrewsbury.
The Covenant is a charity aimed at supporting ex-servicemen as they leave the forces.
These days army personnel tend to serve for a relatively short period – it is now rare for somebody to serve 20 years in the armed forces; there are fewer career soldiers.
These former soldiers are often from less advantaged areas and come out of the army with little or no training or skills for the wider world. Their problems are generally with employment, housing and adapting to civilian life in general.
It is an important cause – there are potentially 10 million people encompassed by the wider Covenant. This includes not only ex-members of the forces but also widows and widowers and families who have military connections.
They have various fundraising events. There are 119 businesses supplying funds to the charity, at present, and the very well-attended breakfast aimed to build on that.
Phil Sinclair, Regional Employer Engagement Director with the Ministry of Defence, gave a presentation covering what the Armed Forces Covenant is, how it relates to business and how employers can benefit from Partnering with Defence.
Sonia Roberts, CEO of Landau, was the keynote speaker. Landau, the supported employment and training charity based in Wellington, Telford, is closely involved in helping provide job opportunities for ex-servicemen.
28th October 2012: Shropshire Youth Support Trust (SYST) does superb work in helping young people, from largely disadvantaged backgrounds, into employment.
I met with Chief Executive Richard Nuttall, Chairman Robert Bland, one of the scheme’s beneficiaries Alex Leighton, Community Enterprise
Co-ordinator Sarah Evans and Marketing Executive Jason Fullwood.
SYST was set up about six years ago and is based in Telford. There is a 60-strong pool of mentors with a track record of business success, plus six permanent employees.
The focus is on helping young people, broadly between 16 and 30.
SYST has helped over 200 people.
Alex is one such person. Through the mentoring of SYST, she started her own embroidery business, Threadway Embroidery, in July this year and is now self-employed working from home. She works with other small businesses and private clients to produce workwear and custom gifts.
SYST’s annual running costs are around £120,000 a year. I agreed to investigate potential sources of funding.
It is another inspirational organisation in Shropshire – of which we have many – that exist to help people to better lives.
29th October 2012: Daniel Bailey is another inspirational unsung hero, of which Shropshire seems to have so many.
Dan, from Whitchurch, is currently serving in the Army but is due to retire next year after 12 years’ service. He served two tours of Afghanistan, became a physical training instructor and lightweight boxing champion for his regiment, The Second Battalion, The Rifles.
He went on to become a successful coach, working at national level with England Boxing.
He set up The Fort Boxing Club in what appears to be an old engineering/garage workshop in Bronington, near Whitchurch.
He runs the club every Friday with two groups. The first is for children aged between 7 and 12. The older is for young people aged 13 to 18.
The children in the younger group are from a wide range of schools including Prees, Whixall, Hanmer, Bronington, Whitchurch and Wem.
Clare and I went along last Friday to meet Dan and present awards to the youngsters he coaches and mentors. Mayor of Whitchurch, John Sinnott, also attended.
The Fort Boxing Club taps into a recurring theme that I have encountered on my travels this year – that of community-minded people helping to give young people a focus and purpose.
It was so gratifying to see the wonderful joy that all of these children gained. They incorporated a wide breadth of personalities, from the super confident to the withdrawn and relatively shy. However, they all bought into what Dan and his three assistants were doing.
If Dan wants to build on his superb work, he will eventually need bigger premises and hopes to move to Whitchurch.
I have subsequently spoken to the dynamic Joe Lockley of Bright Star Boxing, based in Shifnal, about The Fort Boxing Club. I was so impressed by Joe and his set up when
I visited Bright Star recently and Dan would certainly benefit from forging links in some way with him.
PICS 19-23: An enjoyable evening at The Fort Boxing Club, near Whitchurch.
30th October 2012: Clare and I popped in to a Children’s Halloween Fancy Dress Party at Sambrook Village Hall. Around 20 children had a wonderful time and there were drinks, snacks, games and a disco.
It is yet another example of a community being able to come together to socialise because of a vibrant village hall. Congratulations to the hard-working committee members of Sambrook Village Hall for organising such a lovely, safe event for the local children.
31th October 2012: Clare and I attended the opening of the Samaritans new charity shop in Crown Street, Wellington yesterday.
The opening ceremony was performed by Deputy Mayor of Wellington Dorothy Roberts.
The new shop is a fantastic facility, on two floors and with a 10-year lease to give the charity security.
Nicky, the Branch Director, thanked supporters for making the new shop possible, including Peter Nixon of Wellington Rotary and Peter Taylor of Ironbridge Rotary, whose clubs fitted out the premises. The shop is being run by Anne with Andy as branch treasurer (Samaritans use only first names).
I’ve highlighted the work of Samaritans before and am pleased to do so again. They provide a vital lifeline to people who are struggling with a personal crisis, providing a sympathetic ear and a caring friend.
Income from the shop is important. Nationally Samaritans takes 10,000 calls a day, with younger callers now using the ‘web chat’ facility. This is such a vital service, particularly when mental health problems, which affect all areas of society, are increasing. Samaritans’ volunteers – around 80 in Telford & Wrekin – are amongst society’s unsung heroes.