Adapting to a difficult year

The 2020/21 High Sheriff of Northumberland has given his thoughts and reflections on the past year.

Friday, 26th March 2021, 5:52 pm
Tom Fairfax, right, presents the award for Extremely Special People to Bernard and Margaret Shaw. Picture by Canon Alan Hughes.

Tom Fairfax is married to Miki, they have two children and run a mixed farm at Mindrum on the northern edge of The Cheviots.

He said: “The last 12 months have been as interesting and challenging a time as I can remember. When I think back to this time last year, we were just beginning to be aware that Covid-19 was going to be a challenge, but I don’t think that any of us were aware just what disruption it was going to cause.

“When I was installed as High Sheriff of Northumberland in April 2020, it was clear that things might be different. Actually, I’m not really sure it has been, though the format has changed somewhat, as 2020/21 has created a set of conditions which have provided opportunities for those people who are prepared to step forward and serve. One of my chosen themes for my year was to recognise ‘duty of service’ and this year has provided a setting for just that.

“Whilst I don’t want to understate the impact of Covid-19, and for some it has brought particular challenges and sadness, I would like to focus, a little, on the positives from the last year.

“We are defined not by the times we fall over, but by how quickly we get up. Whatever challenges fate throws at us, we can all choose how we respond and I think we have a duty to use this gift as well as we can.

“Over the past 12 months, I have been stunned and humbled by the people I have met, physically and digitally, and by the amazing things that they have been doing and achieving.

“I think one of the biggest challenges has been the uncertainty. I am aware that many exciting plans have had to be mothballed or changed. Disappointment can be hard, especially when lots of work has gone into planning and preparation, but with imagination, we can improvise, overcome and move forward.

“It has been truly inspirational to see how various people have stepped forward to find new ways to deliver effectively in the pandemic.

“In conjunction with the Community Foundation, this week we were fortunate to be able to give High Sheriff of Northumberland Awards to 44 incredibly diverse organisations throughout the county. Of these, three stunning organisations stood out and were awarded prizes as Best Group, for Youth Leadership and for Innovation in the Face of Covid.

“High Sheriff of Northumberland Awards for Extremely Special People have also been presented during my Shrieval year.

“The Country Trust normally arranges visits for schoolchildren, particularly from urban environments, to farms so that they can experience and learn about where their food comes from.

“Finding that these visits were unable to take place, the Country Trust put their thinking hats on and produced ‘Farm in a Box’ where a combination of videos, video conferencing and boxes full of farm produce were pressed into service to bring the farm to the children.

“Adverse conditions are a time for leaders to shine and this been very clear with a number of youth organisations such as Bad Apples, which supports many young people in Blyth through the disciplines of dance and the performing arts.

“Young people have been particularly impacted by this year and we gave the youth leadership award to Northumberland Young Farmers, who have been particularly active in more rural areas to support the agricultural community.

“All of these organisations have faced the challenge of coronavirus and found ways to seize the initiative and operate under the Covid cloud.

“It has been hard to pick out a few examples as so many people, both individuals and groups, have done amazing things. People who have seen Covid not just as ‘difficult conditions’, but as an opportunity to step forward.

“In a year where health has been a focus, we have heard much about the battles fought by the health sector professionals who have worked so hard to keep us safe whether it be in hospitals, care homes, at home or in transit.

“It is easy, however, to forget the other rafts of folk who have been working tirelessly under difficult circumstances to support us; the police, ambulance, fire, mountain rescue, lifeboat crews and coastguard – who have faced a raft of Covid-related challenges in addition to their normal busy task list.

“We have also seen a number of other sectors and individuals formally volunteering to kick in and support the ‘front-line’, directly or as fund-raisers. Particularly the armed services, retired and serving clergy and other volunteers and essential workers from many sectors who have stepped forward to serve both directly and in supporting roles.

“Come the moment, come the people! I will remember the year 2020 to 2021 as the year where, when faced with adverse conditions, people throughout the community stepped forward to serve – not for recognition, but because there was a job to do.

“Many would want to forget the past 12 months. I must disagree as 2020/21 is a year during which it has been a privilege to serve with so many amazing people doing incredible things!”