There’s a new high sheriff in Town

Richard Venables is a ‘doer’. Omnipresent on seemingly every committee in town (and county) he has an insatiable appetite for doing, whether that’s business, helping good causes, running, playing hockey or even, I’ve heard, performing some sort of music in a band!

So when invited to take the reigns as High Sheriff, he saw it as an opportunity to combine his very many talents for the good of Oxfordshire. He’s even got one eye on a meeting with his hero. Richard Venables met B4’s Richard Rosser for an entertaining insight into what our new High Sheriff of Oxfordshire will be up to.

Written by: Richard Rosser Photography by: Rob Scotcher

R. Tell us more about how you became High Sheriff and what the role entails.

V. The High Sheriff is an unusual position. It’s the oldest Royal Appointment in the country which dates back over 1,000 years.

The High Sheriff is nominated – it’s not a position you put yourself forward for. There’s a nomination committee which comprises the Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police, The Bishop of Dorchester, The Lord Lieutenant, District Judges and a couple of ex-High Sheriffs. A list of people that they think are worthy of the position are discussed and my name came to the top. So I am very honoured and very proud.

It’s an appointment for one year but I’ve actually known for a while because they appoint three or four years in advance.

R. So what are your duties for your year as High Sheriff?

V. It’s a Royal appointment so one of the foremost duties is to represent royalty in the county, but you also have to look after the organs of the constitution which include the police, the judiciary and the prison service, so you champion these services. The High Sheriff also looks after faith groups, the armed forces and, more importantly, the volunteer sector of the community. So it’s a position of high responsibility.

R. So might you get a call at four in the morning to go and sort out a public order disturbance?

V. Well, although you ask in jest, in the past the High Sheriff was in charge of the local militia, so the High Sheriff would have raised the forces in the county and also raise taxes, but fortunately these powers have been devolved to others now so I’ll leave it to the Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police to sort out any riots in the county!

R. So I take it you won’t be herding sheep up Cornmarket either?

V. No! There are actually two Sheriffs in this county. There is the High Sheriff of Oxfordshire, which is the position of highest authority and there is the Sheriff of Oxford which is a civic position and it is the latter who gets to round up all the sheep and horses on Port Meadow.

R. I would like to think you have taken a bit of stick for your outfit, so tell us a bit more about your official attire….

V. The tights have caused great amusement Essentially it is 18th Century court wear. Starting at the bottom it’s little patent leather ballet type shoes with a silver buckle on them…

R. …which you had anyway!

V. …yes, which I had anyway! (Rolls eyes). Tights, which I had anyway, lovely black velvet breeches, a black velvet frock coat with lots of steel cut buttons, a sword, a lace jabot and a wig bag that hangs off the back. The outfit is topped off with a bicorn hat and white cotton gloves that I carry rather than wear.

I had great fun buying the tights in M&S.  The sales assistant was very helpful and understanding.  She asked what size my wife wanted and I started to explain they were for me.  She said she’d heard it all before!

The uniform is wonderful and addes to any occasion but can be a bit warm in summer. I am really proud to be High Sheriff and it’s going to be an amazing year and I’m really setting out to do as much as I possibly can. You know I like to fill my life to the brim and so this is just pushing that little bit further.

R. Well anyone who knows you thinks there must be at least four or five of you because you cover a lot of ground. Just going back to the High Sheriff’s role, outfit etc….. I know you’ve put a lot of work into your coat of arms so perhaps you could tell us a bit more about how that came about.

V. Part of the privilege of being High Sheriff is that you get to create your own coat of arms. I had to go to the Royal College of Arms to meet with a herald. We then discussed whether there was an existing coat of arms that I could carry. If you don’t have direct lineage to a coat of arms then you get to create your own coat of arms…for a small fee!

So we created a coat of arms, which was wonderful, and on my website – www.highsheriffoxford.co.uk – you can see the finished version. The background is azure (blue) with the two waves which are on the Oxford coat of arms which represent the Thames and the Cherwell. There are then three white roundels, which actually represent hockey balls and inside of the roundels are three little birds (martlets) which represent my love of birdwatching! They are also a reference to King Edward the Confessor who had the same birds on his emblem, but he was also born in Islip (where Richard lives) so there’s a nice link there.

So the coat of arms is a little bit of fun, it’s great to have and I can put on letterheads, my website, all sorts of things so it’s nice to have a little bit of tradition.

R. Tell us more about your swearing in ceremony.

V. It took place on 10th April, so marking the start of my High Sheriff year. It’s a bit of pageantry, a bit of proper English heritage. Those present included a High Court Judge, the Lord Lieutenant, the outgoing High Sheriff, all of the District Judges, Magistrates and ex-High Sheriffs. It’s a small ceremony in which you have to swear allegiance to the Queen and you have to promise to behave yourself, amongst other things. Afterwards we had a little reception which was enjoyable, so it was an opportunity to invite the key people in positions of responsibility in Oxfordshire but also family and friends.

R. Three weeks in and I know you’ve already had the Plankathon at Westgate Shopping Centre as part of your Corporate Challenge, your dinner at D’Overbroeck’s and you ran the London Marathon last weekend. I am sure you have done a lot more and have lots planned for the year ahead.

V. I thought this was a great opportunity to raise money for some great causes. I’m a relatively youthful High Sheriff having just turned 51 – and so I thought it was only natural that I support the youth sector of Oxfordshire. My background is as a chartered surveyor but I get involved in a lot of initiatives around Oxfordshire including Oxford Youth Partnership and hockey coaching, so I thought I would champion Oxfordshire’s youth in my year as High Sheriff.

The Corporate Challenge gives me the opportunity to raise some money. I looked towards my network for support and I have recruited 22 companies to be part of that and for a small fee they get to participate in a range of activities. These include a sporting challenge, a cultural challenge and some sports psychology talks. It’s all about wellness in the workplace and trying to encourage participation amongst all employees.

As part of the sporting challenge we have already done the aforementioned Plankathon in Westgate with George Anderson. We had 60 people planking, accompanied by the Oxford Rock Choir. We have an ongoing Park Run challenge, we are getting together a team for the Town & Gown and we have a hockey festival and the Ox Olympics at Abingdon School which takes place in late July.

The Cultural Challenge includes the High Sheriff’s Selfie competition, a Self Portrait competition at the Ashmolean later on in September. All of these initiatives will help raise money and we have so far raised in excess of £150,000, which is great going.

The money raised will go to some local charities….Access Sport Oxford which provides sporting opportunities to kids in deprived areas. I am also looking to do something with The Cultural and Education Partnership and I am looking to champion The Thomley Centre, an activity centre for autistic and disabled children in Worminghall. The key to all of this is that I am looking to match fund every corporate pound raised so that every pound raised is ultimately worth £2 or even £3.

Did I also mention the 100km Race to the Stones Ultra run which I am doing in mid July to raise money for Huntingdon’s Disease Association?

So that’s it in terms of the main sponsorship event, but I have already been involved in some incredible events in my first three weeks. I did a swearing in ceremony at St Aldates Police Station for some new police cadets, which was really good fun. Their families were there, I had to inspect a Guard of Honour and I’m looking forward to doing lots more work with the Police. There are some great PCSO’s in Oxford and the Superintendent, Joe Kidman, is passionate about what he does. We live in this amazing city with lots of great opportunities.

Economically we do very well but there is this real polarity between the have’s and have not’s. There are massive issues with child drug exploitation, which is a big issue in and around Oxford. We have to admit that Oxford is a mixed place and I am really looking forward to not necessarily solving the problems but certainly highlighting them and bringing awareness to them.

R. We mustn’t forget that you have a day job in the midst of all of this as Director at VSL & Partners, so who’s manning the fort?

V. My colleagues are being very kind to me this year and they’ve recognised there is going to be a lot of time spent doing other things, but they are good enough to realise that I already do quite a lot of other things, be it for Experience Oxfordshire or Economic Development and the Local Enterprise Partnership. I have had to stand down from a few other commitments but a lot of the events are in the evening so I can certainly work around them without affecting work. But it’s a great opportunity and it really expands the horizons as to what is out there in Oxfordshire. It’s a great county with an amazing volunteer community.

I also wanted to highlight mental health awareness, an issue of great concern amongst the schools at the moment. We’re doing a project with a charity called SANE. The aforementioned fundraising dinner at D’Overbroeck’s School raised £10,000 and we are undertaking an awareness campaign with the Black Dog, a three foot high black resin Labrador which represents anxiety and depression and is SANE’s mascot. We are taking the dog to as many secondary schools and colleges as we can in Oxfordshire to raise awareness.

R. I understand you are the 14th person to have one of the Black Dogs and you join a celebrity list including Adam Ant, who I understand is a hero of yours? So was that part of the appeal, to dress like your hero?

V. So, yes I am a kid of the 80’s and Adam Ant was, and still is, a big part of my musical life. I saw him in concert just before Christmas and I have one personal ambition this year which is to meet Adam Ant. He is, as am I, an Ambassador and Patron for SANE so, fingers crossed, I will get a picture with the real Prince Charming!

R. Autograph book?

V. Absolutely! Autograph, selfies, the lot!

Visit www.highsheriffoxford.co.uk for more information.

VSL and Partners

VSL & Partners is an established commercial property consultancy and estate agency practice specialising in the Oxford and wider Oxfordshire area.

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