FEATURE: Suffolk’s new High Sheriff wants to put arts and culture in the limelight
Suffolk’s new High Sheriff, Judith Shallow, says arts and culture will take centre stage throughout her year in the position.
Judith, from Elmswell, was sworn into office on Thursday April 2 at Bury St Edmunds’ Guildhall - the fifth woman to take the job in Suffolk.
The oldest secular post in the United Kingdom after the Crown, the role of High Sheriff dates back to Saxon times.
Judith said the position was a unique chance to make a difference for the county she loves.
She said: “It is an extraordinary role, it covers a wide range of things.
“It involves a lot of functions and civic events to represent the Queen but then there’s the charitable side which I’m just beginning to find out about.
“Because you are not paid and not accepted into any organisation other than through the Royal Courts of Justice you have a uniquely independent role and view on what you can do.
“It is in the first few weeks that you generally learn what you have got yourself in for.
“It is a great privilege but you do have to put your life on hold for a year.
“The High Sheriff has a role in looking into charitable organisations, community safety and social cohesion - the things that make our communities safer and more vibrant.
“For example I have recently visited the Howard estate Youth Club, a regular club for the young people of Howard and Mildenhall estates in Bury.
“It has been doing great work developing good relationships between the two estates and is one of last year’s High Sheriff awards nominations for youth club of the year.
“As the High Sheriff you are the only independent senior person in the county, everyone else belongs to or is briefed by somebody else.
“The High Sheriff has got an independence that no-one else has got. “The role is entirely what you make of it - each High Sheriff looks at things in a different way.”
Born to a farming family in West Suffolk, Judith’s early career was in public relations.
Working for a wide variety of clients, she was eventually head hunted to run events of the Food and Farming Year 1989, culminating in an agricultural show held in Hyde Park which attracted half a million visitors.
In 1996 she was invited to join the board of the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds.
She stayed for 11 years, ending up as chairman, overseeing the theatre’s major restoration and helping to fund raise the £5.2million needed for the project.
Judith said arts and culture would play a pivotal role in her year-long tenure as High Sheriff.
She said: “At the Theatre Royal in the Autumn I am planning a fundraising event of which half will go to the Theatre Royal to help with its outreach work and work in the community.
“The other half will go to establishing an arts and culture fund through the Suffolk Community Foundation - something I am very excited to be part of.
“That will be about access to the arts, something I feel very strongly about.
“Arts should be part of our daily lives and can enhance our community.
“For example, there has been a lot of new research published about the difference music and singing can make to dementia patients, how drama and dance can help people with behaviour problems or mental health issues.
“The arts can play a really important role but sadly it is often the thing that gets cut first - it is a soft target.
“I feel these things shouldn’t be cut because they have a hugely positive impact in people’s lives and I am really excited we can establish something to help.
“That, I hope, will be the lasting legacy of my year.”
Although the role of Sheriff is largely open ended role, there are some long-standing ceremonial roles Judith will have to undertake.
“You are the returning officer for the county for example,” she said.
“They refer to the ‘acting’ Returning officer at election counts - that is because the actual Returning Officer for the county is the High Sheriff. “There are these residual roles we have that would take an act of parliament to change
“It was really exciting being part of election night - it was very interesting, staying up all night watching the screen seeing how it panned out.
“It was a very late night, a long night, but a real one-off experience.”