VECTIS VIEW: James Attrill, IW High Sheriff, 2021-2022

By IW Apr 16, 2022

It has, of course, been an honour and a privilege to be High Sheriff of the Isle of Wight for these last 12 months. The year was busy but peppered with lockdowns, cancelled events and much mask-wearing. Different, and bringing, probably, some positive change to the role of High Sheriff.

My first ‘live’ event, outside Brading Roman Villa in cold spring winds, was to attend the launch of a carnival year by the New Carnival Company – a baptism of fire as I was quickly dragooned into disco dancing while being filmed. Fun and terrifying, for me and everyone else, in equal measures.

The pandemic has highlighted the invaluable work done by volunteers and it was truly heartening to see so many new volunteers responding to the call. I was delighted to attend the IW Day celebration at Carisbrooke Castle, where volunteers and their families enjoyed free entry to a fun day out. I attended the Island’s Highland Gathering, royal visits and more and, of course, the social whirl of Cowes Week.

The social side of being High Sheriff is good fun, but not the real story at all. We have all suffered in some large or small way over the pandemic; for many it has been devastating. Food banks have been at the front line, and doing an amazing job. Community hubs – Aspire, Pan Together, West Wight Sports & Community Centre and many more – have seen huge uptakes in need. Frankly, the response from the voluntary sector, too many to mention, has been amazing.

We also owe a huge debt of gratitude to our incredible public services – the NHS, ambulance service, social care, police, courts, prisons, fire service, schools, colleges – again too many to mention. All backed up by a tidal wave of charitable and volunteer support, the like of which we have never seen before. It’s been my absolute privilege to meet and support these fantastic people.

Mental health was my theme for the year. On the Island, clinical admissions for mental health disorders are more than double the national average. It’s worst for young people – a survey of more than 2,250 young people on the IW, by the IW Youth Trust, has reported that, in the last 12 months, 9 per cent of 11–25-year-olds have made attempts on their life, and 35 per cent have self-harmed. Hospital admission for self-harm is up by 33 per cent. This is the new pandemic.

I have visited and worked with a wide range of mental health charities and providers to bring mental health issues into the open: the IW Youth Trust, Isoropia and The Wave Project to name just a few.

The High Sheriff’s Trust commissioned a series of high-quality films aimed at steering, in particular, young people in need, to help – they were rolled out to 55 schools, 70 community and youth groups, numerous sports clubs and the NHS. They are great films – check out the IW High Sheriff Twitter account to watch them.

To end on a positive note, I must highlight the Shade Makers of Ryde. This internationally recognised carnival charity has been selected to bring their world-class spectacle to head the Queen’s Jubilee Pageant in London with 250 Islanders leading the way. If you miss it don’t worry – it’s coming to Newport Carnival in July!

Thank you to the Isle of Wight for allowing me to be High Sheriff for this last year, to serve what is an incredible and inspiring community. I wish the new High Sheriff, Kay Marriott, all the very best for her year in office.