I’m just a couple of weeks into my year-long term as High Sheriff of Merseyside and it has already offered a fascinating, and often moving, insight into a group of people without whom our society would be much poorer – volunteers.
In so many areas of life there is an army of volunteers working away quietly in the background to perform tasks we take for granted and I am overwhelmed by the dedication of such people who offer their time, skills and commitment to work without any monetary reward.
My installation as High Sheriff took place at Knowsley Hall in April. I have been appointed by Her Majesty the Queen, and it’s a huge honour to take up this office which dates back to Saxon times. The ceremony was attended by family, friends and many of the people I have worked with and have met in my professional life over the last 33 years in Merseyside.
There are a number of responsibilities that come with the office, including working with the visiting High Court Judges when they come to Liverpool on the Circuit, and supporting the emergency services, such as Police, Mersey Fire & Rescue, Ambulance, and the probation and prison service.
While carrying out my duties over the next year I will be accompanied by two exceptionally bright young people, Sophie and Josh, police cadets who were selected for the roles from 19 applicants. Merseyside Police values the cadets greatly, and these young people will enjoy learning new skills and doing something exciting and worthwhile volunteering with the police.
At the ceremony, presided over by members of the Shrievalty and Commissioners – The Earl of Derby and Colonel Kevin Haigh, I outlined my three key priorities for the year which are to meet and learn from organisations that:
Work with young people to help them achieve their potential
Support mental health and wellbeing
Offer advice and support around domestic abuse.
I also want to put a focus on environmental projects as the drive towards net zero carbon becomes such an important part of our daily lives. In the first couple of weeks I have been reaching out to as many people and groups as possible and I have already attended a number of events.
And at each one I have been to, I really have been struck by how important volunteers are to making sure things run as smoothly as possible.
I was at Liverpool John Lennon Airport to welcome the first Lufthansa flight. This new route will link Liverpool with Frankfurt and, crucially, will offer smooth onward links to more than 220 global destinations. It is a massive boost for the city region economy.
There was a ceremony to welcome the aircraft and it was attended by people from across the city region and also officials from Lufthansa in Germany. They were fascinated by me and my High Sheriff’s hat. They have no equivalent role in Germany.
The event ran smoothly thanks in no small part to an organisation called the Friends of Liverpool Airport. They are all volunteers who love the airport and give their time willingly to support it whenever they can. I was told that, without them, events such as this would necessitate airport staff being taken away from their jobs.
And, once again, I saw the value of volunteers when I attended an event at the Plaza Cinema in Crosby. I had already been busy in Sefton that day visiting the Altcar training camp which helps train military personnel from all over the world.
At the Plaza I met a number of volunteers supporting people with dementia. And it really touched me. Sometimes volunteers are retired people who want to use their skills and experience to give something back. It may be something relating to their own life experience or it may be just a sense of civic duty.
And there are many others who work in full-time jobs and yet still find the time and energy to get out there and give their support to others. I think that is amazing and one of the things I want to do this year is give out awards to some of these unsung heroes. Whole sections of our society would collapse if they weren’t there.
As I have already mentioned, I will be working with the emergency services closely during my term as High Sheriff and in the first couple of weeks I attended a ceremony to give out long service awards to people in Merseyside Police.
Some went to front-line officers in uniform, as you might expect, and other accolades were given to those officers not in uniform but who work with some of the most vulnerable members of society. We also gave awards to civilian staff in the police service without whom the organisation would not be able to function.
Of course, I come to the role with a strong background in business and during the next 12 months I will be also putting a strong focus on business and commerce and how it can be a force for good in our lives.
So I was heartened to see that one of our members at Knowsley Chamber, Roberts Recycling, has seen the renewal of their Queen’s Award for Enterprise. It is a well-deserved honour for a great business and I would urge companies across our region to make sure they apply for the Queen’s Awards.
I am thrilled to have been appointed as High Sheriff of Merseyside and I want to make this role as high profile as I can. I want to use the office to highlight the incredible work that goes on across all sections of society. I will be making sure my “Shrieval hat” will become a familiar site around the city region.