20 Jan Review of my first year in office
My appointment on 2nd January 2019, following the retirement of Sir Algernon Heber-Percy, began with a deluge of emails and letters from many organisations, asking me to be patron or to be involved in their work. Curiosity about the first woman Lord-Lieutenant appointed in Shropshire prompted Radio Shropshire to interview me live on air, giving me the opportunity to promote the work of the lieutenancy and explain my duties. As HM The Queen’s representative in the county with my 26 Deputy Lieutenants, it is our duty to uphold the dignity of the Crown, co-ordinate Royal visits, present medals and awards on behalf of the Sovereign, advise on nominations for awards, act as the monarch’s eyes and ears, support the Armed Forces and Cadets and foster good relations and co-operation between all kinds of organisations in every part of the county.
It is also most important to me to applaud all those volunteers working tirelessly and selflessly to improve the lives of others. There are many unsung individuals in our county and it is part of my remit to put forward the names of those most deserving for one of the honours or for an invitation to a Royal Garden Party to say thank you.
I have been pleased to become Patron, President, Vice-President or Honorary Chairman of a number of organisations this year –
- Shropshire Playing Fields Association,
- Shropshire Youth Association,
- the Shropshire branch of SSAFA,
- Shropshire Rural Communities Charity,
- Shropshire Historic Churches Trust,
- Shropshire, Staffordshire & Cheshire Blood Bikes,
- Hereford Cathedral Perpetual Trust,
- Friends of Lichfield Cathedral,
- Shrewsbury Food Hub, County Priory Group,
- Robert Jones & Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital League of Friends,
- West Midlands Air Ambulance Trust
As well as being invited to be a member of the Advisory Board for the University Centre in Shrewsbury whose courses and degrees are run in conjunction with the University of Chester. Their first undergraduates were awarded degrees in October 2018 and I hope I can make a contribution to the development of this innovative centre. I have spent time with each of these organisations learning about their valued work and their part in our community.
As Lord-Lieutenant, I am invited to tour some of the best places of working and learning that our county has to offer. I was pleased to visit Harper Adams University which has over 5,000 students and is set on a 635 hectare farm with innovative courses tackling the future development of food production and processing, animal sciences, engineering and land managements. I have been fascinated to learn about the use of robots in agriculture. 2020 will see the first intake to its new Veterinary School in conjunction with Keele University.
In April I visited The Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital at Oswestry which has a national and international reputation for orthopaedic surgery and musculoskeletal medicine. I was given a tour of the hospital and enjoyed the opportunity to chat to members of staff afterwards. Having had this guided tour and seen the amount of research going on, the innovative operating theatre, talked to caring staff and met with the League of Friends I genuinely hold less fear of hospitals than I previously have. They have many ambitious projects with a desire to improve facilities continuously.
It has been a steep learning curve getting involved with all aspects of the military. I was warmly welcomed to RAF Shawbury in March along with the High Sheriff, Dr Josh Dixey, where we were given an entertaining and informative tour of the base which included a ride in a helicopter. The Defence Helicopter Flying School trains aircrew for all three services alongside the Central Flying School which delivers the next generation of helicopter instructors. I have also become a joint Vice-President of the West Midland Reserve Forces & Cadets Association from which I have four cadets who accompany me on some of my duties. My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed our first visit to the RAF Cosford Air show on 9th June, watching the many displays, culminating in the most breathtaking display by The Red Arrows. Should I be asked again I will now know to take ear muffs as well as umbrella and sensible walking shoes. The following month I visited RAF Cosford again to attend the Field Day of air cadets and present some of the trophies. As I write this on a freezing cold day in January, it’s difficult to remember what it is like to have a hot day but it was so hot that day that one or two cadets passed out with the heat so the first aiders were able to practise their skills too.
As a new Lord-Lieutenant, I was honoured to be invited to Windsor Castle in March for a weekend called the Windsor Consultation. There were talks, tips and words of advice from more senior colleagues and discussions with newly appointed Lord-Lieutenants, all of which have been of great help to me. My bedroom was high up in St. George’s House and if I bent down to look through a tiny window I could see over Windsor town, you might suppose Windsor Castle would have huge bedrooms but this one was not designed to swing cats. I was also invited in early May to a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace and my husband Johnny and I had the honour of being presented to Her Majesty the Queen and The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. It is a lovely moment for me when I can reward several in the county with an invitation to a Palace Garden Party; it is always a most memorable day and an experience to be treasured.
One of the highlights of my work is of course accompanying royal visitors to Shropshire. We were honoured by a visit by the Princess Royal in April who visited Barrow Church of England Primary School followed by officially opening the new RDA Cavalier Centre near Much Wenlock. Princess Anne put everyone at their ease and it was a pleasure to accompany her visit. All the children were delighted to see her and some gave an extremely enthusiastic vaulting display.
My Vice Lord-Lieutenant, Mark Cuthbert-Brown, accompanied the Countess of Wessex at her visit to Bromfield near Ludlow on 27th June as President of the Royal Smithfield Club. She was given a tour of both the farm and the farm shop and had lunch with her hosts. HRH Princess Alexandra was in Shropshire over a weekend in July and presented the Pride in the Community Awards in Telford. She also opened the new restaurant at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum and she charmed all those who were able to have a conversation with her.
Our fourth royal visitor was the Duke of Gloucester who came to Bridgnorth in October. His visit to the Severn Valley Railway was both to present Volunteer Long Service Awards and Apprentice Certificates and to open the new refreshment room. From there HRH was driven to Bridgnorth Town Hall to see the museum of local history and he then then met the owner and staff of the Cliff Railway and enjoyed the experience of his first ride from High Town to Low Town. Having had a rocky start to this visit because of a last minute train strike which forced plans to change at an ungodly hour in the morning it turned out well in the end.
On 2nd June I was honoured by the Bishop of Lichfield to be presented to the people of Shropshire at a Service of Welcome in Shrewsbury Abbey. It was a lovely afternoon and so enjoyable to meet so many people there invited from all faiths and from many different organisations.
The county of Shropshire is divided almost equally by the ecclesiastical dioceses of Lichfield and Hereford so I have been involved in events and occasions in each diocese. In early May I was delighted to meet the newly-appointed Bishop of Shrewsbury, Sarah Bullock, who was making a brief first visit to the county ahead of her consecration as bishop on 3rd July. Another first for our county – our first female bishop – and I will look forward to supporting her ministry. I have also enjoyed visits to Hereford Cathedral and look forward to welcoming their new bishop in 2020.
One of my most important duties is presenting awards on behalf of The Queen, including the British Empire Medal, The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service and The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise. There have been BEM awards this year to three Shropshire residents for unstinting dedication to their local volunteering work. The worthy winners of the QAVS this year were The Forge Urban Revival at Oakengates, which addresses social care and mental health needs, a volunteering group in Wem who call themselves GOAL – Getting Older Adults on-Line – who teach computing skills to the elderly, and the Shropshire War Memorial Association,a small group of people who get their hands dirty cleaning and helping to restore the county’s war memorials.
There was only one Shropshire winner this year of The Queen’s Award for Enterprise which was to Protolabs of Telford. Their award was one of 129 given for International Trade. From just three employees in 2005, Protolabs has created more than 430 jobs in Telford and more than 2,300 in manufacturing plants in the USA, Japan and across Europe. It is now the world’s fastest digital manufacturing source for custom prototypes and low-volume production parts. My deputy lieutenants are working hard with workshops and briefings for both the QAE and the QAVS to encourage local companies and groups to prepare nominations. I have been humbled by the pleasure these awards give the recipients.
There are so many young people in our county also deserving of recognition. For example, in the summer I presented awards to an amazing group of young people at the Tern Valley Scout Group. These youngsters had worked hard over a number of months and years to achieve their awards in scouting. I was so impressed by the dedication of their leaders too. I believe it is so important to say ‘thank you’ and at the AGM of the Shropshire Youth Association we had a celebration to recognise the achievement of young people and their voluntary leaders.
I have also learned that there are many young people in the county very much in need of help. I have met the team from Young Addaction which left me an emotional wreck. They told me about the many youngsters being exploited by the ‘county lines’ teams of drug dealers and how they are trying to prevent the exploitation and abuse of such children. A new initiative in Shropshire which has recently been launched is the Care Leavers Covenant which aims to break the cycle of children leaving the care system as they reach adulthood and getting involved in crime. Shropshire has almost 400 children in the care system and on average 30 leave the system each year at the age of 18. The covenant invites individuals and local companies to mentor the young people and guide them to find apprenticeships and jobs and support them through the first few years.
A Lord-Lieutenant does not have to be serious all the time – she can also have fun too! I spent a highly enjoyable day when I was asked to role-play as a ‘royal visitor’ to the county to assist in training police protection officers. Being driven around Shrewsbury in a large black limousine with motorcycle outriders and ‘shadowed’ by personal protection officers whilst going walkabout was highly entertaining – I only hope there are not too many disappointed Salopians when they realise their photographs are not of the genuine product!
Mid-November was dominated by various Festivals of Remembrance and the church services around the country. I am pleased to say that many of my Deputy Lieutenants attended a service and laid a wreath on behalf of the Lieutenancy. We are all aware of how important it is not to forget the sacrifice made by so many to give us our freedom.
The Royal Irish Regiment marched through the local town of Market Drayton on 7th December. The Mayor and I, along with many of the town’s residents and soldiers’ families, were there to welcome them home following a tour of duty in Afghanistan. I was very pleased to be present to say a few words of welcome and support for them all.
If I accepted every invitation I had to a carol service in December, I’m sure I would be in a church somewhere in the county on most days leading up to Christmas, luckily I love mince pies and singing carols! I attended a fair few of them and one of the most memorable was the Advent service for Hereford Cathedral Perpetual Trust held at The Guards’ Chapel in Wellington Barracks. My final visit of the year was to Derwen College in Gobowen which provides residential further education for students with disabilities and learning difficulties. I attended the students’ Christmas Show one evening which was a brilliant and inspirational show.
And so concludes my first year in office as Shropshire’s first woman Lord-Lieutenant. An amazing year of learning, meeting people from all walks of life and feeling humbled by the amount of volunteering in the county. When asked, I always tell everyone that I have the very best job in Shropshire; what is there to not like about such a positive role for which so many are kind enough to express appreciation?