Oxford Biomedical Research Centre and Baroness Frances O'Grady to be given Freedom of Oxford

Published: Tuesday, 24th January 2023

The Oxford Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) and Baroness Frances O'Grady are to be given the Freedom of the City of Oxford.

The Oxford Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) played a key role in the development of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, while Baroness Frances O'Grady is the former General Secretary of the Trade Unions Council (TUC).

The award is the highest honour Oxford City Council can bestow and has previously been given to dignitaries including Oxfam, Nelson Mandela, authors Philip Pullman and Colin Dexter, and Sir Roger Bannister – the first person to run a mile in less than four minutes.

The Oxford BRC and Baroness O’Grady will be conferred the Freedom of the City of Oxford at a council meeting on 30 January. They will be formally presented with their Freedom of the City of Oxford scrolls at a ceremony later in the year.

NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre

The Oxford BRC, part of the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), was established in 2007. It is a partnership between Oxford University Hospitals (OUH) NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Oxford. It brings together academics and clinicians to translate scientific breakthroughs into potential new treatments, diagnostics and medical technologies that benefit NHS patients.

As well as the development of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, the BRC led the way in identifying potential treatments for severe Covid-19 and mapping the immune response to the virus.

Beyond the pandemic, its researchers have played an important role in transforming the way we treat stroke, cardiovascular disease, cancer, infectious diseases and many other diseases. The BRC is a leading centre in new technologies such as gene and cell therapy, digital health, artificial intelligence and the use of clinical informatics.

“I am delighted and honoured to accept the Freedom of the City of Oxford on behalf of the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre.

“Ours is a partnership that brings together the very best in academic healthcare research and NHS clinical excellence, and a key element in the thriving clinical academic ecosystem in this city. An important element in our success is the people of Oxford, who participate in great numbers in our clinical trials and are increasingly involved in the research that we do, helping us to push forward the boundaries of diagnostics, treatment and care – and to ensure our research responds to the needs of the populations we serve.

“The success of our BRC is inseparable from the fertile environment in which it is located, and this recognition belongs to the whole city.”

Professor Helen McShane, Director of the Oxford BRC

Councillor Louise Upton, Cabinet Member for Health and Transport, will propose the conferment of the Freedom of the City of Oxford on Oxford BRC.

“We bestow the Freedom of the City of Oxford on people who have touched or changed lives locally and globally, whether that be the humanitarian aid work of Oxfam or writing novels that bring joy to people all over the world.

“The researchers and developers at the Oxford Biomedical Research Centre saved more than six million lives by producing the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, and their work across many other diseases has had and will continue to have a huge and beneficial impact on patients, both in Oxfordshire and nationally. Their success is intertwined with the residents of our city, many of whom have volunteered to be part of clinical trials, including for the Covid vaccine.

“I can think of no organisation in Oxford who deserves this award more, and I am hugely proud to say I live in a city alongside these brilliant and dedicated people.”

Councillor Louise Upton, Cabinet Member for Health and Transport

Baroness Frances O'Grady

Baroness O'Grady was born in Wood Farm, Oxford, and attended the Wood Farm Primary School and the now-closed Milham Ford School, Headington

After attending Manchester University, Baroness O’Grady moved to London where she worked for the Transport and General Workers' Union (TGWU), and, from 1994, the TUC.

She became Deputy General Secretary of the TUC in 2003 and then, in 2012, became General Secretary – the first woman ever to hold the post. She stepped down from the role in 2022.                         

On 9 December 2022, as part of the 2022 Special Honours, she received a life peerage and was created Baroness O'Grady of Upper Holloway and Wood Farm, Oxford.

Baroness O'Grady comes from a family of trade unionists. Her Dublin grandfather was a founder member of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union and her father, Jim O’Grady, was a shop steward at the British Leyland car plant in Cowley (now MINI Plant Oxford).

“I am deeply honoured to have been nominated for the Freedom of the City of Oxford – the place of my birth – and for the recognition that this affords to the values which we share. 

“I personally have a lot to thank Oxford for. I was born on Wood Farm Estate and attended Wood Farm Primary School where, thanks to generations of wonderful teachers and support staff, children from family backgrounds like mine continue to get the start in life that every child in our country should enjoy.

“I feel so proud to be offered this freedom by Oxford City Council, which has been a pioneer of decent homes for everyone, a greener climate and dignity at work, not least through the introduction of the ground-breaking Oxford Living Wage.

“Like many others, I have devoted my working life to advancing workplace and social justice, in this country and around the world. In recent years, I have been privileged to represent to working people on the pandemic frontline – women and men, from every race and religion, putting their own health on the line for the rest of us. They taught us the true value of labour.”

Baroness Frances O'Grady

Councillor Susan Brown, Leader of Oxford City Council, will propose the conferment of the Freedom of the City of Oxford on Baroness O'Grady.

“Baroness Frances O’Grady has fought for the rights of working people not just in Oxford but across our country – and beyond. I am absolutely delighted and honoured to nominate her to receive the Freedom of the City of Oxford.

“As a proud councillor for Churchill Ward, which includes Wood Farm, I am particularly delighted that she has chosen to reflect the fact she was born and grew up in Wood Farm in her new title.

“I hope that everyone in Wood Farm can take great pride in having raised the first female General Secretary of the Trade Unions Council. Every child growing up in Oxford today – girl or boy – should be able to achieve their dreams.”

Councillor Susan Brown, Leader of Oxford City Council

The Freedom of the City of Oxford title is honorary and does not have any rights attached to it other than to attend formal Council meetings.