The Norfolk and Norwich Christian community website

Cators' eyes are open for their Norfolk dream

In a wide-ranging interview with former Norfolk High Sheriff Henry Cator and his wife Ski, John Myhill draws out the theme of Christian stewardship.

Five pm on a winter’s evening is not the best time to see a country estate, but those who know the landscape of Salhouse, on the edge of the conserved Norfolk broad, in daylight, may realise that considerable work lies behind such beauty. The Cator family have cared for this land for a couple of hundred years.
The darkness made the light and beauty of their farmhouse, particularly welcoming, and I was soon in the power of this charismatic couple.
Henry tells the story of his youth, when in 1974 he was sent to work in Alberta, Canada , to accompany a bull.  When riding the range, he shared his view of Britain (then in the grip of the three-day week, and collapse of growth) as a spent force.  He was reminded by his host of the huge sacrifice made by the British in opposing Hitler, 30 years earlier.  He was asked: “If Britain is finished, what are you going to do about it?”  A question we could all ask ourselves today.  The Cators have been making a difference ever since.
I was aware of his time at the head of the Royal Norfolk Show, but now I caught his vision for agricultural shows throughout the country, to provide the necessary link between the agricultural scientists and the practical farmers: to be “hubs of new ideas”.
“Innovation in agriculture is the only way we can hope to feed a growing world population,” said Henry.  “There will be a 50% increase in the need for food by 2035, just 17 harvests away.
“I do not believe in failure,” says Henry. “For me the glass is always half-full.”  He is a born enthusiast, filled with the joy of the Good News, that God works through those who trust in Him.   He is Chair of the Royal Agricultural Society of England.
Before Henry’s ancestors moved to Norfolk, they were Quakers.  Ski’s family were Roman Catholic. So they have fallen naturally into the broad Church of England.  They will be falling literally, with the Bishop and his wife, in their charity parachute jump, for the Matthew Project next spring. 
Henry led the mammoth fundraising effort for the hostry and refectory at Norwich Cathedral, which has done so much to make people feel welcome, to provide education and opportunities for worship – the objectives of the original Benedictine establishment.  Sitting and eating together is such a symbol of Christian sharing.  He is now a lay canon of the Cathedral, an honour which he sees as an opportunity for action.
His year as High Sheriff of Norfolk proved to be an opportunity to raise a substantial sum (£85,000) for the Norfolk Community Foundation, whose work with the poorest in society so deeply impressed him. 
“People can change their lives if they are given a second chance,” said Henry, who is a good Samaritan on a large scale.  He is now taking on a much bigger challenge, as High Steward of Yarmouth – a life’s work.  He was quick to defend the economic and business success of Great Yarmouth, and to explain that those who dismiss it have not seen its great history and thriving industry.  As with all his work, Henry seeks to connect together the new technology and the practical people who can make use of it.
Ski Cator has been a magistrate since 1986.  She has a deep commitment to the youth court and the opportunity to encourage the lost sheep back on the path of honesty and a worthwhile life.  Many a prodigal son has had their life turned around in the magistrates’ court.  She is full of praise for the Probation Service and of Victim Support, aware from personal experience of the hugeness of their tasks. 
She especially highlighted the wonderful restorative work done by the Youth Offending Team, and their helpfulness to magistrates in court.  Ski was the last chair of the Norwich bench of magistrates before it was combined with the other Norfolk courts.  Amidst such responsibilities she has brought up three children, despite the cot death of her second child, and kept a flourishing home.  Family values and a sense of identity within a community is what we all strive for: Christianity provides the key.
I was impressed by their simplicity of lifestyle which is part of their concern for the environment.  They shop locally, to cut down on the air miles and support local enterprise.  They have plans for 25 acres of solar panels – enough electricity for 1500 homes.  They are constantly seeking ways to work with nature, avoiding monoculture, and using science to preserve the condition and fertility of the soil, to avoid the overuse of chemicals and heavy machinery.  Taking the long view, conserving for the next generation, rather than seeking a quick profit, is clearly what Stewardship is all about.
“An employer is responsible to his workforce.  Labourers deserve their hire.”  But more than that, they should be given the opportunity (as Sam Hornor gave Henry, back in 1978), to play a part in the community, and thus bring added value to their place of work.  He loves working with others as part of a team, and hopes to work till his last breath.
The secret of success in public life has come to Henry through his dyslexia.  Problems with the written word have been more than compensated by an ability to speak to all kinds and conditions of people; to read their responses, and ensure that he gets his message across.  His own experience of turning an apparent disability into a positive opportunity has been an inspiration to others.  He thinks in pictures, “I dream with my eyes open.”
He has great optimism about the future of the Christian church, with the new Archbishop and new Pope, concentrating together on the essentials of the Christian message: the needs of the poor and sustainable development.

Pictured above are Henry and Ski Cator in their Salhouse home.
Click below to read the previous articles in this series
George Szirtes and Clarissa Upchurch

Richard Bacon

Hilary Cox

Rupert Read

Goff Hope

William Armstrong

Richard Jewson
Henry and Ski Cator
Paddy Seligman

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