Feature: The High Sheriff of South Yorkshire Carole O’Neill

Serving as the first female High Sheriff of South Yorkshire from Doncaster, Carole O’Neill has fulfilled her duty to the judiciary and community with dedication, despite the unprecedented challenges 2020 has presented to Carole in her role as High Sheriff.

Carole began work as a Magistrate in 1991 and served in the Judiciary for 28 years before her recent retirement. Prior to her work as a magistrate, Carole trained as a nurse in Doncaster and worked as a Ward Sister in the Accident & Emergency department for many years.

2020 has been a year like no other for everyone but it has created unexpected challenges for Carole right from the start of her taking on the title of High Sheriff. Her declaration at the start of her year was done virtually and many of her duties have had to be conducted remotely, via Zoom Teams etc.

The role of High Sheriff of South Yorkshire is a busy one and involves among other key duties, attending events, engaging with local charitable organisations and supporting the South Yorkshire Judiciary and visiting circuit High Court Judges.

Yet, Carole has not let anything stop her from making the most of her year.

Carole has regular virtual meetings with the Judiciary and started off her year with a formal dinner with a twist. Each attendee received a personal delivery of a meal and refreshments to their home ready for a virtual dinner at 7pm followed by a quiz.

The High Sheriff of South Yorkshire, Carole O’Neill said:

“It is important to keep positive and have fun especially right now. I believe the event was a real success.

“A real positive for me was being able to attend as High Sheriff, an event to thank and celebrate the retirement of two Magistrates for their voluntary service to the Magistracy since 1989.

“I was honoured to be able to attend virtually the swearing in of the new Mayor of Doncaster and Investiture events hosted by Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of South Yorkshire, Mr Andrew Coombe in October where I met the new Mayor of Barnsley, Cllr Makinson.

“I have also visited the Magistrates Courts within South Yorkshire. Spoken with the Police and Crime Commissioner and attended at the Violence Reduction Unit who carry out some excellent work within the community.”

Carole has also been out into the community in person when restrictions have allowed.

“I have been able to go to Bentley twice with South Yorkshire’s Community Foundation to see in person the flood recovery work being done. I was privileged to be asked into the homeowners houses to see the destruction and the renovation work carried out. I have also been able to visit the charity In2Change in Sheffield and have also been supporting the publication of the Fishlake Flood Book.

“The Flood Book has helped residents express what happened to them and their community and I have been happy to support the project. I think it would be a good idea if a similar project could be done for Bentley. It would be a catharsis for residents and a poignant reminder for the future.”

Looking ahead to rest of her year in post, the High Sheriff acknowledges it is difficult to know what she will physically be able to do next.

Carole said: “Looking ahead to what’s next, it is hard to plan anything whilst the future remains so uncertain but I will not be beaten. I think It is important to focus on what I have done not what I have not.

“I hope to see how the sponsorship I have provided local food banks has helped during the pandemic and to be able to host and attend events that have had to be postponed.

Each year the South Yorkshire’s Community Foundation (SYCF) offers support to the sitting High Sheriff to help them achieve a positive impact for their chosen causes. Carole’s focus has been on Youth Crime and Food Banks and SYCF has been able to help Carole engage with community organisations working in these areas.

Carole said:

“The team at SYCF has been hugely helpful to me during my time as High Sheriff. 

“I would encourage everyone to find out more about the Foundation. They help individuals, families and companies invest in the local communities of South Yorkshire. If you are able to, then I would encourage you to become a donor which you can do by setting up a fund, leaving a legacy, joining the SY100, or all of the above.

“In these difficult circumstances with Christmas looming and the future unknown I would ask you to think about those people less fortunate by donating either food or money to a local Foodbank. This will allow the volunteers to make someone’s Christmas a happier time with Peace and Good Will to all.”