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I’m a bit late with this news but it merits recording, not least because it reminds us just how closely linked Tower Hamlets is to the City of London whose the borders still contain pockets of deprivation.
Friday before last, Cllr Shiria Khatun was made a Freeman of the City of London. It’s a rare honour (although more common than I’d thought: some 1,800 people a year are granted the privilege) and one which dates back to 1237.
It was carried out in a court room at the Guildhall, where her guests included councillors Sirajul Islam, Rajib Ahmed, Helal Abbas and Bill Turner. Toynbee Hall chief executive Graham Fisher and David Goodhart, the Demos director and author of The British Dream, were also there, as was Munsur Ali, the chief executive of the Limelight Film Awards, whose new film Shongram about the aftermath of the 1971 War of Independence in Bangladesh is being shown at a private screening at Rich Mix tomorrow evening.
The ceremony itself lasted only a few minutes and was all quite fun, albeit slightly strange. It was conducted by Murray Craig, the Clerk of the Chamberlain’s Court, who I think fancies himself, with some justification, as a stand-up comic. In fact, it was all perfectly civilised and pleasant, but I must say I much prefer the violence and poison of the Tower Hamlets council chamber.
Contrary to popular legend, Shiria does not now have the right to drive sheep across Tower Bridge, but she does have the right to draw her sword within the City boundaries.
There’s more about the tradition here
One of the oldest surviving traditional ceremonies still in existence today is the granting of the Freedom of the City of London. It is believed that the first Freedom was presented in 1237.
The medieval term ‘freeman’ meant someone who was not the property of a feudal lord but enjoyed privileges such as the right to earn money and own land. Town dwellers who were protected by the charter of their town or city were often free – hence the term ‘freedom of the City.
From the Middle Ages and the Victorian era, the Freedom was the right to trade, enabling members of a Guild or Livery to carry out their trade or craft in the square mile. A fee or fine would be charged and in return the Livery Companies would ensure that the goods and services provided would be of the highest possible standards. In 1835, the Freedom was widened to incorporate not just members of Livery Companies but also people living or working in the City or there was a strong London connection.
The Freedom in the City today is still closely associated with membership of the City Livery Companies. Visit the Livery page for an insight into the fascinating history and modern role of the Livery.

Modern Freedom

Today most of the practical reasons for obtaining the Freedom of the City have disappeared. It nevertheless remains as a unique part of London’s history to which many people who have lived or worked in the City have been proud to be admitted.

Prior to 1996, the Freedom was only open to British or Commonwealth Citizens. Now, however, it has been extended globally and persons of any nationality may be admitted either through nomination or by being presented by a Livery Company. There is a long standing tradition of admitting women.

The City of London is keen to maintain the Freedom as a living tradition. The Freedom is open to all who are genuinely interested and invited or born to it. The City Freemen are a very broad cross-section of the population​.

photo 2Sorry, I’ve been a bit of a tease, haven’t I? The question you’re all asking is, ‘Why?’
Well, for the past couple of years, Shiria has been working with residents on the Portsoken estate which is in the Aldgate area and so within the City boundaries. In fact, it falls within the ancient Ward of Portsoken.
She’s been helping families, and women in particular, who are suffering isolation and mental health issues. She’s also been helping the City Police and the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) carry out the Prevent agenda of the Government’s counter-terrorism and extremism policy.
This has impressed elected figures in the City, two of whom Deputy Henry Jones and Common Council member John Fletcher. This is what John sent me by way of explanation:
I have known Shiria for more than two years, since when she has been working with residents in the Portsoken estate. Her role is very crucial when it come to engaging with residents on improving health as well as promoting and signposting them on to other services.

Shiria has been working with the ‘hard to reach’ residents, mainly women whose English is not too good. She has done an amazing job in reaching out to them and as a result these women are now participating in activities as well as volunteering.

Shiria has gone the extra mile by working with the City Police Prevent Team on engaging with women and families on how to engage with Prevent. As a result, Shiria went on to become the chair of the Shanaz Network which was set up by Acpo and the Home Office. It is the first network giving women all over the UK a platform to unite against terrorism of all kinds.

Shiria was nominated on to the network by the City Police Prevent Team. She does this on a voluntary basis and it’s in addition to her work with the City residents and her role as a Tower Hamlets councillor. She has gained the respect of residents and the City Common Councilmen and Aldermen here in the Ward of Portsoken as well as other City wards.

Shiria has contributed immensely to improving health of residents through engaging with them and facilitating activities that residents want to do. Shiria’s hard work and commitment to the residents of the City has resulted in us awarding her the Freedom of the City which she deserves.

And here’s Shiria’s own explanation:

I am really honoured and privileged to have been nominated for the Freedom of The City of London. I have been working with residents of the City for the last two years via Toynbee Hall.

The City is truly a fascinating place. It’s not all about the corporate industry, there are some amazing people living there too. Walking around the City you get to see some of the historical buildings that still exist as well as new emerging glass type office buildings.

My work involves working with residents of the Portsoken estate (previously many years ago was part of Tower Hamlets).

When I first came to this estate two years ago I was amazed to see how residents co-existed with each other in harmony. Neighbours supporting and helping each other as family members would. As it’s a small ward/estate, the majority of the residents know each other well and this makes it easier to know who’s who and what’s what.

You might be asking where the issues are? Well, there are significantly high health issues and this is where my role comes in to place. Working with residents and City of London departments I have been trying to reduce health issues/inequalities affecting residents of Portsoken. What are some of the health issues you ask? Well, like the neighbouring borough Tower Hamlets, residents of Portsoken have/are experiencing something similar such as diabetes, heart disease, physical inactivity and mental health problems.

I must say it is impressive how the City of London has been supportive of its residents in Portsoken to reduce those health issues. Through key interventions there has been a visible reduction in physical inactivity. For me this is rewarding knowing that I have been able to help many residents to better their lifestyles through healthy eating, exercise and the many other interventions on offer.

I decided to go even further by giving up some of my extra time beyond my working hours to work with the City of London’s PREVENT team, who nominated me on to the Shanaz Network which was initially set up by ACPO and the Home Office approx two years ago (I have only been involved with the network since last November). It is the first network of women from all over the UK countering terrorism and radicalisation of all forms.

The women on the network like myself have been nominated by local/regional PREVENT teams. I am the Chair of this network.

Now you’re probably asking where I find time to attend/deal with Shanaz Network business? Well I take annual leave for all this; yes, I do because I feel this is an important piece of work and for the first time we now have a platform for women to come together and have their say.

After all, who better than women to know what’s happening in their communities and how best to keep it safe? I was invited to attend the last Extremism Task Force meeting where I made my contribution.

As stated before I am honoured to be awarded Freedom of The City of London. My family, friends and colleagues have shown immense enthusiasm and support.

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Shiria with City of London Clerk Murray Craig

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