When my friends ask how I’m enjoying being High Sheriff of Bristol I answer truthfully that ‘I am having a ball!’ Of course there’s a lot to do, moments of anxiety and even the occasional panic but for the most part I have found the experience enjoyable, inspiring and uplifting. So many good things happen in the City of Bristol and so many people work to assist those less fortunate than themselves.
My declaration was of course the moment it all became ‘real’. We are exceptionally lucky in Bristol because there is a strong culture of passing on knowledge and experience from one High Sheriff to the next and I have regular meetings throughout the year with past High Sheriffs and those in nomination to ensure we are all up to date. Our Lord Lieutenant, Mary Prior, has been a wonderful friend and guide and has been someone I can confidently turn to for wise advice.
The traditional Bristol summer concert happens early in the Shrieval year and my husband Peter and I had to move quickly with our planning, especially as I had decided on a new venue, St George’s Bristol, famed for its acoustic. I took the plunge and commissioned a new piece of music, Concerto for Kora and Orchestra played by Mamadou Cissokho, a Bristolian master kora player. (The kora is a 22 stringed African harp). It was an extraordinary experience to watch and listen to the piece develop during its composition. The final concert was undoubtedly one of my all-time high points. Seeing this new music enjoyed by so many people was such a thrill. The Bristol Symphony Orchestra under its conductor William Goodchild is hoping to make a studio recording of the piece later this year.
I have attended three Royal visits to the city so far. HRH Prince Charles came to visit the Bristol office of the Prince’s Trust which was a great occasion. Many of the young people attending were especially excited to meet our very own British astronaut, Major Tim Peake, who was charming and spent a lot of time chatting to his fans – which included me!
There is always something new to learn as a High Sheriff. I unveiled a plaque commemorating Bristol man Sir Robert Edwin Bush who made his fortune in Australia in the late nineteenth century and then retired to a house and estate on the edge of Bristol. He became Sheriff of Bristol in 1911. At the outbreak of the First World War he immediately turned his large home into a hospital for Australian Servicemen and it served this purpose, at his own expense, throughout the war. This amazing piece of history is little known and I was delighted to mark the site in a small ceremony.
More unusually I collaborated with Edward Bayntun-Coward, High Sheriff of Somerset, in the topping out ceremony of the incredible new St Monica Trust retirement community in the refurbished chocolate factory in Keynsham near Bristol. The trust was started by the famous Bristol Wills family and now has five retirement communities in both Bristol and Somerset.
Bristol has many major events, some very historic such as the ‘Rush Sunday’ service at St Mary Redcliffe, and some much more modern such as the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta. It was great fun to be invited to the chairman’s reception at the ‘night glow’, an event involving dozens of tethered balloons at night, their burners illuminating the colourful balloon envelopes like giant Chinese lanterns.
A short article cannot contain everything but needless to say, the police, emergency services, prison services, judiciary and armed forces have all featured prominently as well as many charities and community projects. Smaller events have been particularly inspiring. So much is done by community groups and charities and it is hard to pick out notable examples. Opening our local May Fair, opening two primary schools and hosting a lunch for local HomeStart charity volunteers are particularly memorable.
Whilst I was expecting to be busy, I hadn’t appreciated quite how much work there is to do behind the scenes. Emails fly in at a great rate, spreadsheets of invitation lists have to be made and correspondence kept up to date. I do recommend that prospective High Sheriffs make arrangements to have support in doing this work; it’s not possible to manage it all alone. Fortunately my husband Peter graciously accepted the unpaid post of ‘back office manager’ and has shouldered much of the burden.
My next major event is the Legal Sunday service to be held in Bristol Cathedral at 11.00am on Sunday 16th October. The service also commemorates 800 years since the inauguration of Roger Cordewaner as the first recorded mayor of the city in 1216. I am delighted that The Dean of Bristol, the Very Reverend David Hoyle, a highly knowledgeable theologian and historian, has agreed to give the sermon on this important anniversary. I am very grateful to the Dean and his team for all the support they have given me for this and several other events I have attended at the cathedral.
I have much to look forward to in the next six months. This includes celebrating 100 years of women in the Avon and Somerset Police Force, our Law Society awards dinner, attending a citizenship ceremony, a tour of the Port of Bristol and many more.
Helen Wilde signs her declaration documents with Mr Justice Dingemans and Under Sheriff, James Myatt
Helen Wilde, High Sheriff of Bristol at her declaration with Mrs Mary Prior MBE JP, Lord Lieutenant of Bristol.
The High Sheriff wit the Bristol Symphony Orchestra welcoming guests to her concert.
Helen meets British astronaut, Major Tim Peake, at his visit to the Prince’s Trust in Bristol
High Sheriff of Bristol Helen Wilde with Woodland Trust volunteers Chris Stephens (right) and Bev Knott (left) and Lt.Col. Arthus Tsamis of the Australian Defence Staff with a plaque at Bishop’s Knoll, celebrating Sir Robert Edwin Bush, previous Sheriff of Bristol and benefactor. Tessa Kerry, granddaughter of Sir Robert Bush was also present (centre)
High Sheriff of Bristol Helen Wilde and High Sheriff of Somerset Edward Bayntun-Coward jointly perform the topping out ceremony of the new St Monica care village in Keynsham.
High Sheriff Helen Wilde in deep conversation with Councillor Helen Holland after the traditional Rush Sunday service at St Mary Redcliffe.
The ‘night glow’ at Bristol International Balloon Fiesta.
Helen with Sue Mountstevens, Police and Crime Commissioner of Avon and Somerset Police (left) and Andy Marsh, Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset Police (centre).
High Sheriff of Bristol, Helen Wilde, visits the Avon Fire and Rescue Service with Senior Fire Officer Simon Robson (left) and the Chair of the Fire Service, Councillor Peter Abrahams (right).
Armed Forces day at Whitchurch, Bristol with Alderman Chris Davies (left), Reverend Philip Auden DL, Chaplain to Bristol Merchant Navy Association and Mrs Jackie Naysmith MBE of the Bristol WRAC (right).
Helen with Chief Executive Simon Caraffi (left), staff and residents on her visit to St Peter’s Hospice in Bristol.
Helen attends graduation day at the University of the West of England with Vice Chancellor, Professor Steve West (centre) and Honorary Doctor, John Prior (right).
Helen with Councillor Carole Johnson at the opening of Fairlawn School.
Helen opening Fairlawn School with Chair of Trustees Lesley Freed (left) and Head Teacher Julie Molesworth (right).
Helen at home with staff and volunteers from Bristol HomeStart.