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New High Sheriff of Rutland Craig Mitchell adopts modern approach to ancient role

Outgoing High Sheriff of Rutland Dr Sarah Furness hands over to 2017/18 High Sheriff Craig Mitchell'Photo: Lee Hellwing
Outgoing High Sheriff of Rutland Dr Sarah Furness hands over to 2017/18 High Sheriff Craig Mitchell'Photo: Lee Hellwing

A ceremonial office which dates back almost 900 years is being brought right up to date by the latest incumbent.

Craig Mitchell, a retired commercial property lawyer who lives in Barrowden, was declared High Sheriff of Rutland at a ceremony last month.

He succeeds Dr Sarah Furness, who handed over the badge of office to Mr Mitchell at Oakham Castle.

The occasion was rich in ancient pomp and ceremony, and the participants were resplendent in colourful and imposing traditional costumes.

But while Mr Mitchell says the history of the role of High Sheriff is to be cherished, he wants the office to be relevant for modern times.

And to this end, a first major initiative has been to set up a website designed to explain the role and, crucially, encourage local people to get in touch with their High Sheriff.

Mr Mitchell, 66, who is married to Liz, said: “The website has just gone live and is designed to make the High Sheriff more accessible to local people.

“There is information about the role, and some details about me and how people can get in touch.

“The ceremonial dress worn at official events includes a sword and is a great talking point for schools, but it can be slightly arcane.

“I am anxious that the position of High Sheriff is not seen as something simply of the past and that it is regarded as relevant and approachable.

“I am hoping lots of people will get in touch to invite me to support their events.”

Several dates are already listed in the High Sheriff’s diary, supporting three charities in particular: Dove Cottage Hospice, the air ambulance and Warning Zone.

The events include a golf day at the Luffenhan Heath club, where Mr Mitchell has been a member for more than 20 years.

A single figure handicapper, he also plays tennis and squash, at Uppingham.

The golf day will raise funds for Warning Zone, which has been supported by Mr Mitchell’s successors for the last five years.

The charity aims to teach youngsters aged between 10 and 12 how to avoid many modern day hazards.

Based in a former warehouse, the complex of some 12 “zones” has given more than 10,000 children in the East Midlands the chance to experience in a safe environment the potential threats from rivers, railway lines, electricity sub stations, and fire hazards, to list a few.

The Warning Zone has recently expanded to tackle potential threats posed by the internet.

Mr Mitchell said: “We all know how addicted children become to smartphones, tablets and computers.

“Children of this age are incredibly impressionable and there are so many things to tempt them along the wrong path.

“Warning Zone aims to show them in a straightforward way how to avoid the perils.”

Mr Mitchell’s home village will be the venue for a “saddle up with the High Sheriff” cycling event on Bank Holiday Monday, August 28, in support of the air ambulance.

The High Sheriff, who has two grown up daughters and four grandchildren aged from three to 16, moved to the village nine years ago from Hungerton, in Leicestershire.

He is a director of the community shop in the village and a trustee of Barrowden United Charities, which was set up more than 100 years ago.

It was originally established to relieve poverty in the parish, and although its objectives have changed, it still fulfils a valuable role in the community.

Mr Mitchell retired at Christmas, although he is still a consultant with Leicester law firm Spearing Waite.

He says it came as a complete surprise when he was first approached about the possibility of being nominated High Sheriff three and a half years ago.

He added: “Of course, the time has gone quite quickly and it was a perfect day for the ceremony in the beautiful Oakham Castle.

“The first High Sheriff of Rutland was appointed in 1129 but in the recent past, my predecessors have all been well-known people locally.

“They are a very hard act to follow so I won’t try to emulate them, but to do it my own way.

“Part of the role is to champion good causes and raise money for charities, and local organisations want to be connected to the High Sheriff.

“I have already had several invitations, which I shall accept, of course, and I hope there will be many more.”

The High Sheriff of Rutland website address is www.hsrutland.co.uk


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