Rutland High Sheriff declaration carried out in Oakham Castle's cold and windy car park due to coronavirus
The declaration of a new High Sheriff in Rutland is usually a grand public event held in the Norman great hall of Oakham Castle.
But for incoming post-holder Richard Cole it turned out to be a swift photo opportunity in the 12th century building’s chilly car park on a Thursday afternoon.
He told this newspaper: “It’s fair to say it was a unique occasion as a few strangely-dressed folk gathered in a windy Oakham Castle car park, the image completed by a bemused dog-walker wandering by!”
The coronavirus pandemic not only shut the castle and robbed Mr Cole of his big day, it has also meant that every public engagement in his diary is now cancelled.
The office of High Sheriff is the oldest in the UK after the Crown and dates back to Saxon times.
Those chosen for the role represent the Queen within their county in matters relating to the judiciary and maintenance of law and order.
It can be a demanding position, and Mr Cole had put his sales job on hold for a year in order to fully commit to his duties.
But when the Mercury gave the new High Sheriff a call on Monday, he was observing the government guidelines on social distancing by getting on with a spot of painting at his Uppingham home.
“It’s all very strange - it’s like the world has completely unravelled,” said Mr Cole, 62, who is married with two grown-up children.
“My diary is totally clear now; everything I had planned has been cancelled.”
He said one of his primary goals had been to champion the work of voluntary sector organisations, something he still intended to honour however he could.
“My key objective was to support and raise the profile of all the excellent voluntary organisations that make our county what it is,” he said.
“There are around 300 and I really wanted to recognise all those people who are doing fantastic work.
“I still want to do this but realistically the job is very much about getting out and meeting people and in the current climate I won’t be able to do that.”
Scheduled events included visits to schools and charities, such as Leicester-based children’s charity Warning Zone, as well as a planned celebration of volunteers at Uppingham Church.
“I’m just going to have to be a virtual High Sheriff and resort to doing everything by email and Twitter!” Mr Cole said. “It’s actually very frustrating.”
Asked if he had a message for Rutlanders during these tough times, he added: “What makes Rutland strong is that community support and that voluntary support that brings us together.
“Let’s celebrate what’s good about that and I hope that in a few months’ time I will be able to recognise those volunteers who’ve helped get us through these difficult times. In the meantime we all need to stay safe and stay healthy.”
He thanked the outgoing High Sheriff, Margaret Miles, who had a successful year engaging with the county’s voluntary groups.
He said: “It is a great privilege to follow Margaret and I hope to continue to build on the great work she has done in her year.
“It’s a huge shame that she has not been able to complete her year and present her awards at the Castle but we do hope will find an opportunity later in the year.”
Mrs Miles said: “I wish Richard Cole all the very best as he takes on this role under these extremely difficult circumstances.”
More by this authorSteve Creswell