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Friday, 28 November 2014

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Queen’s new man in Cumbria had Hart-warming inspiration

They talk in the Hart family of Lauren’s legacy. To them, she was nothing short of inspirational – a girl loved by everyone who opened their eyes to ways in which others can be helped.

Martyn Hart photo
Martyn Hart with, from left, son Michael, wife Tess and daughter Siobhan Hopkins

Lauren was Martyn and Tess Hart’s youngest daughter. She had profound special needs, having been diagnosed with a brain tumour at just 10 months old, and died in 2005, aged only 18.

Her short life, however, had a tremendous impact on all who knew her. Through Lauren, her parents became involved in numerous voluntary organisations and charities working in health, education and children’s issues.

It is work that has had a real impact on countless lives, helping others who might otherwise have gone without vital support – some of it achieved through personal experiences they had securing support for their daughter.

The efforts of Tess, perhaps most widely known as one of the key figures in Cumbria’s annual Women of the Year Awards, were marked in 2012 when she was awarded the MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Now it’s the turn of businessman Martyn, 64, to receive regal recognition as this week he was sworn in as High Sheriff of Cumbria, one of the most coveted roles in county society.

He is in no doubt that he would not have been invited to take that position were it not for his daughter and the influence she had on their lives – and those of many others.

“Lauren’s legacy runs through all of our family and friends,” says Martyn, of Newby East, near Carlisle, who has two other children – daughter Siobhan, 38, mum to grandsons Jack, Louie and Findlay, and son Michael, 33.

“I know I wouldn’t be High Sheriff had Lauren not been my daughter. It’s because of the effect she had on our lives that Tess and I became more aware and more focussed.

“I was already a governor at Crosby School, but we were introduced into situations where there were short-comings in the support systems that existed. A lot of that was communication between organisations.

“What we did was for Lauren, but on our journey for Lauren other people benefited.

“That’s not a triumphalist thing to say. You play the cards in your hand. If someone else’s child can benefit from something that we found, they should.”

Lauren was diagnosed with a brain tumour while the Harts were on holiday in Spain.

She was flown to Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London, where she remained for several months. Her special needs left her in a wheelchair and without speech, but Martyn says: “She was a lively, mischievous girl, much loved by everybody. She had a good sense of humour and could communicate what she liked and disliked.

“You always knew exactly where you were with Lauren.”

He adds: “We had great support. I’m very proud of my family and friends. Lauren was part of the community. Everyone embraced her.”

Some of Martyn’s most noted efforts have been for James Rennie School in Carlisle, where Lauren was a pupil and where’s he’s been a governor – a position he also holds at his old school, St Bees in west Cumbria – for more than 20 years.

“James Rennie is a wonderful, happy place. The community should be proud of having James Rennie,” he enthuses, highlighting some of the fundraising successes there, which have included getting a hydrotherapy pool at the school.

“There’s cutting-edge work goes on there and it’s an outstanding school, pushing the boundaries in special needs. James Rennie gets a lot from the community, but also puts an awful lot back.”

It is with that desire to help that Martyn looks forward to his year as High Sheriff, which started with his installation service at Carlisle Crown Court on Wednesday. He succeeds Diana Matthews, of Windermere.

He’s already a well-connected through his charitable work and his day job as senior partner of Telford Hart Associates, the Carlisle-based chartered quantity surveying and cost consultancy company established by his late father, Jack Telford Hart, in 1946 and which he joined in 1968.

Some of its most notable schemes in the county have included Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake, the Rheged Discovery Centre, near Penrith, and the Energus complex at Lillyhall, Workington.

And he says he sees part of his role as a “living version of the Yellow Pages”, connecting people he meets through the role who could help each other.

“If someone’s doing something great in Alston that could help someone in Silloth, then they should be put in touch.

“That will be one of the focuses of what I do,” he adds.

Part of the role of the modern High Sheriff – a position Martyn describes as being the “ultimate volunteer” – is to help the most vulnerable, as well as backing crime reduction and crime prevention work and supporting the judiciary.

It is work that involves helping young people, steering them away from trouble, that particularly interests him and he’s keen to highlight examples of reasons for them not to fall on to the wrong side of the law because “the path of bad choices seems easier”.

“Everybody does the job differently and brings something different to it. The trick is making a position that’s 1,000-years-old relevant to today,” he says.

“You can still wear ceremonial dress.

“You’re not a different person because you’re wearing historic costume. That’s just a mark of respect for the role.”

He adds: “It’s about how you can make a difference. If you can thank people for the work they’re doing, that can mean a lot. I’ve seen some people grow two inches in front of a High Sheriff. It encourages them to continue. High Sheriffs represent the Queen.

“The problem we have as a county, because we’re so big, is a communication one and everyone needs to work together. Everyone in the county should work together for the benefit of the county. We need to raise the profile of Cumbria as a whole.

“Cumbria’s the finest county in the land. I’m keen to get that message across.”

The businessman admits he was surprised when approached about becoming High Sheriff, a position for which a panel sits to consider potential candidates before gauging their interest. It is a role the new incumbent sees as recognition for community contribution and one which he says is not the preserve of those from high society.

Martyn plans for events to commemorate the centenary of World War One’s outbreak to be a significant part of his year in office – and with special reason. Both his parents lost their fathers as a result of the Great War.

The influence of his own father is something that has shaped Martyn in business and is something that he will undoubtedly carry through his year in office, which he is determined to make his own mark on.

“My parents came from Lancashire in World War Two and I don’t necessarily feel I conform to the obvious image of a High Sheriff,” he says.

“My greatest influence in my life was my father because he was a self-made man and had a sense of humour. He could take a joke at his own expense.

“It’s important in life that you don’t take yourself too seriously. Being High Sheriff is a serious role, but there’s a lighter side to it too. It’s important to have a human touch.

“I’m lucky enough to have been recognised for some things that I’ve done and I’m immensely proud of that. I’ve been given an opportunity – it’s an honour to have been asked and I will try to do the job to the best of my ability.”

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