Kent's new High Sheriff, Hugo Fenwick
PUBLISHED: 09:38 26 June 2014 | UPDATED: 09:38 26 June 2014
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Balancing the demands of a famous retail empire with family life, sporting interests and shrieval duties that include many events commemorating the First World War
A fifth generation member of a renowned retail dynasty, with two department stores in Kent that bear his family name, Hugo Fenwick’s background precedes him.
But did you also know that the new High Sheriff of Kent is a dab hand at pastry and baking, keeps bees, is fascinated by Kent’s almshouses and mad keen on Real Tennis?
At 49, he is also one of the youngest ever to hold one of the oldest secular offices in the UK. And with four children aged from 10 to 17 plus a busy day job in London, fitting in his Shrieval duties let alone his interests and hobbies sounds challenging.
“I do indeed have four children still in education. But I do also have the energy of a younger man that I can bring to the role,” he says confidently. “I will do half my role this year as High Sheriff and half at work, which is mainly in London. It all depends on the demands of the Shrievalty and when events are – it hasn’t intruded too badly yet and I have some excellent support.”
We are chatting at the lovely home in Egerton that Hugo, his wife Kate and their three eldest children moved into 14 years ago. I am amused to learn that its origins are as an 11th-century Court House, one of a number across Kent and the place where village elders met to mete our justice.
It couldn’t be a more fitting setting for a latter-day High Sheriff, whose duties include providing hospitality to high court judges out ‘on circuit.’
And with a wife who loves to entertain, a huge, homely kitchen and Hugo’s own interest in cooking (he makes a mean tarte tatin as well as his own honey, called Court Lodge), I am sure those visiting judges will be very well looked after.
Born and brought up in Northumberland, Hugo qualified as an accountant with Ernst and Young before joining the family firm as a buyer in Newcastle.
His first flirtation with Kent came when he audited Shepherd Neame and lived temporarily at Boughton. “I immediately absolutely adored the county,” he tells me.
Hugo relocated to Kent in 1993, where he was soon to oversee the construction of the new flagshop Canterbury store in the groundbreaking Whitefriars redevelopment, before being appointed group trading director, based at New Bond Street.
He is currently overseeing a £30m redevelopment of the group’s Williams & Griffin department store in the Roman town of Colchester, which brings with it similar archaeological challenges to those encountered (and triumphantly managed) in ancient Canterbury.
The group has 11 department stores, including one in Tunbridge Wells, which has given Hugo the opportunity through his business life of knowing a great many people right across the county, which is invaluable in his new Kent-wide role.
While the High Sheriff’s role is largely ceremonial these days, the role does give a unique insight into the workings of the criminal justice system and a sufficiently high profile to ensure that one’s views and ideas are listened to, in order to bring about change for the better, says Hugo.
He has clear ideas about his focus for the year and I am not at all surprised to hear that this devoted father will be looking at initiatives that exist for children and young people who are at risk of falling into the criminal justice system. “Through being a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Mercers, I’ve been lucky enough to see quite a bit of research on the importance of philanthropy into early education and early intervention,” he explains.
“If we can intervene early it not only saves a huge amount for the Government of the day but it is also great for society. Four out of five children who have conduct problems in their teenage years end up in criminal activity. So I want to look at more initiatives to enable those young people to contribute to society rather than being a drain on society.”
Passionately interested in education, Hugo is a governor of an academy in the West Midlands for 11 to 18-year- olds and in Kent he has been vice-chairman of Canterbury College for last five years. “This has given me a fair understanding of the importance of finding those vocational pathways for children so that they get their Maths and English and then hopefully go on to achieve either an A-level or a B-Tech. Post-16 education has a lot to offer.”
Hugo is also chair of Governors at Spring Grove, the primary school all four of his children attended and which he helped save. He explains: “Back in 2003 it was about to close and eight of us got together to turn it into a charitable trust.
“We are very proud of having doubled numbers and secured its future. The school has a super headmaster, Bill Jones, and the music is absolutely flourishing there.”
Those of us who were fortunate enough to attend the ancient ceremony at Egerton parish church where Hugo Fenwick was installed on 6 April can attest to that glowing praise of the school’s musical life.
The congregation was able to enjoy confident performances by Spring Grove School Brass and a wonderful solo, Where ‘er You Walk, by Bill Jones, accompanied by his wife Hilary on violin.
The service also saw readings by all four Fenwick children – Lucy, Anna, William and George, including a splendid new poem Greening the Garden by Sarah Salway, commissioned especially for the inauguration (and reproduced opposite).
Hugo is a trustee of the Friends of St James’ parish church, visible from his rear garden, and he loves the fact that Egerton is a “true village, it still has its post office, pub, village hall, garage, church, so you see all the community at some point.”
Hugo has experienced many outstanding highlight events right from the start of his year-long tenure, including unveiling a nine-foot tall First World War tribute piece of an East Kent Regiment foot soldier at the War and Peace Revival Open Day at Folkestone Racecourse.
The High Sheriff will be back at Folkestone on 4 August when active soldier Prince Harry unveils the new Memorial Arch on The Leas.
It’s one of the key events taking place in Kent this year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War.
Hugo is also commissioning a book by Canterbury-based author Martyn Barr called The Lost Generation – the Young Person’s Guide. Due to be published on 4 August, the Fenwick-sponsored guide has a strong educational element.
It’s turning into quite a year already but somehow Hugo will also fit in pursuing his profound interest in almshouses, which all stems from his role as a liveryman.
“At the Mercers’ Company we have two sets of almshouses, which give the most wonderful form of sheltered housing in such idyllic and tranquil settings.
“It offers such peaceful, independent living for so many people and it’s a lovely way to spend that era of their lives. Kent has some of the most almshouses in the country and we are looking at opening more. We are fortunate to have so many.”
And how fortunate we are in Kent to have such a youthful, energetic High Sheriff, full of ideas and enthusiasm for his all-important year in service.
And he’s even on Twitter – you can follow Hugo on @KentHighSheriff. n
FIND OUT MORE
Pictures from the High Sheriff’s Garden Party taking place at Court Lodge on 10 July will appear in September Kent Life.
4-13 July: Fenwick Canterbury is sponsoring the Egerton Music Festival (see Diary, page 14)
A feature on Kent’s almshouses, thanks to Hugo Fenwick, will appear in October Kent Life.