Mayor's Christmas Message 2021

Thursday 23rd December 2021

As we approach the end of 2021, I am glad to have this opportunity to reflect and share some words of hope and encouragement with you…

There is no doubt we have all endured another challenging year, as we continue to live with the ongoing effects of the pandemic. COVID-19 has had a profound effect on many aspects of our daily lives and very unfortunately, with the arrival of the Omicron variant, we are now facing another uncertain festive period.

However, it is important to remember that we have come a long way in our battle with the pandemic. Thanks to the effective vaccine and now booster programmes, we have been able to return to a level of normality during 2021 and we will have the opportunity to spend time with our friends and loved ones over Christmas.

As Mayor I have the privilege of meeting with many local people who are working hard to keep our Borough moving. Whether in the emergency services, business community, public services or the voluntary sector there are so many unsung local heroes. I couldn’t begin to recognise them all, but I would encourage you to think about the people you see day to day who make your life that bit easier; please take the time to wish them a very merry Christmas.

While many will spend the holidays with friends and family, there are others who are needed ‘in work’ on Christmas Day and throughout the festive period. I would like to say ‘thank you’ to all of them for this sacrifice; our police and fire service, doctors and nurses, hospital and social care staff, volunteers and those working in the hospitality and retail sector – we are hugely indebted to you all.

This year, in particular, I want to pay tribute to our care home workers. Over the past 20 months, they have been at the sharp end of this pandemic and have been faced with extremely challenging and upsetting sets of circumstances as they have tried to support some of the most vulnerable in our society.

I retired from the hospitality industry two years ago, which has enabled me to help in the kitchens of some of our local care homes throughout the pandemic. As such I have seen first-hand the pressure that the staff have had to endure. I believe it is appropriate that I do what I can to help and will be spending time with staff and residents of some of the homes I work in on Christmas Day. I am looking forward to chatting with the residents, many of whom I now know personally – it really will be a privilege to have their company at this special time of year.

Having worked in hospitality for many years, I know how important a time Christmas is for our local traders. Many have endured very challenging times over the past year so it is essential that we all ‘shop local’ as much as we can.

I am particularly mindful of the difficulties being faced by our local restaurants at present. With so many people being rightly cautious of social contact in the context of the new variant, restaurants, bars and coffee shops are much quieter than usual. Christmas is a critical time for the sector – profits made at Christmas help to support the hospitality business through leaner times during the rest of the year. If we are to avoid permanent closures by some of these businesses in the new year, Stormont urgently needs to intervene and provide financial support.

Christmas is a time for giving and it would be remiss of me not to mention the two charities that I am supporting during my term as Mayor - Ards Peninsula First Responders and Donaghadee Heritage Preservation Company.

Ards Peninsula First Responders provide an essential service for our community, especially to those who live a considerable distance from their nearest hospital. They are a group of volunteers that are trained to attend emergency calls received by the ambulance service and can provide care until an ambulance arrives. They are sent to calls in their local area and can be on the scene within minutes, providing potentially lifesaving medical care.

The Donaghadee Heritage Preservation Company is a charity that is specifically concerned with the conservation and preservation of the Sir Samuel Kelly lifeboat, which resides in Donaghadee. The boat was originally built in 1950 and is well-known for rescuing 33 people from the 1953 Princess Victoria ferry disaster.

Both of these charities are very close to my heart. One provides a vital lifesaving service on a daily basis to the people of Ards and North Down, while the other is carrying out the task of preserving an important part of our heritage that once provided a lifesaving service to our community.

And so to conclude, I would like to wish you all a very merry Christmas and hope that 2022 will be a brighter, more positive and much healthier one for us all. Please do all that you can to stay safe and make sure to enjoy some special moments with your friends and family.

Councillor Mark Brooks
Mayor of Ards and North Down