Published on: 9 March 2023

South Tyneside will remember loved ones lost to Covid-19 and pay tribute to the strength and resilience of local communities as final preparations are made for two special events this week.

In the first event, today, Thursday, 9 March, Borough Council members will consider the conferral of the Freedom of South Tyneside upon all local NHS, carers and other key workers.

This is in recognition of their contribution to keeping local people safe and ensuring the delivery of essential services, during the height of the pandemic.

Then on Sunday, 12 March, permanent covid memorials will be unveiled at six sites across the Borough.

Councillor Tracey Dixon, Leader of South Tyneside Council, said:

"We made a commitment at the height of the pandemic that we would honour all those individuals who supported our communities through one of the worst peacetime challenges and the biggest global health crisis of our lifetime.

"The Freedom of the Borough is the highest honour that the Council can bestow and recognises the selfless service and dedication of thousands of key workers who helped to keep our communities safe, provided help to those who needed it most and supported the delivery of essential services, all in the face of great personal risk.

"The resilience, strength and courage of our NHS, Care and Key Workers during these dark and difficult times will never be forgotten. The Freedom of the Borough is a fitting tribute."

The Extraordinary Meeting for the Freedom of the Borough conferral is taking place at 5pm, in South Shields Town Hall, with representatives of a wide range of key worker sectors, who have been invited through a partnership-wide nomination approach.

While only a small number of workers can attend in person, due to space, the event will be livestreamed at giving all key workers the opportunity to be part of the event.

The ceremonial scroll will be put on display in the town hall with paper copies made available to any key worker to collect from the town hall after the event.

Dr Shaz Wahid, South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust's Executive Medical Director, is one of those invited to speak at the Freedom of the Borough conferral ceremony.

He said:

"It is an honour to be invited to represent my colleagues as we accept this award from the Council, recognising the extraordinary efforts the NHS went to during the pandemic."

The new covid memorials will be unveiled simultaneously at 11am, on Sunday 12 March, at:

  • South Marine Park, South Shields
  • West Park, Jarrow
  • Fountain Park, Hebburn
  • Cornthwaite Park, Whitburn
  • Front Street, Cleadon, adjacent to Cleadon Village Community Room
  • Boldon Colliery on land between Gibson Court and Hubert Street

The memorial stones serve as lasting tributes to those who lost their lives to covid as well as acknowledge the extraordinary efforts and resilience of local communities.

The inscriptions on each of the memorials reflect the experiences of local areas and were determined by local people and community groups in a collaboration with the Council's creative partners, The Cultural Spring.

Key themes emerging from the community engagement process include the impact on people's physical and mental health, on education and employment as well as feelings of isolation, loss of confidence, emotion and loneliness, but also feelings of love and hope.

People also acknowledged the kindness, support and community spirit, taking up new hobbies, getting to know neighbours and clapping together, rainbows, the importance of family, finding new ways to communicate and connecting with nature.

Councillor Dixon added:

"Created with the help of local communities, these covid memorials serve as meaningful and lasting tributes to all those local people who sadly lost their lives as well as providing special places for remembrance and reflection for the loved ones they left behind.

"They also acknowledge the impact of the pandemic on the people of South Tyneside and the amazing resilience of our communities. Local people are encouraged to join us at their local memorial unveiling for dignified and quiet reflection as we mark this significant event in our history."

The unveiling events will involve a short service, including prayers, poems, readings and music reflecting the mood during the pandemic.

Dr Wahid added:

"It was a testing time for everyone, and it will be an experience which stays with us for generations. Many of us lost loved ones and to see these memorials unveiled will provide community focus for that grief.

"They are also a symbol of the resilience and bravery we showed as a community and how we came together to support each other during that time.

"That was especially true of our own staff and other key workers who cared and continue to care and support those who needed our help."

South Tyneside is the latest area to install memorial structures reflecting on the impact of the crisis.

Latest data shows there has been nearly 700 people died with covid in South Tyneside since March 2020.