Opinion: 'We should be grateful for the peace and security of life in Norfolk'

Seafront sunrise at Cromer

We should cherish the relative peace and safety most of us enjoy in Norfolk says Lady Dannatt MBE - Credit: Christopher Dean/iwitness24

It is odd, isn’t it?  So much to celebrate, yet none of us really feel like celebrating very much at all. Or only in occasional, tantalising bites. Glimpses of life as it was and how we hope it might be again. Blackberries already gather in profusion at the railway field gate. Yet summer hasn’t really caught on. Or not as last year, when we seemingly bathed in weeks of glorious, sunlit days.   

We all know the dangers of global warming, but here in Norfolk days have been mixed, and not always warm at all. And now with windswept gardens, bruised hollyhocks, a wealth of early berries and shorter days, summer seems stale and on the wane. 

Despite Olympic triumphs, news brings little succour. Tales of relentless horror in Afghanistan. The shocking massacre in Plymouth. Hundreds dead in the Haiti earthquake.  Forest fires raging across southern Europe and beyond. Homes, communities and livelihoods, all devastated beyond belief. 

And closer to home, the desperate news that a young Norfolk mother, and her two children, again face deportation to Albania, a country from which she fled in terror having been kidnapped by her own, and trafficked into a vile cycle of prostitution, just six years ago. Her children, both born in the UK, have known life and school nowhere else. They are already our own. 

Amid fleeting chances of equilibrium, some of you may be reflecting on your own lost dreams. ‘The world has gone mad’ is a common refrain. So, what to do? I have no easy answers, believe me, except possibly this. Norfolk isn’t like other counties. Easy to say, I know, but it is a fact.   

Here in Norfolk, we are used to digging deep. Digging deep while looking up at the widest, most supremely open skies; and then, barely knowing it, conversing with the Almighty. Not for nothing is Norfolk known for having a particular relationship with Him. 

As James Wentworth Day (d.1983) once wrote ‘If the rest of Britain sank beneath the waves, and Norfolk was left alone, islanded in the turmoil of the sea, she would, I think, survive without too much trouble.’ 

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Norfolk surviving is perhaps one thing. But individuals seeking survival within this stoic county of ours, may yet be another. Times remain truly harsh for many, on numerous tragic and complex fronts.  

It is a fact that none of us can change the world for everyone, much as we might long to do so. But many of us are in a position to change the world for an individual, sometimes a family, even a small community. To identify them and look to their needs. 

An elderly gentleman living on the coast, wrote and told me how his sanity was saved when his mental health unexpectedly hit rock bottom during the pandemic. Neither of his young neighbours had any experience of working with mental ill health. But it was almost in their DNA, he said. They listened and encouraged. Dropped in the occasional meal, collected his meds and checked up on him daily, before and after work. "They said it was nothing. But to me it was everything. I would not be here today without them."

Children’s minister Vicky Ford recently highlighted Norfolk’s fine moral leadership, citing this county as an example to be followed. How right she is. The challenge for us now is to ensure we continue to do what we have always done in our own resourceful and understated way. And then to up the game as needed.  

As for the weeks ahead?  A generation of youngsters, my grandson Jack amongst them, will be joining their reception classes countywide. Oversized uniforms and (briefly) shiny shoes. For them hope, fun and learning (take note Jack) abounds, and we must truly rejoice on their behalf. 

It hasn’t been the easiest of summers, but no matter. Soon the fluctuating fortunes of the Canaries, together with the timeless rituals of building bonfires, collecting conkers and carving pumpkins will be upon us. Ageless pastimes, crisscrossing the generations, providing rhythm and a joyful solace of their own. We are recovering and recovering well.  

But please keep a corner of your heart open to those, who like my young friend from Albania, so envy our traditions and long for the security we oft take for granted. In her words ‘I owe this country everything for providing for my children and myself when I had nothing.  All I wish now is to repay you in abundance.  I pray to God that will soon be possible.’    

My prayers join with hers for their safety.  One day I hope they too, will finally and fully, be able to call Norfolk their home.  What an immense celebration then, there will be. 

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