Life is sweet on garden beat

Chris Wright talks to KAREN BETHELL about his varied career, covering 30 years in Norfolk Constabulary and, more recently, working as a horticulturalist - including a key role in a project at the Hampton Court Flower Show.

Chris Wright talks to KAREN BETHELL about his varied career, covering 30 years in Norfolk Constabulary and, more recently, working as a horticulturalist - including a key role in a project at the Hampton Court Flower Show.

Policeman turned horticulturist Chris Wright joined the Norfolk force as a cadet at 16. His first job after a two-year probationary period at King's Lynn saw him working on the Sandringham Estate with the Queen's security team. He fell in “love at first sight” with Angela, whom he met on a blind date in 1975, and the couple, who were married the following year, moved into a police house at Stalham before buying their own home at North Walsham.

After spending a summer season dealing with crimes ranging from boat thefts to burglaries as part of a team working off a police launch on the Broads, Dereham-born Chris became a well-known local face as a North Walsham bobby on the beat - and a star among colleagues as a member of the divisional police football team. A lifelong cricket fan, he also travelled the country as a member of Norfolk's police cricket team.

As crime prevention officer for North Walsham, and later as community relations officer, he liaised with schools to run drug and alcohol awareness programmes for young people, also organising an annual summer activity scheme. At its height this boasted a membership of 350 youngsters.

Chris ended up in Norwich as a divisional training officer and, in 1991, he found himself at a crossroads in life, having completing his 30-years service at 48. He had already decided he wanted to work with young people, so Chris trained as a further education tutor while still a policeman. A chance meeting with the head of Sidestrand Hall School saw his future decided when he was asked to take over the development of the school's outdoor learning area.

With the help of a £10,000 grant from Barclays Bank, Chris and his team of students, artists and volunteers have transformed the school grounds, adding greenhouses, a wildlife pond, a sculpture garden and flower and vegetable beds. As well as providing opportunities for youngsters at Sidestrand Hall, which caters for 100 pupils with special needs, the gardens are used by children from neighbouring schools and youth groups. Last year, Sidestrand Hall was asked to provide produce for TV gardener Chris Beardshaw's award-winning schools garden at Hampton Court Flower Show.

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Since September he has been on a year's secondment to Holt Hall field studies centre, where he is setting up a growing project for young people and reinstating a 19th-century walled garden. In his spare time Chris works with Sheringham New Wine Church, for whom he helped set up the Yesu project five years ago. He plays cricket for Sheringham and is its youth development officer.

He and Angela, who have a son, a daughter and a grandson, live in Sheringham.


What is the best thing about your job?

Being outside and working in an environment that is so relaxing and beneficial. It is also nice to be able to work with young people and see them flourish as they discover skills and abilities that they perhaps wouldn't in a classroom setting.

And the worst?

Bad weather! I always have to plan two lessons: a wet one and a dry one.

What one possession would you save from a fire?

My cricket bat. When a cricketer gets a good bat, he holds on to it!

Where do you go to unwind?

The cricket field or in the woods at Felbrigg. I love to kick leaves.

What is your favourite Norfolk building?

As a policeman, I spent many hours working nights at Blickling Hall while the ghost-hunters were there. It has such a fantastic atmosphere at night-time, although I never saw Anne Boleyn!

Have you ever done anything outrageous?

Lots of things I don't want to talk about! However, one of the silliest things I've done was when I visited a playgroup and, after demonstrating handcuffs to the youngsters by putting them on myself, I realised I'd forgotten to bring the keys. I ended up having to get one of my colleagues to come out and unlock them.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

My hair. I've never been happy with anything about it.

What is your proudest moment?

Seeing my children born was out of this world, but I was also incredibly proud to be chosen to lead the security for Billy Graham, the American evangelist, when he visited Norwich in 1983.

And your greatest achievement?

Really I see myself as Mr Average, so that is hard to answer. I suppose from a gardening perspective it would have to be helping Chris Beardshaw win gold, but I have had a wonderful career and a tremendous number of opportunities and each one of them is built into life's rich tapestry.

Whom do you most admire?

I couldn't choose between two people: Billy Graham, because of his sincerity and his passion for Jesus, and Sir Winston Churchill, for his bulldog spirit and his ability to motivate people in a time of crisis.

Do you have any fears or phobias?

I have a fear of heights, although I used to be able to climb and abseil. Now I shudder watching TV adverts of cars on top of skyscrapers from an armchair.

What makes you angry?

I can get frustrated by people who will not listen to other people's point of view and whose arguments are formed from prejudice. There is an old Red Indian saying that goes: “You need to walk in another's moccasins before you form an opinion,” and I agree with that.

Favourite book, film and TV programme?

The Bible is my favourite and most-read book. My favourite film is Saving Private Ryan, as I think it echoes an awful lot of what young men and women sacrificed for our freedom and our future. On TV, it has to be Antiques Roadshow as it is a programme where you actually learn at the same time as being entertained and surprised.

How would you like to be remembered?

As a person always willing to help someone else.