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999 Festival of Thanksgiving 2020

On Friday 4th September 2020 I delivered a pre-recorded speech as part of a special online version of the Emergency Services Festival of Thanksgiving. Guests in the programme included HRH The Duke of Cambridge; The First Ministers of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales; Health Secretary Matt Hancock; the Chairs of the National Police and Fire Chiefs’ Councils; the CEO of the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives; and featured music from the Blue Light Choir. As part of the Service I was also proud to lay a wreath on behalf of the 999 Cenotaph, 999 Day and 999 Festival to remember all emergency services personnel killed as a result of their duties.

DELIVERY 14:10, 04/09/2020, ENGLAND:

Today I should have been making this speech in Belfast Cathedral, and looking out before my eyes should have been hundreds of people from across the emergency services from all four corners of our United Kingdom, gathered in the magnificent cathedral to show our united appreciation for our NHS and 999 heroes.

Instead, the world is in the midst of a health pandemic the likes of which are unprecedented.

So far, over 200 serving emergency services and NHS personnel have lost their lives in the course of their duties, whilst trying to keep us all safe.

During this pandemic we have seen deep pain and sadness which has touched almost every member of the emergency services family. At the same time, we have seen the very best of the NHS and the emergency services. We have seen staff and volunteers going above and beyond, putting others first, and all whilst continuing to perform their other duties of fighting fires, policing the streets, and saving lives.

That is an emergency services I am proud of.

I would like to start by thanking the 999 Festival’s committed Trustees and Ambassadors and thanking each and every participant in this special online programme, including the superb Blue Light Choir.

We are immensely honoured that HRH The Duke of Cambridge; First Ministers of Northern Ireland Scotland and Wales and the Health Secretary have recorded messages of support for this online 999 Festival.

Whilst my team and I are sad to have had to have cancelled this year’s Festival of Thanksgiving in Northern Ireland, and the main 999 Day event because of the pandemic, I have advised the First and Deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland of my commitment for Belfast to host both events next year.

This means Wales will now host the 2022 999 Festival of Thanksgiving and the main national 999 Day event.

I would like to give my appreciation to the Dean of Belfast Cathedral, Stephen Forde, and to the government and emergency services of Northern Ireland for their support in the preparation for what would have been two incredible events in Belfast.

As I mentioned in my speech at last year’s 999 Festival at St Giles’ Cathedral, the 999 Festival, the 999 Cenotaph and indeed the 999 Day have their roots in tragedy.

My grandfather, John Scholes, was a police officer in Greater Manchester Police. In 2001, one of his officers, a young 29-year-old woman, was tragically killed in Hollinwood, Oldham, when she was run over by a stolen vehicle.

My grandfather showed me the tree GMP Officers had planted in her memory and told me that in this country we don’t look after the emergency services as much as we should. Those words stuck in my mind.

Today, I would like to update you on the progress of the creation of the United Kingdom’s first national 999 cenotaph. In the coming months we will announce the location of this important monument which will be in Central London. I am working with the sculptor, Philip Jackson CVO and the four governments to find a way of safely taking the maquette on a tour of the UK.

I want to make clear that the 999 Cenotaph is not intended to overtake or replace existing NHS and emergency services monuments which are dotted across the UK.

Instead, it will complement existing 999 monuments. The 999 Cenotaph when built will be a national symbol of gratitude, sacrifice and remembrance for ALL emergency services and the NHS. It will also honour the role animals play in the emergency services which is why we have included a search and rescue spaniel as part of the design.

I shall now move on to updating you on the 999 Day.

It is testament to the spirit of our country that the Emergency Services Day – which takes place on 9th September each year – has grown so significantly since I founded it a few years ago.

It is humbling that last year’s 999 Day saw support from Her Majesty The Queen and Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall and Duke of Cambridge.

The 999 Day is your opportunity to show your appreciation for our NHS and emergency services. It is intended to promote the wonderful work being done by the emergency services, and to enable 999 charities to promote their work.

At last year’s main 999 Day event in Edinburgh we had over 4,500 people come along to engage with the emergency services.

As we saw earlier this year with people stood at their doors clapping for our 999 heroes, in villages, towns and cities across these Islands, we stand united in our unwavering support for those who put others before themselves.

Ask any member of the emergency services if they would describe themselves as a ‘hero’ and they will tell you “no”. But they are, and without the almost 2 MILLION people who currently serve in the NHS and emergency services a great many families would be engulfed by grief and pain.

Let us remember the sacrifices made and continue to work together to send a united message that this country is immensely proud of and supports each and every member of the emergency services whether they are paid or unpaid, a first responder or administrative staff.

If we are to educate the public about using the emergency services responsibly and efficiently; engage with them on the work we do, and recruit the next generation of emergency service personnel then it is of the utmost importance that we do all we can to strengthen the links into the communities in which we serve.

The overwhelming majority of the work our emergency services do isn’t glamorous, and it doesn’t make the news, but it is the difference between life and death.

It is becoming increasingly common for more than one emergency service to answer a 999 call and having events such as a 999 Day and a 999 Festival, where services are together as equal partners is important, because the emergency services is about partnership.

Whether you ask police officers in Manchester, firefighters in Belfast, Paramedics and NHS workers in Swansea, Coastguard or Search and Rescue personnel in Aberdeen, all are proud to serve and do their bit.

I truly believe we have the greatest emergency services in the world, and that is because the men and women who serve go above and beyond day in day out.

It is now my pleasure to introduce in the video that follows, a message from His Royal Highness The Duke of Cambridge – himself a former air ambulance pilot.

Having served in the emergency services himself as an air ambulance pilot, Prince William knows first-hand the challenges and sacrifices our 999 heroes make to keep us all safe.

His Royal Highness has been doing some truly inspiring work to promote mental wellbeing and collaboration in the NHS and emergency services, and I can commit the complete support of the 999 Cenotaph, 999 Festival and 999 Day in promoting the work His Royal Highness is doing.