A Q&A WITH BRIDGET BIDDELL – MARCH 2020 by Andy Newbold
On the 6th April 2020, Bridget Biddell will complete her year as Surrey’s High Sheriff. During her year in office, Bridget has spent time with many of the county’s charities, schools, magistrates, judges and emergency services. Alongside supporting the voluntary and legal sector, the High Sheriff chooses a theme to focus on throughout their year. Bridget’s theme has been ‘Nurture through Surrey’s Nature’- she has worked to uncover and support organisations in Surrey that focus on fixing some of society’s biggest problems through the nurturing power of nature.
Bridget, what have been the highlights of this year for you?
One of the highlights has been seeing our county’s successful volunteer police cadet scheme in action. We now have seven units of cadets in Surrey, between 13-18 years old. Our cadets really are fantastic, the scheme gives many an opportunity to become part of a community and find the structure and purpose that some have been missing in life. There is a lot of camaraderie and the cadets have been essential in assisting at many county events throughout this year. Each year the High Sheriff has an appointed cadet who accompanies them on many occasions. This year Meghna Singh has been my cadet, she is brilliant, she is always so mature in her approach and such a great ambassador for the police cadets.
There have been many other highlights throughout the year – all captured for posterity in my High Sheriff blog – but meeting so many wonderful volunteers has to be a general one. It has been a real privilege as High Sheriff to be able to generate awareness of all the remarkable things that are achieved in Surrey.
What does the role of High Sheriff involve?
The role itself is ancient, dating back as far as Norman times, it is self-funded and is very different now, we no longer have to collect taxes! During our year in office we support the charities and community groups within the county, as well as the judiciary, police and other law enforcement agencies, the emergency services, local authorities, church and faith groups. There are ceremonial occasions the High Sheriff attends, such as Royal visits to the county, citizenship ceremonies and the British Empire Medal awards.
Convening and connecting is an important part of the role – bringing people together to enable more voluntary action within the county. I have visited charities and community groups, and met some of the real movers and shakers within the county, which has been fantastic and inspiring. Many people I have met have been fascinated by the shrieval uniform. I always enjoy telling people about the badge which has eleven points – one for each borough of the county and a motto which translated means ‘it is better to give than to receive’. Convening and connecting is such a big part of what the High Sheriff does so I guess it is all about bringing people together to share their knowledge and skills.
You’ve mentioned volunteering, what have you learnt about the voluntary sector in Surrey?
Surrey has incredible volunteers, who are so committed to what they do. We also have numerous fantastic social enterprises. With a continuing decline in local authority and county services, there is an increasing demand for support for those most vulnerable in our society. There is a lot of critical work going on that needs constant support, and we are lucky in Surrey to have such enthusiastic volunteers who provide that, many just wish they had more time to do more!
One of the great pleasures for me as High Sheriff is to attend the award ceremonies that celebrate the work our volunteers do. You hear stories of such commitment and selflessness – there are some true heroes in our County.
Do you have a particularly memorable charity visit?
I have visited such an amazing variety of places and organisations, and have met charities of all shapes and sizes. I’ve been to therapy gardens, community farms, sports groups, food banks, community groups for the elderly, centres for different faiths, dramatic societies, gardening and music groups, homeless charities and lots more.
I have also presented groups with a High Sheriff Youth Award. HYSA is a charity chaired by the High Sheriff with a dedicated committee of volunteers to make grants to projects for young people in Surrey with the aim to make Surrey’s communities stronger and safer.
I have also enjoyed seeing performances all over the county by enormously talented people including a wonderful, heart-warming evening at the Orpheus Centre, the Guildford Shakespeare Company performing Macbeth and myriad school and church concerts. Creativity brings people of all ages together in Surrey.
One slightly more unusual memory of a visit was when I broke down in my father’s old van and had to jump-start it in my full uniform whilst it was being pushed by the Deputy Head of Kings College in Guildford – that must have been quite a sight.
Your theme for this year has been ‘Nurture through Nature’, what has it entailed?
I have grown up all my life in Surrey, and feel incredibly lucky to have enjoyed the county’s beautiful and inspiring nature. The benefits of our outdoors to society are enormous. Being outside, involved in activities such as farming, gardening, caring for animals, learning about your surroundings or simply exercising can help people to find a sense of purpose, boost mental and physical health, reduce stress and gain appreciation for nature and all it has to offer. This can offer a critical lifeline to those who face some of the greatest challenges in society. When I chose my theme I had no idea of the scale or brilliance of what was going on in Surrey to support nurturing through nature. I have met fantastic organisations – Mane Chance, Viewpoint, Elysian Care Farm, Change of Scene and Dose of Nature to name a few. There are such exciting things happening in Surrey to enable people to get outside and reconnect with nature. This field is rapidly growing, the wave of nature-inspired change is rolling, and I am really looking forward to continuing to bring people together to engage with it. From care farming to social prescribing, forest schooling to forest bathing, it’s all critical work and it is finally gaining national recognition. Watch this space is all I say.
My year as High Sheriff has been an incredibly varied and fascinating. It has been an uplifting experience and a huge honour. I have met amazing people doing amazing things, seen a huge amount of generosity in the county – especially when it comes to volunteering, and have enjoyed the experience immensely.
On April 6th Bridget will hand over the role of High Sheriff to Shahid Azeem.