As August draws to a close I know that many of you will be concerned with the cost of living. Following an investigation into poverty by the People Select Committee, a Poverty Group has been established to make sure that, as your council, we are doing all we can do to support those living in difficult circumstances. We have also created some dedicated cost of living web pages so that people can easily find details of government support and organisations which can provide help www.southtyneside.gov.uk/costofliving. The Council's Welfare Support Service is a free, impartial and confidential service that offers debt, benefit and money advice and can be reached via the website or by calling 0191 424 6040.
Over the Summer holidays we have been supporting thousands of families experiencing financial hardship through our free holiday clubs. In conjunction with our partners, a host of activities have been organised where children and young people can enjoy a healthy meal and activities over the six-week summer break.
Together with our partners, we have also provided a wide range of diversionary activities over the summer months supporting positive engagement with young people to promote more constructive use of leisure time. Activities on offer included surfing lessons, gym and climbing sessions as well as weekly sports sessions delivered by South Shields Football Club in partnership with the Council's Youth Service.
Our wonderful free summer events programme has continued through August, taking events to the heart of communities in the borough's parks and green spaces. It has been fantastic to see people of all ages getting together and having such an enjoyable time. We now look ahead to welcoming the Great North Run finish line back to South Tyneside, its rightful home.
I have been out and about visiting local businesses, understanding their needs, and finding out more about what the council can do to improve things for them. It is only by listening and working together that we can bring about positive change.
Major remodelling works and upgrades have now been completed at the Borough's only crematorium. The eight-month project at South Shields Crematorium involved extending the chapel to cater for larger funerals, providing seating for more than 200 visitors as well as extra standing space. As part of the works the cremators were replaced with larger and more energy efficient ones that will help to reduce the building's carbon emissions by around 240 tonnes per year. Having seen the improvements first hand, I am delighted with the results. Although losing a loved one is never easy, I feel assured that the new facilities, together with the impeccable service of our Bereavement Team and funeral directors, provide grieving families the support they need during their most difficult time.
The Council is looking to invest in and expand its residential children's homes provision. In line with our priority of supporting young people in need, we are looking to increase the number of residential beds available through the building of new residential children's homes. Currently, there is only one residential home in the Borough with just four beds. Combined with a lack of foster carers, this means that it can be very difficult to find enough places in the Borough. As we have the necessary expertise and experience in this area, we plan to expand our provision so that our young people will be able to grow up in the communities they call home.
South Tyneside students celebrated an impressive set of A Level results. A staggering 83.7 per cent of exam entries from young people in the borough were awarded A level grades A* - C, compared to 82.1 per cent nationally and 30.3% of A Levels in South Tyneside schools and colleges achieved the top grades of A*-A. GCSE results were also impressive with a total of 68.9 per cent of students achieved 9 - 4 in both English and Maths. The results are an improving picture over the last two years, particularly in English.
Elsewhere, I was thrilled and honoured to welcome the contestants of Mr Gay Europe to South Shields Town Hall and to fly the flags of their nations to show our support for the LGBT+ community in the run up to the finals which were held in the region. I was lucky enough to be on the judging panel and I want to thank Stuart Hatton for all the work he does to champion gay rights in South Tyneside and beyond.
Lastly, I would encourage you all to take part in a new art project to develop inscriptions for six new Covid memorials that we would like to install in towns and villages across the Borough.
Back in 2020, we said we wanted to create a meaningful and lasting memorial to loved ones lost to the coronavirus pandemic, to commemorate their lives and to provide a special place and focal point for families and friends to reflect and remember.
We also said that we would involve our entire community in developing a tribute that marks the sacrifices made by the people of South Tyneside. Working with the Cultural Spring, a series of community engagement events will be held. The coronavirus pandemic affected us all in some way. Our communities not only pulled together to help each other during these difficult times but provided much-needed support and comfort to the many people suffering tragic loss.
Councillor Tracey Dixon
Leader of South Tyneside Council