Everyone has heard of the High Sheriff of Nottingham, but what does the job entail in the modern age? We spoke with Veronica Pickering, Nottinghamshire’s first Black female High Sheriff, about her truly fascinating career journey, her international and local community work, the changing nature of the public sector, and what she likes to do in her free time…
You have had a really fascinating career journey. What led you to this field of work and what is the process involved in becoming high sheriff?
There is a process whereby the High Sheriff is appointed by the king, initial selection is by a panel. Every county has its own process. There is a two/three year run up to being actually appointed. This is a period of preparation and clearing your diary to ensure you are ready to take on the responsibility. High Sheriffs have different priorities for their year and mine is to focus on the achievements of young people and the organisations that support them.
My work has always been people and community focused. I would probably say that my interest and focus has always been people. I started in social work, then working with the courts for many years. I have always been interested in promoting frontline workers who do a really important job. I’m not somebody that has sought to have a career that is high profile or a career that puts me on a stage!
I’m a very ordinary and humble person that’s really interested in how best to get through some of the challenges that we have in society. My passion also comes from my own background and the challenges that we had as a family and as immigrants trying to settle in the UK.
The challenge is always focused on how to do things better for more rather than for less and who can help you do that work better. So I’ve worked internationally and with amazing people who have connected me with others who are able to solve problems a lot quicker than me; that’s been a skill that I have built and I guess that’s partially some of what has led to me being High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire.
Over thirty years, how have you seen Nottingham public sector organisations positively change and adapt?
I think wherever I’ve gone I have felt the pressure of the lack and reduction of services that are being offered to the public. There are a lot of professionals who feel the same but yet they still want to serve the public and do the right thing and also do more preventative work.
I think local authorities are doing an amazing job and I think the Chief Execs are angels frankly. The people on the ground and frontline are amazing from fire officers, police officers, paramedics and social workers - these are the people we seriously rely on, they are the people that really know our communities. I just feel that they need more help and more support to do the day to day work but we don’t always have the resources for them - I’m a dreamer, right?
Not only are you working towards improving the lives of those living in the Nottingham community, you also have maintained a partnership with Kenya, where you were born. Can you explain more about your international work, more specifically in Kenya?
I’m a member of the UK Kenya Society, which has strong partnerships across the UK and linked to the Kenya High Commission. I do my best to support them when I can and attend their meetings. I’m also a new member of the Rotary Club. I didn’t know much about the work of the Rotary Clubs before. They’re in most countries, and they do amazing charitable work in Kenya. I really like their ethos, which is that serving is a priority - not the taking but giving back to society!
I have good links to the Nottingham Kenya Welfare Association (NKWA). I was a former chair of the Mojatu Foundation, which was then being run by two Kenyans then. I’ve done a lot of work to support Kenya and Kenyans in the past to help lots of other people - working with funders and children’s homes and some very tricky and difficult stuff to be honest. But it’s also been quite amazing too with brilliant experiences - I can’t believe I’ve seen and done some of the things I have.
You also host an online support group for women of colour. What is your involvement in this and how does this group support the women of Nottingham?
I started the group during Covid and I felt that psychologically these women needed a space where they could go to talk to each other and help one another. It was just so refreshing to know that we had a safe space and we could talk about our individual issues throughout Covid, the stress of our new jobs, the concerns post George Floyd and how these issues affected women and mothers in particular and how fed up we were at times and just how much we could help each other. It was a really great project and hopefully it will pop up in a different form somewhere else but for the two/three years it was running it was was beautiful.
We have focused a lot on your career, but what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
We are very family oriented so we spend a lot of time with our children, grandchildren, and our mothers. We have always been quite creative as a couple, although my husband Roy is the artist! Art, creativity, and culture is a huge part of our lives for us.
Another thing is planning our trips to Kenya, which I try to do once a year so we can see family and friends. I’m a trustee of the YMCA Robin-Hood Group in Nottinghamshire - it's a great charity that works to support young people and their families. The Royal Air Force is an important part of my life with 504 (County of Nottingham Squadron) for whom I was appointed by our late Queen as Honorary Air Commodore and as an RAF ambassador nearly five years ago. I have a great respect for the work of the military - they are a fantastic group of people who I’ve really grown to love and appreciate.
I also really love gardening in my free time and going to look at other people’s smart and creative gardens. We have inherited a fantastic garden in our new house. I often come back thinking, “How can I recreate what I have seen in my own garden?” It is what connects me to nature and my passion for the work of the RSPB. I have been a trustee and on the UK council to the RSPB the last four years –and there’s nothing that they don’t know about the impact of climate change on our everyday lives. I’m constantly learning and being a trustee gives me invaluable access to the experts and specialists in their field - it's a real privilege to be able to share my expertise when I can.
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