Monday, 23 November 2015

A fitting memorial in the face of such appalling loss

There are a couple of dates that will stay with me for a very long time.

The date of August 22, 2015, was the day that life ended for 11 men in the Shoreham Air Show tragedy and the worlds of their families and friends changed forever.

And November 22, 2015, was the day those relatives and friends gathered at  Lancing College Chapel to pay tribute to the men they had loved and lost just three months earlier.

They were not alone in that commemoration but joined by hundreds of police, firemen and women, ambulance workers and community volunteers who played such a critical role on that brutal summer’s day and such a supportive role ever since.

The idea of a service to support those grieving families and to help those first responders to heal was proposed by Shoreham MP Tim Loughton.

And, like so much that has happened out of this tragedy, people rallied and united to plan an event which would be a fitting memorial in the face of such appalling loss.

Lancing College offered its Chapel to host the Memorial Service and Ricardo’s agreed the use of its car park for the hundreds of people who would attend.

West Sussex County Council provided support as did Adur and Worthing Councils, the Diocese, Sussex Police and its invaluable liaison officers – all working with one purpose in mind, that the service should help people in the grieving process.

There has been considerable work going on in the background all done quietly and respectfully which I believe was reflected in the service.

The Bishop led the service with a kind, gentle touch.  I admired the relatives who lit 11 candles in memory of their loved ones and gave such beautiful readings in voices that never faltered.

The heads of each emergency service also reflected on a day which started “like any other” but ended with such devastation.  They also reflected on their pride at the dedication and professionalism of all those caught up in that terrible event and the spirit of unity and solidarity which has sprung from it.

Sitting at the back of the Chapel and listening to the service was a privilege that I will always remember.

Before and after the event, families gathered for an informal reception.  Here they had the chance to view the Books of Condolences on display together with a collage of some of the hundreds of written tributes laid with flowers on the toll bridge after the incident.

The Shoreham tragedy was as unexpected as it was brutal – taking away lives not fully lived and laying waste to the lives of those who loved them.

For younger people this could well have been the first experience of a tragic death and throughout these three months the relatives and friends of loved ones have had to face a situation most of us will never ever have to face.

Their lives have been randomly turned inside out.

Making sense of what has happened and why is part of the grieving process. People grieve in different ways and at different times. It comes and it goes and each person has to deal with their grief in their own way.

Our contribution, this Memorial Service, was one small way we could help in that grieving process.

Those who grieve walk an unknown path but, as they travel along it, they should be supported in each and every step by the love shown by others.

The communities in and around Shoreham have shown that love in so many ways and I hope that has helped ease the journey for those whose lives changed forever on August 22, 2015.

And that is why the Memorial Service held on November 22 was so very special for so many.
Best wishes,

Monday, 16 November 2015

A time to reflect

Early Saturday morning I switched on my radio to hear about the devastating attacks in Paris the night before. Shocked and saddened my thoughts and sympathies, like so many others, are very much with all those families and friends of those affected and of course with all the first responders and services who will be working flat out on this terrible situation for quite some time. It is difficult to imagine what the Parisian community as a whole are going through – but the considerable  support, demonstrations of solidarity, good will and prayers from so many across the globe I hope are of some comfort as they struggle to come to terms with the atrocities bestowed on them on Friday night.

Sadly we have seen similar random attacks across the globe, over the years, on innocent people who are guilty of no more than being out and about in a place at one time.

So where does that leave us here in West Sussex - should we be worried? Interestingly since August 2014 the UK has been on ‘severe’ level of threat and over that time we have to accept that it is easy for all of us to become a little relaxed and complacent with the level of threat that residents of the UK have found themselves living with on a day to day basis. However, after Friday we all need to be mindful of the situation and need to be vigilant in our day to day activities.

WSCC works closely with our communities and other organisations to make West Sussex a safe and resilient county for our residents and businesses alike. We engage 24/7 with other emergency services and organisations to ensure that we deal swiftly and effectively with incidents that impact upon our county. The tragic incident at Shoreham in August is an good example of how all services pull together in an emergency.

We do have  clear and robust procedures in place and these are shared with our partner agencies in order to learn from each other. This prepares us as a local authority to plan, educate and inform those within our own county to prepare and mitigate against such threats.

But we all have a part to play, so in this period of heightened alert it is really important for us to remain vigilant, trust our instincts and report suspicious activity to the police or anonymously to the number below by calling the confidential anti-terrorist hotline on 0800 789 321 or 999 in an emergency.

Here are some examples of suspicious behaviour to watch out for:

  • People in stationary vehicles watching a building or structure, for no apparent reason.
  • Vehicles moving slowly near public buildings, structures or bridges, or parked in suspicious circumstances.
  • People using recording equipment, including camera phones, or seen making notes or sketches of security details for no apparent reason.
  • Someone paying close attention to specific entry and exit points; stairwells, hallways, fire escapes for no apparent reason.
  • People loitering at or near premises for long periods, watching patrons, for no apparent reason.
  • People asking detailed or unusual questions about buildings and business operations, facilities (such as room layouts), security or parking for no apparent reason.
  • Members of the public in offices and ‘off limits’ areas, plant rooms and similar locations.

It may be absolutely nothing, but if you see or hear anything that you think could be terrorist-related trust your instincts and call the Anti-Terrorist Hotline on 0800 789 321 – we all have a part to play.

Best wishes,

Monday, 9 November 2015

There's no typical week at the Council

Whether as a County Councillor or Leader, I can honestly say that no week is the same. There are always a wide range of issues to get involved in!

This time of year there is always considerable planning around next year’s council budget. This year is no different and work is well underway. There are currently some unknowns as we await the Chancellor’s spending review on November 25. We do know we will have less money however, the demands on our services continue to grow which means difficult decisions. Work will continue on the budget planning and the budget will come before County Council in February.

I am very pleased the autumn/winter edition of Taste magazine will be available very shortly. This edition is a bumper one packed full of interesting foodie articles and winter walks - a really good read. You can read the latest edition online or look out to pick up your free copy later this month at outlets such as farm shops, restaurants, pubs and venues across the county.

Work continues on our ‘Five Bold Ideas’ for the economy. Plans for a creative and digital hub for Bognor Regis took another step forward last week with community groups and businesses backing proposals at an initial meeting. I am delighted that Hemingway Design, the company of renowned designer and West Sussex resident Wayne Hemingway, is leading the work to develop an overall design brief for the project. An important part of the work is to get the local community’s thoughts on the project and whether they think it is right for the town. At last week’s workshop it was good to see people wanting to get involved and be enthusiastic about the project. The hub would support the growth of the creative sectors in the town by providing a shared workspace where small businesses could work in a creative and supportive environment, network, socialise, display work and share facilities.

I spent part of last week working on the 3 Southern Counties (3SC) Devolution Offer, which is currently being considered by the Government. Along with other county and district council leaders and chief executives, I attended a workshop run by the Local Government Association. It was a useful session but there is much to do by all of us. I will keep you posted.

In the news over the last few months we have all witnessed the plight of Syrian refugees. The Government has been working on its plans to home 20,000 refugees over the next five years. This is called the Syrian Vulnerable Person Scheme. We, like many other county councils, have offered to take part in this scheme and help a number of the refugees to relocate. Planning for this is well underway and will see the county welcome a family unit of four refugees every month over the life of the scheme. This work includes finding accommodation and ensuring the refugees will be settled and looked after. This involves us working in close partnership with the district and borough councils as well as our health partners and many others. It is a sensitive issue, however judging from the offers of help and comments from so many, providing a place of safety and stability for these refugees is the right thing to do.

On Sunday morning I, along with many others, attended the Remembrance Sunday Service. Standing at the War Memorial listening to the names called out of those who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars is always very poignant. It made me think about lives given fighting for freedom – freedom of speech, freedom to vote, freedom to object, freedom to go where we want, freedom of oppression. For those who gave their lives for our freedoms and protecting this country I for one am eternally grateful. 

Best wishes,