St Martins’ CEO Dr Jan Sheldon has the honour of being appointed to the role of Sheriff of Norwich. A ceremony was held on May 23rd at City Hall when Jan, along with the new Lord Mayor Cllr James Wright, donned her robes and chains to mark the start of the civic year. St Martins Directors Maria Baranowski, Jo Gillies-Wheatley and Angela Herbert will be Jan’s consorts during her year in office.
Jan said, “I am delighted to have been asked to serve in this role in a city that is close to my heart. Norwich is such a vibrant place to be and it is a huge honour to be in a position to champion all that is good about our city.
I look forward to offering support and encouragement to the many individuals and organisations who play a vital role in caring for our community.”
The new Lord Mayor and Sheriff announced their civic charity appeal for 2023-24 as Norfolk Community Foundation.
We all know what a very special place Norwich is – often referred to as ‘a fine City’ – personally I think we undersell ourselves here…
We have an amazing history:
- Like most cities we can talk of our Roman, Anglo Saxon, Viking, Norman and Medieval times, many fine buildings and streets chart this history
- In 1549 the Kett’s Rebellion (a fight for inclusion and fairness for working people) took place on these very streets……not too far from where we sit today
- For about a hundred years from 1650 Norwich was known as England’s second city
- Key industries such as the shoe and boot industry not only emerged but thrived in Norwich.
We have so much to be proud of BUT for me it isn’t the buildings (amazing though they are) or the fine cobbled streets steeped in history…..it’s the people and MOST significantly the culture of the people who have lived in Norwich and the legacy they have left for us all.
As many of you will know in 1566 immigrants fleeing persecution started to arrive in Norwich. Norwich prospered, we learnt trades from each other and supported each other at a time of crisis. During this time more than a third of the city’s population comprised of immigrants. These refugees, often referred to as ‘the Strangers’ were welcomed.
To people living outside of Norwich this was astonishing. The contemporary writer and historian Alexander Neville noted that Norwich was ‘a city seated daintily, most fair built she is known, pleasing and kind to Strangers all, Delightful to her own’.
Norwich has had and continues to have a very welcoming approach to strangers, to people who have suffered persecution and to people who have suffered unimaginable trauma.
It is for this reason that I believe I am here today – many people will know I have the enormous privilege of being the CEO of St Martins – a local charity supporting people who are sleeping rough or who are homeless in Norfolk. People who today are suffering unimaginable trauma.
Many of you will know that St Martins started its life in the garage of the Dean of the Cathedral. Over the last 50 years we’ve grown to meet the needs of local people, offering many different types of accommodation from emergency services to hostels, from residential care to sheltered housing – one size certainly doesn’t fit all when we are supporting people.
Now, at any one-time St Martins is supporting over 300 people with an incredible 200 team members. We know St Martins holds a very special place in the hearts of local people and we are always grateful for their support.
In the last street count for Norwich seven people were sleeping rough on our streets. This is clearly 7 people too many but it is the lowest number of people recorded sleeping on the streets of Norwich since 2010. At St Martins we are within touching distance of our vision of no one needing to sleep on the streets (after all it is 2023 not 1823).
This achievement would not be possible without the ongoing support of the City Council and the people of Norwich and Norfolk. Our City has an inclusive and welcoming culture; one we can all be proud to be a part of.
Whilst thinking about our welcoming culture many of the past Sheriffs have been working together for some months preparing to welcome a delegation of Sheriffs from other areas in September. This is a great opportunity to show all that Norwich has to offer and I’m proud that Norwich is hosting this delegation later in the year.
On a personal note, some of my guests here today will still be puzzling over how a young girl, with a wonky fringe, not great at school, preferring tree climbing and sludging comes to be standing here today. I too have puzzled over this but this is yet another example of the City’s welcoming and inclusive culture.
I was a child who grew up in an unsettled environment with parents who had poor mental and physical health. This childhood equipped me with high levels of resilience which I’m grateful for but more importantly it equipped me with an empathy for those who find themselves in difficult situations.
I never did well at school and back in the 80’s it was either care or hair for young people who didn’t excel at school. I could never be described as creative, so I embarked upon a career in social care.
I started working as a night care worker and slowly worked my way up the career ladder gathering a few qualifications along the way. I’ve been fortunate to have the experience of working with the Department of Health and Social Care and the Cabinet Office. I’ve had some amazing challenges and career opportunities and I’m proud to be stood here today a product of those challenges and opportunities.
The office of the Sheriff of Norwich was created in 1403 when Henry IV gave Norwich the right to appoint a mayor and sheriff. Over the last 620 years a wide variety of people have held this great office from many different walks of life and occupations.
One person I’m especially proud to follow in the footsteps of is Nick Williams, a former Leader and Sheriff of this City and just as importantly one of St Martins long serving Trustees.
Norwich also has a very proud legacy of notable women in Norwich. Women who broke down inequality barriers and paved the way for future generations. Examples of these exceptional women are:
- Ethel Mary Colman who, in 1923 was the first female Lord Mayor in the UK, Ethel was a suffragette and campaigner against poverty and slum housing. If I’m ever tempted not to vote I always think of the suffragettes and all they did to get women the vote. Their work was hard and their sacrifices immense. I’ve never missed a voting opportunity.
- Dorothy Jewson was MP for Norwich 1923, she was a Trade unionist and women’s rights activist and also the first female leader of a political party in the history of Norwich City Council in 1971.
- During 1983 to 1988 Baroness Patricia Hollis of Heigham, who was the first female leader of Norwich City Council. She was also the Under Secretary of State at the Department of Work and Pensions, a campaigner for working women’s rights and the eradication of poverty. I was deeply honoured to attend her memorial service in 2019.
Breaking down inequality barriers and campaigning for women’s rights is something women of Norwich have been doing for many many years…..and that’s another reason I am able to stand here before you today.
Before I conclude I have a few thank you’s:
- To my guests who love, support me and keep me grounded (most of the time) – thank you
- To those of my guests who are representing people who should be here but are no longer with us – thank you
- To three of St Martins Executive Directors who are working alongside me as consorts this coming year – thank you.
- To my amazing team members from St Martins who will undoubtedly be taking on extra duties this year – thank you.
Finally, I’d like to recognise and thank the previous civic team, Cllr Kevin Maguire and Caroline Jarrold and their consorts who have been a dedicated, committed and hard-working team, real ambassadors for Norwich for the past two years.
Caroline has given me some useful advice as to what to expect in this forth coming year. I also know from my work at St Martins that Caroline always gives freely of her time and support. I’ve big robes to fill over the next year.
I am enormously honoured to be elected as the Sheriff of Norwich for 2023 and I pledge to be a hardworking, local officer of dignity and an ambassador for Norwich – which is so much more than a fine City.