Lord Chris Smith awarded Freedom of Islington

A LORD, a priest and a colonel were all awarded the Freedom of the Borough this week in recognition of their fantastic service to Islington.

Chris Smith, Brian Kay and Jim Kennedy were presented with the award - which dates back to the middle ages and is the highest honour the borough can bestow - at a glittering ceremony on Tuesday evening.

Mr Smith - who is now Lord Smith of Finsbury - began his political career in Islington as a local councillor for Barnsbury before being elected MP for Islington South and Finsbury in 1983.

He was the UK’s first openly gay MP, coming out in 1984, and during his time as Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport, he was instrumental in making museum admission free.

Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn MP paid tribute to Lord Smith saying: “Chris served Islington as councillor, chair of housing and MP from 1983 to 2005, coming to the House in the same year as me. In that time he showed remarkable courage in standing up for human and civil rights and in coming out as the first openly gay MP.

“As a minister, Chris was in the ideal position as Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport to ensure that all of London’s major museums and galleries remain free to everyone - something that many, many generations will be forever grateful for, ensuring art comes to the people rather than only to those who can afford to pay.

“As a local MP he was superb at looking after the needs of everyone in his constituency, with his open manner and open door approach in which his very loyal and hard working staff supported him.

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“It was a pleasure and honour to serve alongside him and to vote alongside him in opposing the disastrous war in Iraq in the 2003 House of Commons debate.”

Responding, Lord Smith observed: “I feel rather humble. Representing Islington has been, at times, a challenge. At all times a great honour.”

He noted that the council chamber where the Freedom of the Borough ceremony took place had also been the venue for his civil partnership three years ago.

Father Jim Kennedy served as Roman Catholic Dean of Islington responsible for all Roman Catholic parishes in the borough. In 2009, Jim gave up his role as Parish Priest at the Blessed Sacrament Church in Copenhagen Street for a parish in Cyprus where he now lives.

Jim played a very visible part in the life of his parish. In 1987 in the aftermath of the King’s Cross underground fire, the church and hall became a gathering point for survivors and relatives.

Islington South and Finsbury MP Emily Thornberry spoke to support Father Jim’s nomination saying: “Jim has played a central role in keeping the community in this area together. He is very well known and loved. His wisdom and experience made him a greatly respected community leader.

“When Islington was hit by the 7/7 bombings as a new MP I looked to Father Jim for advice on how to respond. I was very grateful for his help.

“I am delighted that he has been awarded Freedom of the Borough in recognition of his great contribution to Islington.”

Colonel Brian Kay has served as the Queen’s Representative for the London Borough of Islington since 1993. He has been involved in Youth Organisations in Uniform (YOU), an umbrella group for Scouts, Guides and Cadets. He is also Chair of the Islington Chinese Association.

Lady Katy Blair of the Islington Chinese Association welcomed Colonel Kay’s elevation to Freeman of the Borough, saying: “Colonel Brian Kay’s vision, leadership and commitment to building strong and vibrant communities and his impact in improving people’s lives in Islington is an inspiration to all.

“The Islington Chinese community, in particular, are thrilled at the honour the Borough has given him.”

The nominations were made by Islington Council’s leader, Catherine West (Labour) and seconded by opposition leader, Terry Stacy (Liberal Democrat).