Shining a light on unsung heroes.
Stepping into her new role as high sheriff of Shropshire, Mandy Thorn talks to heather large about some of the duties she’ll be undertaking this year.
They can be found in every community across the county, carrying out acts of kindness while never expecting anything in return.These unsung heroes make our towns and villages better places to live and work and celebrating their valuable contribution will be the aim of the next High Sheriff of Shropshire, Mandy Thorn. During her year in office, she will be “shining a light” on these good neighbours and helping to ensure they receive the recognition they deserve. “It’s about celebrating and thanking all the people and organisations that go the extra mile,” says Mandy, who will be installed as High Sheriff during a ceremony at St Mary’s Church in Leighton on April 13. “It could be a bus driver who goes out of his way to drop somebody outside their door, a company whose corporate social responsibility policy supports charities across the country, an organisation running a village hall or the people who ensure the litter is picked up. There are so many people who do such great things.” Mandy was shocked when she was invited to become High Sheriff four years ago by one of her predecessors, Dr Josh Dixey. “I think I was flabbergasted. I didn’t feel I could say no – why would you? The opportunity to shine a spotlight on what goes on in this incredible county was too good to turn down.
“I couldn’t tell anyone for a year – and I’m awful at keeping secrets. Trying to keep that secret was really tough.”
Her husband of 37 years, Mark, will be very much by her side and their grown-up children Katie and Nick will also be lending their support.Mandy, who has been a Deputy Lieutenant of Shropshire since 2019, was born in Croydon but spent her teenage years in Herefordshire. She met Mark when she was 17 and they were later married in Dorrington, Shrewsbury, in February 1986.
The couple moved to Southern Africa in 1990, shortly after their daughter was born, for Mark’s job as an engineering consultant, living first in Gaborone, Botswana, and then Johannesburg, South Africa. Before leaving the UK, Mandy had worked in marketing in Birmingham and then London and later volunteered at a family and child centre in Johannesburg. They spent four years living in Southern Africa before moving back to UK as a family of four in 1993. They settled in Shropshire with Mandy helping to run her parents’ care home business, The Uplands, in Dorrington, after her mother, Tricia West, became unwell. “It felt the right time to leave South Africa. We love South Africa, it’s a beautiful part of the world, but it does have its challenges,” she says.
Mandy worked alongside her father Tony West, who was formerly a journalist, to run the business, which her parents started in 1985, learning the ropes as she went.
“My mother was sadly too ill so I never worked with her, but I worked with dad and for years and years we shared an office. “The care home’s matron, Matron Sue, took me under her wing, she taught me so much,” she explains.
Her parents are credited for helping to set the standards which care providers across the county aspire to.
In 1996, the family bought a second care home, The Rylands, and in 2006 built a new care home on the outskirts of Shrewsbury, tripling the size of the business. This cemented its reputation as a nationally recognised provider of nursing and dementia nursing care and in 2014, Mandy received an MBE for services to dementia from the then Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace. But she insists the honour was a testament to her “great team” and she feels proud of the high standards they set in looking after people with dementia. Mandy, a founding director of Shropshire Partners in Care and former vice chair of the National Care Association, sold the family business, Marches Care Holdings, in October 2021. She says that having such a conscientious and talented team around her during her time at the helm gave her the opportunity to learn about and get involved in a variety of different organisations across Shropshire. Over the years, Mandy has undertaken a wide variety of roles including holding previous positions such as a governor of Telford College and non-executive director at Business Link Shropshire. She is also a former chair of The Marches Local Enterprise Partnership and past president and director of Shropshire Chamber of Commerce. She is currently a trustee of the national charity Skills for Care and for the Harper Adams University Development Trust.
For six years, Mandy was chair of trustees at Lingen Davies Cancer Fund, a charity close to her heart after both of her parents were diagnosed with cancer.
Her term of office ended in January this year, but she will remain as a member of the trustee board.
Mandy, who is a member of Shrewsbury Darwin Rotary Club and the Shrewsbury Drapers Company, believes all of her experience has provided skills and knowledge that will prove useful during her 12 months as High Sheriff.
“I’m just very fortunate to have been able to work with some inspirational people on boards and to have learnt so much from them,” says Mandy. “Everything I have done has given me a real grounding in what it’s like to live in Shropshire, work in Shropshire and to have a business in Shropshire. “Both Mark and I were the first in our families to go to university and neither of us come from a wealthy or privileged background so to be in this position now, as a High Sheriff in Nomination, is an incredible honour.” The village of Leighton, situated between Ironbridge and Shrewsbury, has been the couple’s home for the past six and a half years. They have thrown themselves into community life and during the pandemic, along with four other couples, they saved the village pub from closure. “Our community was really worried that we would lose the pub, so the five couples stepped forward to take on the lease when the last tenants left.” Previously known as The Kynnersley Arms, the pub, now called The Mill at Leighton, underwent a three-month restoration project before reopening in May 2021. “Everyone worked so hard, volunteers from the village and further afield and especially the incoming Pub Manager Gareth and his wife Helen. I’m not a DIY person at all, I have no practical skills. My contribution was to bake cakes and biscuits – and make the tea for everyone,” says Mandy. “For me, pubs in villages are part of the community. It’s part of the role of the High Sheriff to shine a spotlight on communities and the role of pubs, village halls and community centres is absolutely essential to the fabric of Shropshire.” Traditionally, the High Sheriff has always been involved with matters relating to the judiciary and the maintenance of law and order. Mandy will be taking over from Selina Graham, who has held the position of High Sheriff since last April, and is looking forward to carrying on her work with National Crimebeat, the youth crime prevention charity of the High Sheriffs’ Association of England & Wales.
“The charity encourages young people to come together and work on projects that can reduce crime. Selina has started the ball rolling and I hope I can continue where she left off – that I think will be a very worthy legacy to Selina.She has been incredibly generous with her time.” Over the coming months, Mandy will also be travelling the length and breadth of the county meeting and thanking unsung heroes. She will be handing out pin badges as a sign of recognition and gratitude. “Being High Sheriff is not about the individual, it’s about the office of the High Sheriff. Yes, we wear velvet and feathers, but the role of the High Sheriff is more than that, it’s about shining a spotlight, saying thank you, putting people together to everybody’s benefit and showing what the communities in Shropshire do. It’s done from one High Sheriff to the next and my successor will continue it,” explains Mandy.