Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Together we remember

Yesterday many parts of our county fell silent to remember the lives of 11 men lost at Shoreham on August 22, 2015.
I’ve been reflecting over the last few days as we have approached this sad anniversary and what has been at the forefront of my mind has been the relatives and friends of those 11 men who so tragically and brutally lost their lives 12 months ago.
For them, yesterday was unimaginably difficult but they all showed such bravery and courage.   
It was important for us to mark the anniversary of this tragedy with respect and dignity. So we,  West Sussex County Council, held a one minute’s silence on Shoreham Tollbridge and our offices across the county and our fire stations fell silent at 1.22pm, the exact time of the crash one year ago.
It was a poignant and emotional service for me, as it was for everyone, yesterday. Last year I stood alongside relatives and families whose lives were changed forever on that summer’s day to pay my respects and those of West Sussex County Council in the days immediately following the crash.
There hasn’t been a day that’s past between then and me returning to the bridge again for yesterday’s service when I haven’t thought about them.
Living with bereavement is one of the hardest things we ever have to face. I can’t imagine what grieving in the glare of the national spotlight must be like, which is a position so many of these families have found themselves in again.
And as I write this Blog, I know that there are still no answers for those friends and families – only questions that they must tussle with every day. They need to know what happened on August 22, 2015 that took the people they loved away from them.
Of course it is absolutely right that there is a robust investigation by the police and Air Accident Investigation Bureau and that everything is looked at. We know that takes time  – but there comes a time when those questions need answering to help everyone in their grieving process.
I’ve been asked a lot over the last few weeks about my personal reflections on the last year.
That day changed everything. For 11 sets of families, relatives and friends. For a small town that had never seen anything like it – and we pray never will again. For emergency service workers, for us a county council and for everyone who united in the face of such tragedy.
People’s kindness, humility, bravery and dignity are what have struck me repeatedly over the last 12 months. And it’s what struck me again standing on Shoreham Tollbridge yesterday.
I have been humbled so many times – and inspired – by the dedication of everyone who has pledged their service to this community, our community.
From all our emergency responders, to police colleagues, our partners at Worthing and Adur Council, the voluntary services, local charities, selfless local residents and dedicated community groups and, of course, our own staff.
What I learnt from the Shoreham tragedy is that no man is an island. We work together with partners to do the best we can for our residents.
We faced the unthinkable and together, day by day, we’re helping each other through it.
I am honoured to lead an organisation that responded with bravery, compassion and overwhelming support for the victims’ families, friends and the wider community.

I promise that our support will not wane and we continue to be there for those families, those friends and the Shoreham Community for as long as they need us.

They all remain in our hearts.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Remembering Shoreham

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly 12 months since the Shoreham Airshow tragedy.

I am very aware for the families, relatives and friends who lost people on that day, these last 12 months will have been the hardest they’ve ever lived through and my heart goes out to them. There hasn’t been hardly a day that’s passed where they haven’t been on my mind.

As I write this we are making final preparations for how we will remember the 11 victims on August 22, 2016. How, as a council, we will pay our respects in a way befitting of the dignity with which the families and relatives have carried themselves over the last year.

None of us will ever forget them. And we will never forget the way our communities rallied in the face of such unprecedented tragedy. Last week I visited the Record Office with Tim Loughton MP and two of the volunteers who had tended the flowers on the Bridge to see the enormous progress made on the Digital Archive. The messages were as emotional as was last year. But it was truly inspiring to see the dedicated, caring work undertaken by some amazing volunteers, the County

Archivist and Conservator to ensure this tragic but important part of West Sussex’s history is preserved for today, tomorrow and centuries to come.

Although I might be the Leader of West Sussex County Council and – proudly - hold the responsibilities that position demands of me, but on that day I admit to being  one of thousands absolutely shocked and brought to tears by the scenes in Shoreham. Yet so humbled, moved and extremely grateful for the amazing work undertaken by all the emergency services, unstintingly supported by St John’s, and Red Cross.

At 1.22pm, the exact time of the crash one year ago, I will lay flowers in memory of the 11 who died and staff across our council offices and firefighters at our fire stations will fall silent.

Those flowers and that silence represent my deep respect, my grief, my pride and my sincere gratitude to all the emergency services and everyone who has done so much to support the families, friends, relatives and this community whose lives were irrevocably changed on August 22, 2015.