Freedom honour for Derek and Sandie after almost 100 years of service

Derek and Sandie received the Freedom of the Town honour from St Neots mayor, Cllr Ben Pitt.

Derek and Sandie received the Freedom of the Town honour from St Neots mayor, Cllr Ben Pitt. - Credit: HUNTS POST

Two former town, district and county councillors who clocked up almost a century of public service have been awarded the Freedom of the Town of St Neots.

Husband and wife, Derek and Sandie Giles, were bestowed with the honour by St Neots mayor, Cllr Ben Pitt, at a reception held at The Priory Centre, in St Neots, on July 23, with fellow councillors, family and friends in attendance.

As well as serving on all three tiers of local government, both Derek and Sandie, have also served as mayor of St Neots, with Derek carrying out two terms of office.

Derek and Sandie have been awarded Freedom of the Town of St Neots.

Derek and Sandie have been awarded Freedom of the Town of St Neots. - Credit: HUNTS POST

Derek said it had been an honour to serve, and he was proud of what he described as his "long stint of public duty".

"I was elected in 1989 at a by-election when I was involved in the Ouse Meadows, or DOOM as it was known. All of a sudden I was a councillor. My message to any new councillors is that our role is always to encourage people, guide them and get them to stand on their own two feet. As a councillor, your role is to enable and help people to work towards creating a decent community for themselves."

Derek also said he was particularly proud of his involvement with the annual St Neots Golf Day, which had raised more than £120,000 for charity over the years and also his support for local campaigns, including protecting the Ouse Meadows from housing development. He also served as an Independent Board Member for the Prison Service at Littlehey for 12 years.

Sandie also addressed the gathering at the Priory Centre on Saturday and she talked of some of her achievements.

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She said she was instrumental in providing a footbridge over Duloe Brook.

"I managed to persuade the county council, district council and town council, and also Littlehey Prison to get involved and we got the footbridge," she said.

Sandie also put forward a scheme for past mayors to have badges to identify their service to the community. 

She also spoke of the sadness in having to leave St Neots as Derek has terminal cancer and they have moved nearer to their family

"We are thrilled to bits with this honor. It has been hard to leave the town we have loved and served for all these years. We have enjoyed a good life together, we have done a lot and seen a lot,  and now we are facing the last part of our journey together, which is not going to be very pleasant."

The couple met and married in 1966 and moved to St Neots in 1971. They have three children and nine grandchildren. In the early years, they helped out with a local youth club, and cubs group and Sandie volunteered for what was known then as the meals-on-wheels service.

Derek and Sandie with Cllr Pitt and their children and grandchildren at the Priory Centre.

Derek and Sandie with Cllr Pitt and their children and grandchildren at the Priory Centre. - Credit: HUNTS POST

In the late 1980s Derek became involved in saving Bedfordia Fields, known locally as the Ouse Meadows from housing, and joined the Defend Our Ouse Meadows (DOOM) group.

He was first elected to St Neots Town Council in 1989 and served until 2022 with only a few years' break in between. Derek was elected to Huntingdonshire District Council in 1991 and served a total of 27 years.  He also served for nine years on Cambridgeshire County Council, retiring from the position of Chairman of the Council in November 2021 due to ill health.

Sandie joined Cambridgeshire County Council in 1993 and at her first election, managed to achieve a memorable 2,000 majority and going on to serve a total of 12 years. 

She joined St Neots Town Council in 1995 and later Huntingdonshire District Council. Both Sandie and Derek retired from SNTC and HDC in May 2022.

Both have served as school governors, Derek at Bushmead, Sandie at Longsands and St Bedes, in Cambridge.

They have always been keen fund-raisers and over the years, they have supported many charities and helped raise thousands of pounds. Charities include the Upside Down Club, St John Ambulance, Red Balloon, Switch Now, 2500 Squadron, Eatons Community Association, Eatons Charity, The Pightle Millennium Green and many others. 

For several years they helped out with the Christmas dinner organised by the River Church and SNTC at the Eatons Community Centre. 

When war broke out in the old Yugoslavia, Derek didn't hesitate to offer his services to Operation Angel, acquiring aid and then taking much-needed aid to refugees. He became the East Anglia Organiser and was said he was "very proud to have played a major part in the expedition".

During the first Gulf War, when many local forces personnel were sent to Iraq and Kuwait, Derek and Sandie helped to organise a Families Gulf Support Group.