Wellingborough's Olympic pioneer Anita could be made honorary freewoman

The motion has been proposed by independent councillor Marion Turner Hawes

By Alison Bagley
Wednesday, 21st July 2021, 6:30 am

Wellingborough Town Council members are set to vote tonight (Wednesday, July 21) on whether to honour town Olympic pioneer Anita Neil

Independent councillor Marion Turner-Hawes has proposed a motion to confer the status of honorary freewoman to the Wellingborough-born athlete.

Earlier this year it was confirmed by the British Olympic Association that Anita was officially the first black British female Olympian.

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Anita Neil - Olympian

It would be the first time since the establishment of the new council that the honour has been proposed.

Cllr Turner-Hawes said: "It was recently recognised in the local and national media that the achievements of Anita Neil OLY, a resident of Wellingborough, had not been fully recognised by the British Olympic Association and that her status as the first female black Olympian to compete for Great Britain had been largely forgotten.

"Anita, who won bronze and silver medals when competing for Great Britain, took part in both the 1968 Mexico Olympics and the Munich Olympics of 1972. Given that the Tokyo Olympic Games are days away it would be wonderful if the new Wellingborough Town Council could acknowledge Anita’s tremendous achievements by conferring the status of honorary freewoman."

In 1968, Anita was part of a world record winning 4x 110 yards relay team. That year she was selected for the Olympics in the 100m and the 4x100m relay. Anita made it to the quarter finals in the 100m and her relay team came fifth in the final.

Anita with some of her running tops

In 1969, it was Anita's turn to stand on the podium in the European Championships in Athens, not once but twice where she won a bronze in the 4x100m relay and another bronze in the blue riband event - the 100m.

The following year took her to Edinburgh and the Commonwealth Games, in the sprints for England. Her relay team made it to the final and the podium again but were pipped to the gold by Australia, led by Aussie superstar Raelene Boyle.

An exhibition honouring Anita's achievements was opened on Saturday, July 17 at Wellingborough Museum.

The motion put before the council reads: "The Council agrees to (I) confer the title of honorary freewoman of Wellingborough to Anita Neil OLY, in recognition of her many years of achievement during the 1968 and 1972 Olympic Games, and further wishes to acknowledge her status as Britain’s first black female Olympian. (ii) present Anita Neil OLY, with an item to be agreed, to mark this achievement."

As a schoolgirl at John Lea School in Wellingborough

Cllr Turner-Hawes said: "I would like her achievements to be recognised otherwise we're missing an opportunity to honour her not just a woman but a woman from the BAME community. I hope my colleagues support the motion.

"She is a role model and a real community person who can be a great ambassador for the town. I think she's been maybe missed off because she's so unassuming."

The last Honorary Freeman of the former Borough Council of Wellingborough titles were conferred in 2019 to two senior and two retired councillors - George Blackwell, Shashi Dholakia, Tom Partridge-Underwood and Malcolm Waters.

The Freedom itself carries no privilege and is purely an honour, reflecting the eminence of the person on whom it is conferred or as recognition of significant and valuable services rendered by that person.