Freedom of the South Tyneside officially awarded to Customs House chief and Tommy the Trumpeter legend Ray Spencer

One of the borough’s best-loved personalities has been granted the Freedom of South Tyneside for his service and “outstanding contribution to cultural and civic life”.

The prestigious Freedom of the Borough was conferred to Ray Spencer MBE in a specially convened extraordinary council meeting on Friday.

Mr Spencer, executive director at the Customs House, has spent more than 20 years promoting and championing South Tyneside’s performing arts and culture sector.

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In previous years he was much-loved for his appearances as entertainer ‘Tommy the Trumpeter’, which spanned 25 years.

Ray Spencer MBE receives the Freedom of the Borough of South Tyneside, from Mayor Cllr Pat Hay, at South Shields Town Hall.

Speaking after the ceremony, Mr Spencer said: “It’s a surreal and incredible experience to stand in our beautiful town hall and realise that I’ve been granted freedom of this great borough.

“I’ve worked all my life in the borough, I try and I will try even harder to make a difference, and this is a true, true honour I’ll never forget.

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“It’s a special place, but what makes it even more special are the people of South Tyneside.”

Mr Spencer previously worked at South Tyneside College, starting in 1984 and first teaching Vocational Preparation and then Performing Arts.

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Ray Spencer MBE receives the Freedom of the Borough of South Tyneside, from Mayor Cllr Pat Hay, at South Shields Town Hall.

He took over as director of the Customs House in 1999 and was named as one of the 500 most influential people in the North East in 2008.

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In 2010 he was awarded an MBE for services to the arts in the North East.

Councillor Tracey Dixon, leader of South Tyneside Council, said: “The Freedom of the Borough is one of the most prestigious civic awards that a local authority can bestow on any individual or organisation.

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“Ray has brought so much joy to generations of South Tyneside residents. He continues to be a well-known and much-loved community figure and a fantastic advocate for culture and arts across the borough.

Ray Spencer MBE receives the Freedom of the Borough of South Tyneside, from Mayor Cllr Pat Hay, at South Shields Town Hall.
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“We are delighted to be able to confer this rare award and lasting tribute to Ray for all he has done for the people of South Tyneside.”

Family, friends, civic dignitaries and councillors were all in attendance at the ceremony at South Shields Town Hall to see Mr Spencer be presented with the Freedom Scroll, which he dedicated to his parents.

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Mr Spencer added: “It’s hard to describe, for my family to be here and hear that about their dad, and for them to be able to share this moment with me.

“I’m really, really indebted to the borough and the mayor and the leader of the council, who along with the elected members gave me this honour.”

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Ray Spencer MBE receives the Freedom of the Borough of South Tyneside, from Mayor Cllr Pat Hay, at South Shields Town Hall.

The ceremony was also live streamed, with Mr Spencer adding he had family in Australia watching.

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Numerous councillors spoke to pay tribute to the much-loved entertainer, with Cllr David Francis stating he “struggled to think of anyone more deserving of the honour”.

Only ten other people or organisations have been awarded the Freedom of South Tyneside since 1981.

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These include The Rt Hon Lord Don Dixon P.C.D.L, The Citizens of Wuppertal, 205 (3rd Durham Voluntary Artillery) Battery Royal Artillery (volunteers) and South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade.

Mr Spencer was presented with the Freedom Scroll by the Mayor of South Tyneside, Councillor Pat Hay.

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The Mayor said: “Being awarded the Freedom of the Borough is a token of the immense gratitude, admiration and the high respect in which Ray Spencer is held by the Council.

“Ray gives his time, energy and expertise generously, contributing to many local civic, cultural and community efforts over the years. He also cares passionately about celebrating and nurturing the creative talents of local people to be the best they can be in the world of arts and entertainment.

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“It was a real honour and a humbling experience to present the Freedom Scroll to such a worthy recipient.”