Earlier this month I along with my parliamentary colleagues Simon Hughes and Harriet Harman were all deeply honoured to be granted the Freedom of the Borough of Southwark at its annual Civic Award Ceremony at St George’s Cathedral. Also sat with us on stage were the likes of esteemed actor Sir Michael Caine CBE, Lance Corporal Johnson Beharry – the youngest serviceman to be awarded the Victoria Cross for twice saving the lives of his comrades in ambushes in Iraq, and Barry Albin-Dyer of Albin and Sons Ltd – undertakers in the borough for over two centuries.
It was a wonderful afternoon during which the hard work and achievements of many of Southwark’s most dedicated residents was acknowledged and applauded to the incredible roof top of St George’s Cathedral. Young and old and from a huge variety of social and ethnic backgrounds the very best of Southwark was on display.
Peter Parfitt, who was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award, became a Governor at Peter Hills Church of England primary school in Rotherhithe over twenty years ago. Through his retirement he continued his voluntary work helping young children learn to read first cycling from Blackheath and then, in later years, taking a two hour return trip by public transport. Peter's commitment and kindness is now missed deeply by pupils and staff alike as, in his ninetieth year, he is no longer able to make the journey.
And Lucy Coates given the Special Award for Civic Responsibility and the youngest recipient of an award. During the riots last Summer Lucy used her social media networks to encourage young people to end the violence and was a visible member of an otherwise predominantly adult cleanup campaign in Peckham.
In his short but moving speech Sir Michael described himself as feeling overwhelmed to be awarded with something that was deeply personal to him. He spoke for all of us on stage being given the Freedom Award when he stated just how humbled he was to be given such an award in the presence of those who had given so much of themselves in the service of others. It is these people who make Southwark the wonderful borough that it is today and from whom we can all learn so much to better our local communities.