Sheila Graber honour: Freedom of the Borough approved for 'well-deserving' and much-loved South Shields artist and educator

World-renowned animator, artist and educator Sheila Graber has moved a step closer to receiving the Freedom of the Borough, following a decision by borough councillors.

Sheila Graber at work.
Sheila Graber at work.

South Tyneside Council, at a meeting this week, discussed the latest nominee primed to receive the award, which is the highest honour the council can bestow.

The local authority is looking to recognise Sheila Graber, who worked on the Paddington TV and had her animations screened at the Tate Gallery, the Open University and on BBC’s Blue Peter.

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Ms Graber has played a pivotal role in developing the animation skills of people across the region through her work in schools and at both the University of Teesside and the University of Sunderland.

Award-winning animator Sheila Graber.

Alongside a career complemented with regional and national awards, she has supported a number of charitable and community causes, as well as donating the funds from her own productions to local charities.

She also supports the arts curriculum at Mortimer Primary School and has contributed to exhibitions at South Shields Museum, The Customs House and The Word.

At a meeting of full council on Thursday, January 12, councillors were asked to agree to award the Freedom of the Borough and to arrange a special meeting to confer the civic award later this year.

Councillor Tracey Dixon, leader of South Tyneside Council, has previously credited Ms Graber’s “drive to pass on her skills to others in her home town of South Shields and across the borough”.

Speaking at this week’s meeting, the Labour council leader said the first step of the Freedom of the Borough process was for full council to decide if Ms Graber was a “suitable and worthy candidate”.

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Councillors agreed to the cross-party nomination and for the civic honour to be presented at an extraordinary meeting of full council in summer, 2023.

Councillor Glenn Thompson, independent member and leader of the South Tyneside Alliance Group, said Ms Graber was “very well deserving” of the award and welcomed the nomination.

Councillor David Francis, Green Group leader, also welcomed the nomination and said he was a “proud owner” of a Sheila Graber original painting of Littlehaven Beach, which has “pride of place” in his front room.

While recognising the need for an extraordinary meeting, Cllr Francis asked for borough bosses to look at ways of reducing costs where possible.

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Cllr Francis continued: “It’s right that these things have a sense of occasion and you wouldn’t want to do this in a way that didn’t reflect the level of celebration that we want to give to somebody like this.

“But at the same time, I’m aware that there are costs involved in putting on the commemorative events.

“Therefore I would urge again, as I requested previously, if there’s any way that a mechanism can be put in place so that councillors wishing to attend and express their support for these people can pay their own costs that would be greatly appreciated”.

Councillor John Robertson, independent member, agreed, adding: “I think each elected member [contributing] £100 each whenever we’re doing one of these awards is a great idea,” he added.

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The Freedom of the Borough has been awarded to 11 people or organisations since 1981.

Customs House chief Ray Spencer MBE was the most recent recipient and was recognised at a ceremony last year for “playing a major role in the civic and cultural life of South Tyneside”.

A council meeting is also planned in March, 2023, to award the Freedom of the Borough to South Tyneside’s local NHS, carers and key workers.