Customs House chief Ray Spencer and all key worker heroes set to get Freedom of South Tyneside

Key worker heroes are set to be given the Freedom of South Tyneside – along with one of the borough’s best-loved personalities.

South Tyneside Council members are being to consider two Freedom of the Borough honours at their meeting – the highest the council can bestow – to Ray Spencer MBE, and to all local NHS, carers, and Key Workers.

The council states Mr Spencer has ‘played a major role in the civic and cultural life of South Tyneside’, with decades promoting performing arts and the culture sector, as well as the borough as a whole.

He serves as executive director at The Customs House and in previous years was much-loved for his appearances as entertainer ‘Tommy the Trumpeter’.

Customs House executive director Ray Spencer

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He has also hosted the Shields Gazette Best of South Tyneside Awards since they were launched.

In May 2020 South Tyneside Council’s Cabinet endorsed that NHS, carers and other key workers who contributed to keeping people safe and continuing essential services during the height of the pandemic should be awarded the Freedom of the Borough.

It was not felt safe to seek to bestow the honour at that time and so it was delayed to a later date.

The council will therefore consider the recommendation to proceed at its meeting on September 8.

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Cllr Tracey Dixon, Leader of South Tyneside Council said: “Being granted the Freedom of the Borough is the highest honour to be bestowed on any individual or organisation.

“The rare honour has only been awarded to 10 people or organisations since 1981.

"If ultimately approved the recipients will join The Rt Hon Lord Don Dixon P.C.D.L, The Citizens of Wuppertal and 205 (3rd Durham Voluntary Artillery) Battery Royal Artillery (volunteers) and South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade in receiving this prestigious award.”

If approved, there will be two special meetings to formally confer the honour – one at the end of October 2022 for Mr Spencer, and a second in March 2023 for all local NHS, carers, and Key Workers.

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Working with the Cultural Spring, a process of meaningful community engagement is planned over the coming months, allowing local people to be able to shape the content of the memorial inscriptions.

It is hoped the Freedom of the Borough and memorial unveiling would be coincided in March 2023.