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‘They are all of us’ - Lady Agnew’s passion for charity means everyone matters in a caring society

PUBLISHED: 10:27 24 September 2020 | UPDATED: 10:27 24 September 2020

Lady Agnew, of Burnley Hall, East Somerton. during her year as High Sheriff of Norfolk PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Lady Agnew, of Burnley Hall, East Somerton. during her year as High Sheriff of Norfolk PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Jamie Honeywood Archant Norwich Norfolk

Lady Clare Agnew’s deep connection to the community stems from a belief that what happens at all levels of society matters to us all.

Lady Agnew cuts the ribbon to open the new sensory garden watched by Gina Dormer (left) and Amanda Skinner.Picture:Newman Associates PRLady Agnew cuts the ribbon to open the new sensory garden watched by Gina Dormer (left) and Amanda Skinner.Picture:Newman Associates PR

Whether it be the mum struggling with young children, the convict trying to carve a new path, or the debt-ridden family in a muddle - they are all linked to each other and all of us.

How we deal with them and hold out a helping hand says a lot about us as a society, she believes, and we all share a responsibility to do what we can - whatever world we are born into.

This stood out to her most starkly during her year as High Sheriff of Norfolk, a civic role that dates back centuries,

As part of its law and order brief she followed in the footsteps of her reformer ancestors visiting the county’s prisons with Community Chaplaincy Norfolk seeing for herself some of the work being done to help people to find the right path.

High Sheriff of Norfolk Lady Agnew and Bishop of Lynn Jonathan Meyrick  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNHigh Sheriff of Norfolk Lady Agnew and Bishop of Lynn Jonathan Meyrick Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

She was heartened to see inmates find purpose and pride while at Her Majesty’s pleasure, and wants to see more of it.

“You can feel the frustration from everyone that is in there,” she said.

“If we could have better resources in prisons the likelihood of people going staight back could be lowered.

“Most of the electorate ignore prisoners, therefore the MPs ignore prisoners and they are underfunded and underloved.

Lady Agnew (left) and Lady Dannatt launch Centre 81’s Pop in a Pound community appeal. The charity aims to raise £1.7million for a new centre in Great Yarmouth Picture: TMS MediaLady Agnew (left) and Lady Dannatt launch Centre 81’s Pop in a Pound community appeal. The charity aims to raise £1.7million for a new centre in Great Yarmouth Picture: TMS Media

“Putting people in prisons is expensive and if we do not do it well it is more so.

“I went to Wayland on one of my first visits and one of the things I saw was a wonderful statue of two men playing chess which had been made in the welding shop.

“I met the two men who made it. One was very shy and one was very chatty. The confidence in his own ability to do stuff well that came from having made this amazing statue was very inspiring.

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“But they are not other, they are all of us.”

Mrs Agnew, grew up wrapped in a privileged, happy upbringing a world away from many she meets.

It was an idyllic childhood on the family farm at Horsey where the land was lovingly tended and ultimately donated to the National Trust by her grandfather to protect and maintain its wildlife status.

But coming from landed gentry doesn’t mean she is beyond rolling up her sleeves and getting stuck in.

Quite the opposite.

On Monday you can see her collecting surplus produce from Lidl in Caister, on another day sorting it into food parcels for the needy in Great Yarmouth, or cooking for a community kitchen.

Many of those she deals with don’t even know she’s “a Lady” and if they do, they don’t say.

Although her motivation to help is not generally borne from her own experiences she is in a position to make connections, help to get things done, and spread the word.

Looking down, she hopes with warm approval, are her ancestors Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton who spent a chunk of his life battling for the emancipation of slaves and prison reformer Elizabeth Fry - both hard acts to follow, but whose celebrated works have informed her own passion for charity, a force that is needed now more than ever.

For many it is the community and neighbourliness that has been most missed during the lockdown, the fallout from the Covid bombshell likely to produce ripples for years to come - she fears.

She has what she calls her “box of tricks” - various strategies from a kind word to a ribbon cutting, a major charity event, or just the chance to shine the spotlight on someone else’s good work.

“I am lucky to have the time and the inclination to help and therefore I want to do that,” she said.

“I am lucky to live in this area and near an amazing town like Yarmouth and if I can help in any way then lucky me that I can.”

The mother of two who is married to Government minister Lord Theodore Agnew is involved with numerous good causes acting as a patron for some including Centre 81, Citizens Advice, Winterton Marine Cadets, Pathway, and Homestart Norfolk.


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