Jim, originally from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, has been a Surrey resident for the past 20 years and lives in Westcott with his wife Cath in the heart of the beautiful Surrey Hills.
What does it mean to be the High Sheriff of Surrey?
“The High Sheriff role goes back over a thousand years but the modern day High Sheriffs are accountable for helping Her Majesty’s judiciary. This includes judges, magistrates, the police, all of the agencies to do with law and order, probations, prisons and so on. However, for the majority of my time, I’m absolutely independent. As High Sheriff, you choose what to do and what to focus on, and that’s a very special part of the role.”
What does a normal day consist of for the High Sheriff?
“There’s no such thing because it differs hugely every day. However, what I try and do throughout the day is give as much time to visiting head teachers, schools, and talking to as many young people as possible.”
How did you come to be the High Sheriff?
“You find out about it five years before you actually assume the role. Every year, a totally independent panel is convened, including the current High Sheriff, the previous High Sheriff and a collection of really excellent representatives of our county. They bring together some of the people they think would best represent the county well, then the current High Sheriff approaches the candidate and proposes the opportunity to them.
What is the best advice for the next High Sheriff?
“You get deluged with very heart-warming requests to help, attend and support. So, the best advice you get as High Sheriff is to have a theme. Have something you are particularly interested in. That is very helpful because it allows you to prioritise the diary and it allows you to make some sort of impression and impact on that theme in the short 12 months. My theme has been the tragic number of permanent exclusions of pupils in schools across Surrey and what happens to them after they’ve been excluded.”
What were you doing before becoming High Sheriff?
“I was officially retired from executive work but I think I became well connected with the Surrey circle when I was Chairman of the University of Surrey, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s a wonderful institution and is doing really well for Surrey. I was also Chairman of the Special Educational Trust at Grafham Grange which looks after children who have emotional and behavioural problems. That was very rewarding as well, hence my educational theme for the year as High Sheriff.”
What’s involved in the High Sheriff’s Youth Award Scheme?
“This is quite unique in the country actually. We’re the only county with their own High Sheriff Youth Awards Scheme, in which I am a trustee. This has been in existence now for well over 25 years and is a wonderful charity. The award scheme supports schemes that help young people stay on the straight-and-narrow and gives them the support they need. It’s an entire year of great enjoyment. Local companies and sponsors allow us to use their premises and we donate around £30-40,000 a year in awards. We have some wonderful volunteers who help us monitor the impact of these schemes very carefully. It is also very well supported by the Surrey County Council and each of the eleven boroughs and districts. They all help to make sure there are flow-through funds to make these awards possible.”
Tell us a bit about the new Surrey venture; The Volunteer Police Cadets
“We’re now just completing our first full year in something called Volunteer Police Cadets in which we’ve had some great success. We now have six units up and running in schools in particularly challenging areas. These are 14-18 year olds who are trained by volunteer police officers and police staff. The cadets decide how they’re going to help their local community. We have over 200 cadets and 40% of them come from disadvantaged backgrounds. It’s a remarkable success story to date. Our vision is to have one in every one of our eleven boroughs and districts. As the High Sheriff, I have my own personal cadet, Naeel, who is fantastic. It’s wonderful to see these young people develop and grow. They are a credit to our community.”
What do you enjoy most about your post as High Sheriff?
“I definitely enjoy the opportunity to make a difference to young lives. Thinking back to the people of my generation, we didn’t know how lucky we were. These days, many young people and their family’s cannot afford the kind of things we had. Anything that allows us to bring moments of inspiration to these young people is gold dust, and that’s what I’ve been able to do as High Sheriff. It’s been a real privilege and the most fulfilling role I’ve ever had the pleasure of undertaking.”
This interview took place in The Wodehouse Meeting Suite at The County Club. If you would like to book a meeting room at The County Club, please click here.
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