Portsmouth key worker heroes to be given 'freedom of the city' in historic gesture
PORTSMOUTH’S army of ‘coronavirus heroes’ are to receive the freedom of the city for their work during the pandemic – and could soon parade proudly through Guildhall Square with flocks of sheep and bayonets.
The proposal has been drafted jointly by political leaders at Portsmouth City Council and is expected to be approved formally in a matter of weeks.
The gesture would honour all those given ‘key worker’ status, from shop employees and binmen, to emergency service staff, military personnel and volunteers who supported residents shielding during lockdown.
If agreed, Portsmouth will become the first city in the UK to bestow such an honour on its work force of critical workers.
Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Lib Dem leader of the council, said: ‘This is about saying thank you to people. There are lots of different ways of saying thank you but sometimes it’s about doing something official, that recognises what people have put in.
‘During this pandemic there have been an awful lot of people we relied on but we don’t know who they all are. But they do. They know who they are… this is about honouring them.’
Offered to individuals to celebrate a significant achievement, only 33 people have been bestowed the accolade since 1895, with prime minister Winston Churchill and Princess Diana among its recipients.
Although a purely ‘symbolic’ gesture, Cllr Vernon-Jackson said those who have earned the freedom of the city will have special rights in Portsmouth.
‘You’re allowed to march your sheep through Guildhall Square… secondly, you’re allowed to march through the city with bayonets fixed and colours flying and thirdly is if you are going to be executed you can choose to be hung by a red silk noose and not a nasty hemp one, that’s all scratchy,’ he said.
The proposal has been backed by the political leaders of all colours in city.
Cllr Donna Jones, Conservative leader for Portsmouth, said: ‘Our amazing NHS staff played their part in saving the lives of hundreds of very sick people from Portsmouth and the surrounding area.
‘Charity workers and volunteers, police officers, supermarket workers and many more didn’t have the choice to “work from home”, they had to carry on, and put duty before self.
‘That’s why I’m proud to formally propose jointly with the other political leaders this granting of the freedom of city to our Covid heroes.’
Cllr George Fielding, Portsmouth Labour leader, added: ‘Having given their all at a time that the government is freezing their pay, it is only right that our city recognises all critical workers and volunteers with the highest honour bestowed on Portsmouth’s residents.
‘As one of my first acts as new Labour group leader, it was a privilege to be involved in this decision to give something back to the people who have given so much to the city, shining a spotlight on those who have gone the extra mile in unprecedented times.’
The move is set to be debated during the next council’s next cabinet meeting.
It is expected the honour will be officially marked during the mayor making ceremony in May.