Meet Paul Barrett, Kent’s new High Sheriff

PUBLISHED: 13:12 22 July 2019

Paul Barrett in the uniform of the High Sheriff of Kent (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Paul Barrett in the uniform of the High Sheriff of Kent (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

Paul Barrett never says no to a sporting dare, but this year he’s taking on a whole new challenge as Kent’s High Sheriff

There were two distinct reactions in the Barrett household to a discreet conversation about taking on a certain high office in Kent that took place around four years ago. From Paul, the owner of Canterbury based Barretts Motor Group, it was: "Paul the car dealer as High Sheriff - are they mad!" From wife Patsy it was the more practical: "Does it come with a clothing allowance?"

To both the answer was a 'no' - this is not a wind-up and no, this is a self-funded role, but one that definitely needs both husband and wife to agree to as a team, especially when both work and have many county commitments.

"The only other person I consulted was my father who, although retired from the business, was very interested in everything going on," says Paul.

"He said 'you absolutely must do it, it's an enormous honour to have been asked' and was completely and utterly supportive. One of the saddest things for me is that he didn't live long enough to be at the Declaration. But he did know."

Then followed two years before the news was made public when Paul couldn't tell anyone - "I didn't dare tell the kids, not even my mum" - followed by an unexpected call to ask if he would take office a year early, as someone had dropped out.

"My Declaration Ceremony was then going to be on or around the original Brexit, so when they were doing the countdown to 29 March, it was like a countdown to my big day! When you get to seven days to go, that's when you're in full panic mode."

But there was no need for panic. Patsy, a director of Barretts, has lots of experience in event planning and the service at the Church of St Andrew in Wickhambreaux - where the family has have lived for 25 years - was not only celebratory but also full of good humour.

There was an added bonus too. "It was like a preview of the girls' weddings - we now know we can get 150 people in a church built for 130!" laughs Patsy, whose grown-up daughters Alicia and Kathryn both did readings.

Paul Barrett at home in Wickhambreaux (photo: Manu Palomeque)Paul Barrett at home in Wickhambreaux (photo: Manu Palomeque)

And it is unlikely that Paul, 59, will lack the necessary stamina for the year ahead. Always up for a challenge, his love of cycling - which he'd abandoned as a teenager for motorbikes and then fast cars - ignited again when he tackled his first London to Brighton Cycle Ride in 2000.

This led on to a number of other long-distance rides, notably Canterbury to Rome raising funds for Canterbury Cathedral and Olympia to the Olympic Stadium in London in 2012 in aid of Air Ambulance Kent Surrey Sussex, which he supports as a trustee.

Now Paul rides every Saturday with the Canterbury Velo Club, of which he is a founding member.

Running was the next sport to crop up in the form of a couple of 10K fundraisers - both of which he ran in under an hour, despite any real experience - but that got interrupted when Paul "accidentally volunteered" to be part of a Channel relay race.

"Jaguar Landrover's MD Jeremy Hicks was challenged by the motor industry charity to fundraise, so he looked into the idea of a channel swim. He rang me up, assuming we all swim the channel every weekend here in Kent and would know how it worked," explains Paul. "I didn't."

"One of my old schoolfriend's did know, however, and managed to secure us a slot - and Jeremy said as I'd been so helpful, did I want to join his team? The sensible answer would have been 'no' but I found myself saying 'that would be rather fun'."

Training with the Kingsdown Crawlers off the coast at the Zetland Arms paid off, however, despite the first of his three channel sessions starting at 2am.

Patsy and Paul Barrett in the garden of their lovely home in Wickhambreaux (photo: Manu Palomeque)Patsy and Paul Barrett in the garden of their lovely home in Wickhambreaux (photo: Manu Palomeque)

"Jumping into the inky, blue-black sea when it's very dark and cold - I can tell you without any shadow of doubt, there are definitely sea monsters under the surface of the sea at that time of night," he laughs. "More people have climbed Everest than have swum the channel. It's an experience I will never forget."

Levity aside, over the years Paul has helped raise hundreds of thousands of pounds for charitable causes dear to his heart, particularly ones close to home - his beloved Canterbury.

Recognition of his services to fundraising and the community, which include being part of the dedicated teams who helped raise money to renovate Canterbury Cathedral and the Marlowe Theatre, came this year in the award of an MBE - as unexpected as was his Shrieval honour.

As well as his fundraising efforts, Paul is very involved in Canterbury city life and increasingly in county issues.

He has been chair of Canterbury 4 Business for 13 years, believing that as a large business owner and employer in the district, he should 'put back something.' That led to a county role on the Kent & Medway Business Advisory Board and then being asked to become a business representative on the Kent & Medway Economic Partnership, an evolved group from the South East Local Enterprise Partnership.

His sense of responsibility as a large employer triggered support for local charity Porchlight. "We first became aware of the growing problem of homelessness when we started getting people sleeping rough around our showrooms," explains Paul. He and Patsy are now both dedicated patrons.

It's a busy year too for Barretts Motor Group, which was formed in 1902 by Paul's great grandfather when he set up his cycle repair business by the Westgate Towers, where the company has been ever since.

A keen cyclist, Paul is a member of the Canterbury Velo Club (photo: Manu Palomeque)A keen cyclist, Paul is a member of the Canterbury Velo Club (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Later this year Barretts of Canterbury moves from that original site to a more appropriate motor trade location at Broad Oak. While it's a wrench, Paul explains: "It's no longer giving us the right configuration of space; we sell Jaguar from the Westgate site but a requirement of the new franchise agreement is that Jaguar and Landrover go side by side in facilities that are bespoke, and we can't make the current site comply. The front is pedestrianised, which means we have no forecourt."

It's a wonder Paul is finding time for Shrieval work, especially now after an initial quiet period following the Declaration, 'the appointments have gone mad!'

His goal of 50 per cent business and 50 per cent High Sheriff duties has recently been 80 per cent High Sheriff, so he has had to adjust plans a tad.

"For example, I wanted to get to all the county prisons by the end of July, but that's going to be impossible. I do have a whole 12 months, so I am learning to push a few things further on into the year so I can get some time to attend to the business too."

Paul also wants to take his time choosing the themes for his year in office. "I don't know enough yet about the charities that exist in the county to be able to say what I'm going to concentrate on. What I've said is that as I go around the county and see and hear it will lead me down a particular direction.

"I didn't want to be prescriptive; at the moment there are so many challenges in the county that to try and concentrate on one specific area without that wider awareness would be wrong."

An area that does appeal came from Paul's first prison visit as High Sheriff, which made him aware of the challenges prisoners face in getting employment when they get released, a key thing that will help them from reoffending. As an employer, he feels that would be an area where could demonstrate change first hand.

Immediately after our morning together, Paul was meeting with Chief Constable, with whom he hoped to discuss ways of using the office of High Sheriff to get key messages across.

So, may we expect to hear about a new sporting challenge soon? Paul laughs. "I haven't yet signed up for a triathlon - that's next on my list - but I have promised Patsy that I wouldn't take on any more crazy challenges this year!"

So what is a High Sheriff?

The Office of High Sheriff is an independent, non-political Royal appointment for a single year. The origins of the Office date back to Saxon times, when the 'Shire Reeve' was responsible to the king for the maintenance of law and order within the shire, or county, and for the collection and return of taxes due to the Crown. While the duties of the role have evolved over time, supporting the Crown and the judiciary remain central elements of the role today. In addition, High Sheriffs actively lend support and encouragement to crime-prevention agencies, the emergency services and to the voluntary sector. In recent years High Sheriffs in many parts of England and Wales have been particularly active in encouraging crime reduction initiatives, especially among young people. Many High Sheriffs also assist Community Foundations and local charities working with vulnerable and other people both in endorsing and helping to raise the profile of their valuable work. The High Sheriff Association adopted DebtCred and Crimebeat in recent years in response to specific areas of need.

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