A special ceremony was held in St Helens Town Hall last night (30 November) as two local sporting legends, a long-serving politician and an army regiment were presented with Freedom of the Borough scrolls.
Earlier this year, full council voted to grant Freedom of the Borough – the highest award a council can bestow – to recently retired Saints star James Roby; reigning darts world champion, Michael Smith; MP for St Helens South and Whiston, Marie Rimmer CBE; and the Duke of Lancaster regiment – all for services to the borough of St Helens.
Born and bred in St Helens, former Cowley International High School pupil, James Roby, holds the record for most Saints and Super League appearances after a glittering 20-season career which saw him rack up six Grand Final rings, four Challenge Cup winners’ medals, two Harry Sunderland Trophies and one Man of Steel during his time at Saints – most notably as captain of the unprecedented ‘Four-midable’ Super League Grand Final-winning teams and the historic World Club Challenge winning side that beat Penrith Panthers in their own back yard.
Darter, Michael Smith, 33, has enjoyed a fine year on the oche, winning the PDC World Darts Championship in January to move up to number one in the world rankings.
Bully Boy’s thrilling 7-4 win against Michael van Gerwen in the final of the PDC World Darts Championship was watched by millions around the world, with his astonishing nine-dart finish en-route to victory going viral, putting St Helens on the map. An image of Smith is now proudly displayed on a new ‘Welcome to St Helens’ council sign on the border with Ashton-in-Makerfield, Wigan.
Marie Rimmer CBE MP has dedicated more than 45 years of her life to public service, first as a councillor at St Helens Borough Council, becoming council leader over two terms, and since 2015 has represented St Helens South and Whiston as its MP.
During her time as council leader, Marie also played key roles in the development of key St Helens Borough projects including the building of Willowbrook Hospice, the rebuild of St Helens and Whiston Hospitals and the building of The Totally Wicked Stadium, home to Saints.
The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, the Army division for St Helens Borough, was formed on 1st July 2006 from the merger of three historic North West Regiments. The regiment has won 60 Victoria Crosses and a George Cross.
Thirteen of its 303 battle honours are unique, and it is the only regiment of any army at any time in history to carry battle honours from every inhabited continent on its Colours.
After presenting the four recipients with their Freedom of the Borough scrolls, St Helens Borough Council Leader David Baines said:
“I am honoured to present these four outstanding recipients with the highest honour a council and borough can give.
“Their efforts in service to our communities are each remarkable in their own ways and on behalf of the council and the people of St Helens Borough, I thank them and congratulate them on a well-deserved recognition.”
Mayor of St Helens Borough, Councillor Lynn Clarke said: “It’s been a tremendous evening. I’m really proud to have been involved in presenting the Freedom of the Borough scrolls to our very worthy recipients.
“Everything they have achieved has been recognised by the council and we are really pleased that they have accepted their honours on what was a historic occasion.”
Commenting on how much being awarded Freedom of the Borough means to them, James Roby said:
“Thank you to the council and everyone associated with granting me with this award. I understand how privileged I am to be in this position and what an honourable select group of people have been up for this award in the past. It’s a huge honour for myself and my family. You don’t achieve anything in life without the support of others and I’d like to thank my family and most notably my wife Natasha, she’s been by my side for many years and the majority of my career at St Helens, and I’d like to think that’s probably why I’m standing in this position today.
“Everybody at St Helens (rugby league club) has shown me nothing but support and encouraged me and given me a platform to grow as a person and develop and luckily I’ve been successful in my rugby league career and generally thank you to the good people of St Helens as well. It’s been a great journey, a great 20 years at St Helens and I’m very proud to receive this award in the great company of the other people who have received this honour.”
Michael Smith said: “This is such an honour this is to be recognised for what I do – it’s not just a pub sport anymore it’s an actual sport and now to be given the highest honour I can get, it’s an unbelievable achievement for me as well as my family and I just want to say thank you.
“Receiving the Freedom of the Borough feels special – it’s hard to put into words but it’s a massive thing for me and my family to be recognised for my job by the people of St Helens. It’s massive.”
Marie Rimmer CBE MP said: “I’ve always considered it a tremendous privilege, a huge honour, to work with the people of St Helens. To be honoured by the town where you’re from it really is the greatest honour. It’s always been a huge privilege and I’d like to thank all the people who’ve worked with me, the most wonderful team of members and officers, the public and genuinely the people of St Helens are the salt of the earth and I couldn’t have wished to have worked anywhere else but here.”
Colonel Jeremy Gorrick, representing The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, said: It’s an enormous honour for the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment to receive the Freedom of the Borough of St Helens. Receiving the Freedom of the Borough is a real honour when we consider the men and women of St Helens that have served with our regiment over many years. It’s a real privilege to be able to represent the North West of England as your county infantry regiment and we’re really looking forward to returning to the borough in the future to exercise that Freedom with colours flying, with bayonets fixed and with the band playing.”