Meet the High Sheriff of Berkshire

PUBLISHED: 11:27 07 September 2020 | UPDATED: 13:13 10 September 2020

Mary at her home in Ufton Nervet

Photo: Sapna Odlin

Mary at her home in Ufton Nervet Photo: Sapna Odlin

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Mary Riall shares her plans for her year in office

“When I found out I was going to be High Sheriff of Berkshire, I was flabbergasted!” says Mary Riall, a mother of three. “It was completely unexpected and somewhat daunting.

“There is a High Sheriff’s nominations panel made up of representatives from the voluntary sector, faith groups, police and judiciary. They meet every year to consider nominees and appoint the High Sheriff, subject to approval by the Lord Lieutenant and the Queen.”

Being High Sheriff means representing the Queen in Berkshire in all areas connected with law and justice as well as a large role with the voluntary sector, and Mary has all the requirements to fulfil the role, including a good knowledge of the county.

“I’ve lived in Berkshire my whole life,” she says. “We live in a little village called Ufton Nervet, between Mortimer and Theale. If I was describing Berkshire I would say it is beautiful, varied and dynamic.

“I love the diversity of the county, from the large towns like Windsor and Reading, to the rural villages like Lambourn, as well as its beauty and rich history. Windsor Castle is a fantastic place to visit. It was magical as a child and still is in many ways. Personal to me will always be Englefield, where I grew up, and beautiful Ufton Court, where I worked.”

Mary was originally a teacher and founded and ran the Ufton Educational Trust, raising the aspiration and achievement of disadvantaged children.

It hasn’t been a normal start to a year in office for Mary. Firstly, because of the pandemic, the inaugural ceremony had to take place via video link, and she was sworn in at home by Chris Juden, Chair of the Magistrates’ Bench. Secondly, Mary would usually be expected to attend lots of events, but many can’t take place right now.

High Sheriff of Berkshire Mary Riall

Photo: Sapna OdlinHigh Sheriff of Berkshire Mary Riall Photo: Sapna Odlin

“My role in lockdown was initially challenging but I have found that through Zoom I’ve been able to talk to people all across the county. I am hopeful there will be a vaccine for the virus soon. Along with so many others I am longing to get out and meet people again. Although I am able to do some of the High Sheriff role there is so much more I look forward to doing,” she says.

Mary’s focus for the year is to support our communities, building on the tremendous community response and spirit that emerged during lockdown.

“I have been, and will continue to champion unsung Berkshire heroes. High on my list are our local shopkeepers and the many Covid-19 community groups that have rapidly sprung up.

“Working long hours they have collected shopping lists, sourced customers’ particular products, driven miles to cash and carries, and delivered the goods accompanied by a smile and conversation that has often been as much needed as the supplies themselves at a moment when many have felt vulnerable.

“The actions of our local shopkeepers (as well as volunteer groups) have meant that people are not only fed but also know they are valued. Local shops are at the heart of their communities, they are effectively a branch of health and social services and the emergency services. We should treasure, support and protect our small local suppliers as we return to our busy lives and the lure of the supermarkets.”

Mary believes that by not being able to mix, our communities have become even stronger. “If a second wave comes, we will be in a better position to cope,” she says.

The week we spoke with Mary she had visited Slough Outreach Centre, which was set up to help the homeless and vulnerable people in Slough, Windsor and Maidenhead. “In one morning they had distributed 200 hot meals to those in need in the area,” she says. “People are doing fantastic things behind the scenes.”

When asked who inspires her, without a beat Mary says: “The Queen. She is a truly inspirational figurehead for our country. While representing her in our county, I will do all I can to support our communities, build resilience and champion our community heroes. I also look forward to continuing my work in education, especially around connecting our young people with the natural world.”

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