Winner of the Lifetime Achievement award at the England and Wales Cllr Awards 2021, Cllr Sheila Peacock (from Haringey Council), shares her story of a life in service of her community, filled with impressive achievements that have changed the world around her and made an impact that has already been, and will continue to be, felt for decades.
Back in 1961, Cllr Sheila Peacock had her first taste of local politics when her husband was elected to Tottenham Borough Council. “To support him I involved myself acting as his secretary and helping him with casework,” Cllr Peacock explains. Shortly after, she answer her own local government calling card when she dived in as an assistant secretary and election agent to organise meetings and campaigns.
At the same time, to adapt to the no-doubt hectic schedule of raising five children, Cllr Peacock found great enjoyment working with young children as a dinner lady. When her youngest went to primary school, friends encouraged her to take this passion further and train as a teacher herself. Funnily enough, fate would have it that when Cllr Peacock graduated from college in 1970, she did so along with her eldest daughter, who had also decided to pursue a career in teaching – like mother, like daughter as they say. “I started teaching in a Primary school and she in Secondary school, both of us in Tottenham”, she shares.
Twelve years later and Cllr Peacock climbed her way up into a Headteacher role, all while continuing to pursue her passion for local politics as a party secretary and election agent. However, when she retired from teaching in 1993, Cllr Peacock used this change of pace as an opportunity to not relax in retirement, but instead throw herself further into the deep end of local politics by standing for election in 1994;
“ I was successfully elected to be a councillor in Northumberland Park ward and I have remained a Councillor in this ward ever since,” she says proudly.
From the get-go, Cllr Peacock stood out as the right person for the job – she was even elected Deputy Leader of the council during the first Annual General Meeting she ever attended. “The councillors wanted to use my knowledge and experience from my teaching career where I worked with families and helped them to address their anxieties and problems,” she explains.
As a councillor, she didn’t want to stray completely away from her links to teaching and decided to remain a school governor for a nursery and a primary school, which she still does even today. And if that wasn’t enough, Cllr Peacock also made time for many charitable endeavours throughout her career, having been elected by the council to serve on Tottenham District Charity (which provides grants and pensions to local residents in need) and the Irish Centre (which provides culture, care and support to those of Irish heritage in the community).
She understatedly remarks, “So with the pensioners group, school governing committees and the council, my life became very busy.”
Then when the Haringey Pensioners Action group heard of the strong skillset she had to offer, they asked her to take on the role of chair, which she has done for the last 30 years. “I have built up the membership from 50 to 350 by introducing many events. The group is now the largest active group in London, a position that we take great pride in,” Cllr Peacock remarks.
Take a look at how Cllr Sheila Peacock earned her Lifetime Achievement award right here:
In 1998, Cllr Peacock took her seat as Mayor for the first time and she immediately wanted to enact change in her community after visiting many sheltered schemes in the Borough. “I was surprised that there was no category for judging the gardens. On my return to the council, I spoke to the Head of Parks and he did not know why this was the case – so my response was to set one up.” Not only did Cllr Peacock launch the ‘Haringey Sheltered Housing in Bloom’ scheme but she funded it for two years before they found a sponsor. Then in 2019, when the council could no longer host the scheme, she came to the rescue yet again, she adds, “I’m pleased to say that this event still takes place every year and the whole event is going from strength to strength.”
Cllr Peacock shares that she is extremely passionate about working with both the young and old in her community. During her third run as Mayor, she founded the Tottenham Charity and raised £42,000 for disabled and vulnerable children. In her fourth term, she created a charity in the name of two nursery schools and raised a further £30,000.
“This would have been more but all my fundraising activities had to stop due to Covid,” she remarks.
Cllr Peacock admits that 1998 was a very busy year in her career – and that is quite the bar to reach for the woman who takes on everything. “I added to my portfolio many events that the council did not have the resources to carry on because it has always been dear to my heart to work with the community.” One big example of her intervention was when the council could no longer resource International Women’s Day, something Cllr Peacock refused to let slip. “I jumped at the chance to continue this day as I found it to be very important because it offered recognition of unsung women.” Her legacy speaks for itself, as again, the event is still going to this day – with a brief transition to Zoom last year.
Looking back, with nearing 20 years under her belt, Cllr Peacock shares that for her, the best thing was being elected Mayor four times, truly showing how much the community valued her leadership. “It has involved working with so many community groups and local people and I have been able to set up so many events that are still going.” From encouraging the British Legion to work closely with local schools when running their Remembrance Day service, to persuading the council to set up community festivals in all four corners of the Borough. Cllr Peacock herself even took the reigns of the Tottenham festival and was instrumental in keeping it running for over a decade and transforming it into a carnival event with 30,000 guests in attendance.
“I could write a book about all that it took to make sure that the event was a great success,” she remarks.
When it comes to what she considers to have been her biggest challenge, Cllr Peacock says ‘time’, explaining, “there are not enough hours in the day to carry out all that I want to do, or that I am asked to do.” This is partly the reason why she launched a new event following the closure of the festivals and carnival, called ‘People’s Day’, but sadly, the pandemic forced it to a halt. ‘My future challenge is to work hard to re-instate People’s Day for the whole community to enjoy,” – and we have no doubt she’ll do it.
This year, Cllr Peacock celebrated her 90th birthday with the planting of four trees in the Memorial Garden at Bruce Castle Park in Tottenham, a very special place to her. Back in 1999, the UK government dedicated January 27th – the anniversary of the liberation at Auschwitz – as a memorial day to those who suffered during the Holocaust. Cllr Peacock approached the then-leader of Haringey Council to spearhead the creation of a Memorial Garden. “I set up a committee to oversee future events and I am pleased to say that the events, such as the yearly memorial event, are recognised by the Holocaust Education Trust and supported by two members of Parliament.”
Upon finding out about her shortlisting for the Lifetime Achievement award at the 2021 Cllr Awards, Cllr Peacock said she was ‘overwhelmed’, stating, “I never expected to be the successful nominee. My family were overjoyed.” Very quickly the community that Cllr Peacock has spent her whole life devoted to helping surrounded her with letters, cards and emails to congratulate her. Even one of the schools she is a governor of presented her with a lovely bouquet of flowers.
Cllr Peacock shares, “I just want to say thank you to all who have supported me and been part of my journey as a councillor, and the many related roles, over so many years.”