In mid-March I was able to reveal that I am to be the new High Sheriff of Merseyside, taking over from Nigel Lanceley, DL. It is a role I am both excited and apprehensive about – I think it affords me an invaluable opportunity to bring people together.
High Sheriff is a title with a huge amount of history attached to it. It dates back to Saxon times and is one of the oldest offices of the land, aside from the Crown itself, and I have been appointed by Her Majesty the Queen, in her capacity as Duke of Lancaster I will be taking on this role during the Platinum Jubilee year which will add even more significance and combines with Knowsley’s year as borough of culture.
Whilst the role is an ancient one, it is not some stuffy ceremonial function. For the next 12 months I will be engaging with all sections of our communities. I want to use my background and expertise in business to reach out to as many parts of Merseyside as possible – and I particularly want to engage with young people.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the old ‘normal’ would often see us exist in silos – businesses, local authorities, community organisations would all do their own thing, only coming together on a need-to basis.
That mindset was swept away by the pandemic. It is true to say we never know what we are capable of until we are required to rise to a challenge. And rise to it we did. COVID-19 has caused and continues to cause suffering and disruption to many people.
But it also highlighted our capacity for resilience and our willingness to work together for the common good. In the midst of the crisis, I saw so many businesses, who were often struggling themselves, reach out to help the most vulnerable members of our communities.
Here in Knowsley, the council played a critical role in co-ordinating the response to COVID-19. This required liaising with business and community organisations. To give just one example, the way our local community pharmacies pivoted towards the public health challenge was awe-inspiring.
The big question now, I guess, is how we move on from the pandemic? Will we return to the old normal or will we embrace a new normal where the spirit of support and co-operation continues? It’s early days but the signs are good.
It seems unbelievable to say out loud but Europe once again finds itself under the shadow of war. Events in Ukraine are heart-breaking but already we are seeing an amazing response here in Merseyside, with businesses looking to offer support to the people of Ukraine and countless households offering to take in refugees.
That renewed sense of community is why I am so excited to be the High Sheriff of Merseyside for the next 12 months. Since I made the announcement, I am already being inundated with offers of support and requests for me to come out and see for myself what is happening locally.
In the next few weeks, for example, I will be going to St Helens to join the celebrations for a World War II veteran who will be turning 100. I’m also looking forward to utilising my knowledge and contacts in the business world to help local companies build bridges to local communities.
Again, I know there is now a growing appetite among businesses to play a fuller role in their local communities. If I can use the High Sheriff role to tap into that potential, it could be a catalyst to unleash something that will be so powerful and transformative.
In recent days I have been to a community event in Knowsley to discuss what community organisations need from businesses. There are some fabulous partnerships already established across Merseyside, especially in Knowsley under the ‘Better Together’ model. And we can do so much more.
One of my jobs as High Sheriff will be to support the Lord-Lieutenant during Royal visits and on other appropriate ceremonious occasions. We know that members of the Royal Family are keen to meet with third sector and community organisations, to find out what is happening on the ground, so it’s important that those connections happen.
A focus on young people will be especially important to me over the next 12 months. During the two years of the pandemic, they saw their world turned upside down. At a time in their lives when they should have been forging new friendships and relationships and discovering the world, they found much of it shut down.
We must work hard to help this generation. As chief executive of Knowsley Chamber we have been working with local schools and colleges, and I have been privileged to support the Future Female Leaders Programme at Halewood Academy and work with local businesses through the INS-pire Academy at All Saints Catholic High School. I aim to continue supporting as many young people as I can.
The High Sheriff job description is loose, hence my apprehension. But I am also seeing that as a huge opportunity to define my own role. Coming from a business and commercial background I want to make the most of that to bring people together.
By nature of their Royal appointment, a High Sheriff is well-placed to honour and recognise the achievements of members of the community who go above and beyond the call of duty to protect their communities, the wider public and maintain the reputation of their county. I have High Sheriff certificates that I will be able to present to the unsung heroes within small charity or voluntary groups who have delivered outstanding service to their cause. So many people deserve recognition for the unbelievable work they do. I want to say to people ‘come and talk to me and tell me what you are doing’.
For the last two years we have all embarked on a journey we never expected to have to make. That has been profound on both a physical and emotional level. And we have seen how that resilience and spirit of co-operation can produce incredible outcomes.
So much good work is being done and there remains so much unrealised opportunity. If we can tap into that even more, then we can create a society that is fairer and better. And we will all learn to understand each other a little bit more.