News: Freedom of the City awarded to St Martin
News: Freedom of the City awarded to St Martin's Housing Trust

Norwich City Council have awarded St Martin’s Housing Trust the Freedom of the City at an extraordinary council meeting tonight.

Labour’s Cllr Gail Harris, cabinet member for social housing, proposed the motion. You can read her speech in full below.

It is a great and special honour to move that St Martin’s Housing Trust be given the Freedom of the City of Norwich after more than 50 years’ service and support to some of our most vulnerable citizens in our fine city.

It is an organisation which has held a special, even unique place within the hearts and minds of Norwich people over the decades.

Lord Mayor, homelessness is something which all of us will have seen and been aware of. We will have wondered what we could do to help, whilst at the same time deep down been frightened that this could happen to any of us. It is that exact same understanding, shared by all decent people, which has meant that the support of Norwich and Norfolk citizens towards St Martin’s has never wavered, but only ever grown in intensity and passion.

Housing is one of the most critical bedrocks of a decent society. Pure and simple. As we sit here tonight on a cold November evening, within the confines of the beauty of this historic civic centre, we know that some of our fellow citizens are shamefully living on the streets, rough sleeping.

This is happening when Britain, despite all the recent tumultuous events, remains a rich country. It remains a national disgrace not because it is something beyond our scientific or economic means to fix, but because the political willpower is simply not there.

In response to this Norwich people are fortunate to have a jewel in the crown when it comes to St Martin’s Housing Trust.

I could speak for hours on the very special record it holds and the amazing services and support it gives. Over a period of half a century, this organisation has developed from a garage shed in the Cathedral Close into a multi-million-pound charity which provides not only hundreds of beds and homes, but delivers education, training, psychological interventions, partnership working and employs some of the most dedicated, passionate, and professional people I have ever had the pleasure to work with.

They are pathbreaking in their consistent attitude towards innovating, meeting new demands and overcoming the challenges that they deal with day in and day out. Lord Mayor, they simply never give up. The examples of their innovation are too numerous to mention, but one only has to think of Webster Court and the Somewhere Safe to Stay Hub which illustrates their commitment to tackling homelessness. There were most certainly challenges in providing these facilities, but did St Martins ever give up – most certainly not!

I have been privileged to attend their advisory panels, where people from all walks of life come together to share their thoughts, to hear of success stories and whose aim is to support the absolutely vital work that St Martins undertakes. It could be a contribution from a person on a journey from absolute despair to living in a new home. It could be a new housing project. It could be an update from the donation station in Anglia Square which I would encourage you all to support. The one thing that is guaranteed in these meetings is the passion of everybody around the table to making a difference and the determination to being involved in making this difference to the lives of the people who find themselves on the streets in Norwich.

Most importantly Lord Mayor, never forget that underneath what I have just said is the countless thousands of individuals, all with a unique and special history whose lives have been touched in a special and often literal life changing way by this organisation.

Never forget that while the structural factors which drive homelessness might remain static, the human sacrifice and misery it causes is not only always unique to the person it impacts upon, but also in the way their recovery is assisted so ably by the amazing people which make St Martin’s into the organisation it is. As ever, as with everything, it is people which make this change.

Despite the hardships of the work that they are so committed to doing, St Martin’s has a bright and positive future which I know will continue until the time comes when we finally live in a decent society where no person faces homelessness.

The special leadership of Dr Jan Sheldon, in driving this forward deserves very important mention. Jan, during her time as Chief Executive, has pushed the boundaries of innovation with meeting housing need ever further. No challenge has been too difficult for her or the amazing staff, trustees and volunteers which she so ably leads. Because homelessness is so multi-faceted and dimensional the sophistication of response demands this level of intelligent service delivery provided by St Martin’s. Jan, together with all her wonderful team, deserve the praise we can offer tonight in recognition of this.

So, St Martin’s is not an “any type” organisation but a very special part of the city society in which it so ably inhabits. It has earned the love, respect and applaud of Norwich people, those who have used and benefitted from their services and all those in organisations which partner with it, including this City Council.

Lord Mayor, to now finish, it is for this reason which I ask this City Council to bestow the ancient and great honour of the Freedom of Norwich to St Martins Housing Trust. I ask all councillors to support and approve this award of the Honorary Freedom of the City as recognition of the outstanding contribution that they make to Norwich.

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