John reveals Norwich Sheriff insights
Former Sheriff of Norwich
and current chief executive of YMCA Norfolk, John Drake
, is much more likely to be found giving to the poor and needy than taking from them, like his Nottingham namesake did. Gail Halley
also found out a few other surprising things about John and his civic role.
Q John, how do you see the role of Sheriff?
A It's a privilege because of its heritage and the long line of people who have made such significant contributions to our city. It is humbling and slightly intimidating. I am sure my election as Sheriff was in recognition of 150 years of service given by the YMCA to the city of Norwich.
Q What's the best thing about being Sheriff?
A As someone who has been in the voluntary sector in the city for a long time, I thought I knew of the vast spread of work in the voluntary sector by Christians and many others, but I didn’t. It's an opportunity to encourage those who labour in the sector and express the city's gratitude to those who run services, whether they are paid or not.
Q How many functions do you attend?
A There are about 260 engagements in a year, and they could be anything from declaring a school fete open to taking the salute at a military parade.
Q Does any one engagement stand out?
A Meeting D-Day veterans who appreciated the Sheriff's presence at their meeting, while without their courage the office of Sheriff could well have disappeared in 1944. To honour such men and women who have given their lives that we may enjoy what we take for granted today was a moving and genuinely humbling experience. If all those fallen heroes were to start marching past the Cenotaph - six abreast – at 11am on Sunday, it would be dawn on Wednesday when the last ones passed by. Our forces are still dying today that we might live in a safer world.
Q Any funny moments so far in your role as Sheriff?
A Being pushed in a wheelchair in full regalia around the Thomas Tawell Residential Home for people who are sensorily impaired made for a highly amusing evening! Another memorable event was hosting the annual gathering of 15 sheriffs from across England and Wales; it was a privilege to receive the praise and genuine appreciation of these distinguished guests for our great city.
Q You're celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Young Men's Christian Association. Is continuing to be a Christian organization still appropriate today?
A The YMCA is the biggest non governmental organisation in the world with 88 million members in over 100 countries. In the Muslim world the local YMCAs treasure the "Christian" in the title. In fact we are more vulnerable in our Christian profile in North America where there is more spiritual confusion. People of other faiths want Christians to be clear about who we are and rejoice in what we have to offer. We want to be honest in our proclamation and our beliefs and not be embarrassed and mealy-mouthed in our mutterings.
Q What does the YMCA do in Norwich today?
A The YMCA is one of the emergency services. Our hostel at No 48 St Giles St is open 24/7 and is available to people at their point of need. But St Giles is just the tip of the iceberg, the bit you see; what you don't see are the resettlement teams making sure people can cope with living alone, or the full-time workers who go into 24 schools, or the Furniture Project, giving people – literally – a bed to sleep on and blankets to keep them warm. This is the quiet ministry of Christ – compassion needn't be loud.
Q How are you marking your 150th anniversary?
A We are hoping for a celebration in the Cathedral, but – what with launching an appeal and building accommodation on two new sites – we are too busy looking forward to spend too much time looking back.
Q What are your personal dreams and ambitions about the future?
A I'd like to work in Jerusalem and look at some of the work which has been done since 1969 when I was first there. I'd like to encourage support for Christian Arabs who are at risk, misunderstood and much maligned. I am currently looking at potential programmes for future work out there should I ever retire.
Pictured above is Sheriff of Norwich and chief executive of YMCA Norfolk John Drake.