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Mayoral Christmas and New Year Message

21 December 2015

The Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Cllr Elisha McCallion will be taking a well earned break to spend time with her husband, three sons and extended family circle after a hectic non-stop eight month schedule as First Citizen.

“It’s been great, I am loving being the Mayor but I have to admit it has been hectic, the Mayoral schedule is non-stop and I am really looking forward to having a few days off to enjoy Christmas and spend time with Declan and the boys – Daithi, Fiachra and Malachy. Christmas is a very special time for me and I really love being with family and being part of the celebrations. I come from a large extended family and we all enjoy spending Christmas together.”

A key part of the Mayoral year to date has been meeting with local people across the Council area.

“Since becoming Mayor I have literally met with thousands of people. I have attended hundreds of events across the Council area, whether it’s been officiating at events, hosting receptions or chairing meetings. I’ve been to places that I never knew existed! And I am loving it. People are so warm and friendly and really go out of their way to make you feel welcome and that is across the board. Communities across Derry and Strabane have given me huge support and I am really grateful.”

To date the Mayor has been heavily involved in a number of significant initiatives and projects that are very close to her heart. On becoming Mayor, Cllr McCallion was keen to highlight the issue of dementia and chosen the Alzheimer’s Society as her official charity. As well as attending Alzheimer’s fundraisers and events throughout the year, the Mayor has organized a number of hugely successful events for the charity including a Dementia Awareness Tea Dance, a Dementia Memory Walk and a series of events aimed at raising awareness of the illness, during Dementia Awareness Week.

“During my Mayoral year I want to use the opportunity to do what I can to not only raise awareness of dementia and help raise funds for the charity, but to reduce the stigma that can be attached to the illness by offering support for family, friends and carers of those affected by dementia.  It’s an issue close to my heart and I hope that this will be one of my Mayoral legacies,” she said.

The ongoing refugee crisis in Syria has been high on the Mayoral agenda. A few months back Mayor McCallion set up a multi-agency group to look at what steps can be put in place to welcome refugees to the city. As well as setting up a petition, the Mayor established an Emergency Refugee Fund and helped to organize and fund a conference aimed specifically at educating people about the issues facing refugees. As part of the campaign she has organised ongoing street and door to door collections as well as events and fundraisers to help raise much needed funds. She continues to hold regular meetings with key stakeholders to ensure that new and innovative ways to integrate the refugees is coordinated to ensure it is not done to the detriment of the wider local community.

“The plight of refugees fleeing Syria plucked at my heart strings. The scenes of the children’s bodies washed up on the beach were horrifying for any mother to have to watch and I felt I had to do something to help. Once again the people of Derry and Strabane continue to do us all proud by coming out to the rallies and showing their support and giving generously to the emergency fund.”

In addition to looking out for the needs of refugees, the Mayor is very conscious of the fact that there are many people across our own Council area who are in need of help and support. With that in mind she organized the Giving Tuesday event where individuals and businesses were asked to donate presents or gift vouchers for distribution to vulnerable and needy families across the Council area.

The Mayor also extended an open invitation to members of the local homeless community, and those living in hostels, to attend a reception in the Guildhall.

“It is important that we do all we can to provide help and support to vulnerable people in our communities, particularly at Christmas time. For most of us Christmas is a joyful time with presents, lots of food and cheer and time with loved ones, but there are many out there who are lonely and Christmas is a sad time for them. I would encourage everyone to reach out this Christmas and extend a hand of friendship to vulnerable people in their communities – it could be as simple as dropping in to visit an elderly neighbour or donating a present to one of the local charities for distributing to a local family. We can all do our bit to make Christmas a positive experience for everyone.”

Looking back on 2015, the Mayor acknowledged it has been a significant year in many ways.

“The Local Government Reform process got underway in April last year and saw the establishment of the new Derry City and Strabane District Council. One of the key elements of our work is to develop the Community Plan and I am delighted that there has been successful engagement across the board on this process. Its vitally important that local people have an input as this Plan will outline our strategic plans for the future and will ultimately see the provision of better services across the Council area.”

One of the projects the Mayor is particularly excited about is the Council’s bid for European Youth Capital status in 2019.  This bid was first initiated by the Mayor when she took on then role as Mayor and is keeping with her commitment to deliver a better future for the city’s young people. She is hugely excited about the bid and believes it has the potential to deliver real and positive benefits for the city and region.

“A successful EYC 19 bid will highlight the Council area as one of Europe’s most progressive and enlightened places for young people to live. If we are successful in securing this coveted title it will present us with a fantastic opportunity to showcase our talents. Key to successfully delivering this project is engaging with our local young people and getting them actively involved as champions. Our district has a very young population and we hope to gauge their ideas and vision for the bid, which will ultimately inform the development of youth policies in locations across Europe. “

Looking ahead the Mayor is really looking forward to welcoming a return of the Clipper Round the World fleet to the city in the summer when the city will host the Foyle Maritime Festival from 19-27 July.

“We are over the moon that we are a host port for the 15-16 Clipper Round the World Race and look forward to hosting another magical week of events that will showcase everything that is good about our city - team work, people, pride and celebration. The countdown is on now to July and I just can’t wait to welcome the boats back to our marina for another legenderry experience.”

Acknowledging that a lot of work needs to be done to improve the economy and invest in infrastructure across the city and region, the Mayor said she is committed to working with her colleagues in the Council and the other statutory bodies to provide strong leadership and close partnership arrangements to ensure that Derry and Strabane and indeed the wider North West region gets it share of inward investment, government funding and investment in infrastructure and regeneration.

“My recent visits to the United States where I met with business people, investors and education providers in Boston and Berkeley were hugely successful in terms of making connections and forging positive links that will hopefully bring to fruition some developments and investments for the future. I am really hopeful that we will also forge a formal Sister City arrangement with Berkeley so that we can enjoy the economic, cultural and tourism benefits of such a relationship.”

The Mayor added that she was confident that the future is bright for residents in the Derry City and Strabane District Council area.

“With our city and region’s new sense of confidence and achievement we need to continue to increase our business profile, sell our unique tourism offering and history and continue to tell the world our story. Everyone can play their part in this by promoting our city and region wherever we go and to everyone we meet. It’s our city and we are proud of who we are. I sincerely hope that 2016 will bring new opportunities and prosperity so we can continue with the good work that we are doing.”

Extending sincere Christmas greetings to the people of the Council area, the Mayor said she was hopeful the festive period brings joy and celebration to many.

“My Mayoral year has been phenomenal so far, I find it difficult to put into words how warm and friendly people have been to me. I really enjoy meeting with you all and hearing about the wonderful work that you do. I have attended so many fantastic events and functions, particularly community led events. One of my favourite events is the monthly Tea Dances at the Guildhall, they are so much fun and a great way to meet and chat with older people from the community,

“I would like to extend my best wishes to all of you and wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year. As Mayor I intend to continue my Mayoral year with your help and support and together we will have a strong united voice to tell the world how fantastic our city and district is.”