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Norfolk High Sheriff is a real champion

High Sheriff of Norfolk, Lady Pippa Dannatt, has used her 12 months in the ceremonial office to champion a cause very close to her heart - that of mental health. Helen Baldry reports.

Married to the former head of the British Army Lord Richard Dannatt, Pippa is a trained counsellor - she has worked for 18 years for Relate and with a number of GP surgeries.
 
Mental health problems are something she is very used to being around, and experienced herself with postnatal depression after the birth of two of her four children. She encourages people to be honest about mental health issues. "The more people talk about it the less scary, less of a taboo there is."
 
A highlight of Lady Dannatt's year as High Sheriff - traditionally the Queen's representative for law enforcement - has been meeting the unsung heroes of the voluntary sector, particularly the number of women and their selfless commitment to other people.
 
Pippa was made an MBE in 2013 for her work with SSAFA, in particular spearheading a £5m fundraising drive to provide decent standards of accommodation for military families visiting their injured loved ones.
 
The Dannatts worship at their village church in Keswick, south Norfolk, and have always felt it right to belong to their local church in the village where Lady Dannatt was born.
 
Of her own Christian faith, she says: "Faith matures, and perhaps one becomes increasingly aware of the things that are really, really important. I've become more accepting of other people just as they are.
 
"Actually, all that matters at the end of the day is love.  It sounds so simplistic, doesn't it, but what a different place the world would be if we only truly loved our neighbour - whoever, and wherever he or she might be - as ourselves."
 
Pippa, who first met future husband Richard while studying for a theology degree at Durham University, raised her family at various army bases around the world, following her husband's career right to the pinnacle of the British Army. In fact, the family moved 24 times in 34 years. She described moving around as 'tough' but also said, "being an army wife makes you very independent", this is evident in the way she and her husband undertake their own roles and projects.

Lady Dannatt is part of the Gurney family, whose Norfolk history stretches back generations and has Quaker roots. Her house in Keswick has always been her home and she is very fond of the area. Pippa loves the Norfolk coastline and spending time with her large family - including six grandsons and four great-nephews.
 
A particular place of sanctuary for her is Norwich Cathedral, where she is inspired by the centuries of prayer: "It's just amazing; the joys, and the hopes and the sorrows; everything that building has seen and encapsulates; every brick breathes it," she says.
 
The appointment as High Sheriff of Norfolk is something of a family tradition - Lady Dannatt's father and grandfather both held the role - and as her own year as High Sheriff comes to a close, Lady Dannatt is determined to continue her work in the area of mental health.
 
She is also incredibly proud of the work of her eldest son, Tom who devotes much of his time and resources to helping street children in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Tom, who founded the charity Street Child in 2008, is yet another member of this high-profile family who has a remarkable strength and ability to demonstrate their love for people in practical ways.
 
Pictured above is High Sheriff of Norfolk, Lady Pippa Dannatt, at the opening of YMCA Norfolk's My Place facility in Norwich. Picture by Julia Holland.
 



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