A Christmas and New Year Message from the Mayor

Wednesday 20th December 2023

The festive season is upon us and as we approach the end of another remarkable year, I would like to extend my warmest wishes to everyone in Ards and North Down.

The Mayor of Ards and North Down and her 3 daughters sit in front of a  Christmas tree

As we reflect on the events that have shaped our Borough in 2023, it is heartening to acknowledge some key moments that have defined the year. I have witnessed the effort and energy that many of you dedicate to causes and people close to your hearts. Community spirit is thriving and I want to take this opportunity to celebrate and express my deepest thanks to the dedicated volunteers across Ards and North Down.

Our communities have not only flourished through these efforts but have also garnered recognition on a broader scale. It is thanks to the sterling efforts of these volunteers, together with Council staff, that Ards and North Down continues to secure awards. Those include a Gold Award for Donaghadee in the Britain in Bloom Awards. The town also won our local Translink Ulster in Bloom awards for the third year in a row, and other areas such as Groomsport and Comber have been recognised too.

Holywood won the Best Kept Medium Town award, we had multiple Green Flag awards for our parks and green spaces, as well as Blue Flags for our beaches too. Most recently, Open House became the first Northern Ireland based recipient of the National Lottery’s Project of the Year award, fending off tough competition from more than 3,700 projects, while Greyabbey and District Community Association and its volunteer group, Friends of the Abbey, were awarded The King’s Award for Voluntary Service. This is the highest award a local voluntary group can receive and is the equivalent to an MBE.

These accolades prove that Ards and North Down is an incredibly beautiful area with so much to offer. We really are so lucky to live here and it’s important that we all recognise and support the enthusiastic volunteers who do such a fantastic job in so many aspects of life in our Borough.

I would also like to pay tribute to the charities that help our community. Their unwavering commitment to making a positive impact does not go unnoticed, and we are all immensely grateful for the valuable work that they do.

I made it clear from the start of my Mayoral year that I wanted to build upon my theme of volunteering and focus on those who step up in service for the good of others. That is why I chose three charities to support during my term; K9 Search and Rescue, the Royal British Legion in Ards and North Down, and the RNLI in Ards and North Down. To date, we have managed to raise more than £6,000 through several fundraising events, with more still to come. If you would like to support the charities, I would be delighted to accept donations online via the Council website. All monies raised will be shared between them.

This year also marked the 50th anniversary of the Ulster Defence Regiment’s (UDR’s) CGC Greenfinches. It goes without saying that they played a very important role in the UDR. When we consider the circumstances in Northern Ireland back in the early ‘70s, those women who enlisted provide us with a great example of bravery and selflessness, so I was delighted to recognise this important anniversary and see some of them lead the parade during Veteran’s Day.

Earlier this month, we launched the Ards and North Down Sports Awards. Don’t forget to get your nominations in to make sure your local sporting heroes are recognised. 2024 is an Olympic year so it will be a particularly special time for sport. I would like to extend my heartfelt best wishes to the Borough’s Olympians. May your dedication and hard work lead to great success, and may you make us all proud on the global stage.

As we celebrate Christmas, let us also remember those for whom the festive period is a difficult time. Please reach out to those in need, and for those who are in need, remember that it is okay to reach out. If you are not sure who to turn to, download the Here2Help app. It offers a directory of local and regional non-profit organisations working in our area that can provide immediate support to people who have a problem or need advice.

Finally, in the midst of the holiday hustle and bustle, let us not forget that at the heart of Christmas, it is not about turkey, tinsel, or creating a picture-perfect day. It is about a baby born in a stable. It is about commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ.

May this holiday season be filled with warmth, joy and togetherness for you and your loved ones, and I wish everyone a healthy and prosperous New Year.

Councillor Jennifer Gilmour, Mayor of Ards and North Down