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Sally Varah, High Sheriff of Surrey 2008-09, reflects on her year in office

PUBLISHED: 13:09 21 April 2009 | UPDATED: 15:57 20 February 2013

Young people on the Youth Engagement Scheme, run by Surrey Fire and Rescue Service

Young people on the Youth Engagement Scheme, run by Surrey Fire and Rescue Service

As a hectic year in office draws to a close, Sally Varah, High Sheriff of Surrey 2008-09, explains how the young people of Surrey have made a big impression

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine April 2009

As a hectic year in office draws to a close, Sally Varah, High Sheriff of Surrey 2008-09, explains how the young people of Surrey have made a big impression

During my year in office, there have been many memorable moments - from celebrating 500 years of Loseley Park and watching the outstanding sporting achievements at the Surrey Youth Games to a groundbreaking conference on restorative justice.

However, it's the wonderful young people I have met through our High Sheriff Youth Awards (HSYA) that have perhaps made the most lasting impression. In short, the awards are all about helping young people make Surrey safer, and we provide funding to projects that do just that.

As a result, over the last year I've found myself in some fairly surprising situations - like being locked into Her Majesty's Prison Coldingley to present certificates to long-serving prisoners working with young people on the Crime Diversion Scheme.

I've also visited youth clubs, schools, and police and army outreach projects to see schemes that tackle anti-bullying, drugs and knives.

And at Walton, Farnham and Reigate Fire Stations, I saw 13 to 16-year-olds on the Youth Engagement Scheme train to become young firefighters. We gave £1,000 to buy the firefighting kit - and I narrowly escaped being doused by a hose as one group tried to put out the fire!

By the end of my year, when I hand over the role of High Sheriff to Lady Toulson on April 22, I will have presented Certificates of Recognition to 60 such projects, with cheques totalling £55,000. She will continue promoting the awards scheme, which has been running since 1993.

Making a difference

I am so full of admiration for all the young people I've met, and this year has taught me that huge disparities exist in our 11 Surrey boroughs and districts - the 'haves and have-nots'. But, what is fantastically reassuring is to see how, despite the bad press they so often get, our young people from across that social mix get involved in all kinds of projects that really do make a difference.

At the GASP Motor Project in Gomshall, for example, 14 to 17-year-olds can learn basic motor mechanics and how to build and drive off-road karts. We gave them a grant of £1,000 and arranged for these young people to show-off their new skills at the Surrey County Show 2008.

I've also been listening to the music created by members of The N Factor, a new youth club in Normandy, near Guildford. Our grant meant the club could have sessions in the visiting Demo Pod - the popular multimedia mobile studio for young people, which got on the road across the county in 2007 thanks to HSYA funding.

My late husband Michael was an international athlete in his youth. He believed that sport gives young people a focus and builds their self-belief, so I am also presenting a special Sports Award at the end of my year in his memory.

The winner is Woking and Maybury Sports Club, which does so much to encourage young people of different faiths to engage in a range of sports, to give a real focus to their lives.

Wherever I have been in Surrey, I've discovered that young people are playing a key role in helping to reduce bad behaviour. The 60-plus awards we have made in this one year really are helping them make Surrey safer. And, while they are at it, they are having a lot of fun along the way.

Read on
Sally Varah featured in My Surrey Weekend last year, discover what she gets up to in the county here

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