Mark Mitchell - the High Sheriff of Cheshire
PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 November 2019
A life-changing event two years ago has given added meaning to Mark Mitchell's role as Cheshire's High Sheriff.
Mark Mitchell, High Sheriff of Cheshire, picks his words carefully as he considers the events of summer 2017: 'You do rethink life, you rethink priorities, and you ask yourself if you're focusing on the right things,' he says. 'You realise some things you thought were very important aren't important at all. You realise that there are no dress rehearsals in this life and we live once.'
He's talking about the brain haemorrhage he suffered more than two years ago. He was on holiday with his wife Anita and two sons James and Elliot now, 22 and 18, when suddenly he began suffering from agonising, acute headaches. Upon arriving home he ended up at the Walton Centre in Liverpool where after numerous scans and investigations he was told he'd had the haemorrhage - a burst blood vessel on the brain - and underwent a three-hour operation to stem the bleeding. He spent a further ten days in hospital.
Recovery was tough, and long. 'It saps your energy entirely,' says Mark who owns the successful car dealership, Mitchell Group. Started 30 years ago with £100, the company based in Cheshire Oaks now comprises three showrooms and employs 108 staff. 'I went from working 16 hours a day to sleeping for much of it.'
It was a year before he was fully involved in the business again. 'One of the things that disappoints me the most is how well they all did without me,' he chuckles, clearly joking. 'But really I'm not surprised, they're wonderful colleagues.'
Although Mark describes the haemorrhage as 'life-changing', he has seemingly always valued the people close to him and has strived to make a difference from a fairly young age. At university he gave away 10% of his student loan to charity.
'I've seen some great examples of people down the years, and in Cheshire, who have set out to make a difference in their communities,' he says. 'I believe we can all make a difference to those around us whether we have much or little in terms of resource. As a Christian, that's what I think the Bible tells me to do.'
Although the position of High Sheriff was already on the cards when the haemorrhage happened - there is a five-year cycle so you have ample time to prepare for the role (Mark will appoint a successor for the years of 2024-2025) - his unwavering Christian faith has brought an added significance to the role. 'I had to ask myself what I'd been saved to do, and this is one of the key things I think I was saved for. It hugely inspired me.'
So, what exactly is the role? The Office of High Sheriff is the oldest secular Office in the UK after the Crown and dates from Saxon times. It's an independent non-political Royal appointment for a single year. Originally, the Sheriffs held powers from judging in court to collecting taxes and enforcing the law. Today, their powers have decreased and the role is focused on supporting the Crown and the judiciary, aiding the emergency services and raising the profile of the voluntary sector. It's a huge commitment. He and Anita can attend up to five social engagements a week and frequently host both guests and events and their Willaston home.
Given everything he's been through, how does he have the energy? 'I think if I'm being honest I'm still not entirely back to the person I was before the haemorrhage,' she says. 'I still don't have the same energy levels. But I love this role.'
Anita and the boys are integral to it: 'We love Wirral life and very much enjoy being a part of it. The High Sheriff's role is about community, it's about all of us.'
Beyond the business of High Sheriff there is still the business of cars to be taken care of too. He's as equally committed to the people who work for him as he is to those in the wider community, priding himself on knowing his staff by name and refusing to open on a Sunday so they are free to enjoy family time.
'Many of our staff support an African child through monthly payroll giving, and every two or three years, I take eight staff to Uganda to see where their money goes,' he says. The business is also involved in food banks, Street Pastors charity and Christians Against Poverty. All things considered, it's no wonder Mark was recently awarded Cheshire Business Person of the Year at the Cheshire Business Awards by Reach PLC.
That's not to say that giving is his only motivation - indeed his commercial acumen was proven early in childhood. 'I studied at Birkenhead School, and when I was about 10 years of age, long before I knew the facts of life, I put two hamsters in a cage together, turned the lights down low, popped some very early Barry Manilow on and, to my astonishment, just 16 days later there were 10 baby hamsters,' he laughs.
'I knew I could market these on the playground, in the days before animal welfare, so I took them in my pockets and sold them to other pupils. That was kind of my first business venture!'
But if the events of 2017 have taught him anything it's that beyond business, - alongside making a difference and doing your duty - it's crucial to make time for life's simplest pleasures.
'During my recovery I had many people come to visit me and we'd spend time just walking and talking,' he says. 'I adore walking now and heading off with Luna our black Labrador. I really enjoy the wildness of Cheshire as you head across to the Peak District.'
'And it will remain one of my great joys discovering the kindness of people and how much they cared. That's something that stays with you forever.'