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Mayor's Christmas Message

2020 – a year that we will never forget!

Trying to capture 2020 in words is pretty much impossible. Reflecting on the happenings of the past year, in terms of sheer scale there have been few world events that have touched the lives of so many. To say it's been a tough one is an understatement.

When I began my tenure as Mayor of Derry and Strabane in July, it was difficult to anticipate what the role would bring, just that it would be a very different one from that of my predecessors. The City and District at that time was doing very well in terms of the infection rate. We had been quick to respond locally, with our schools and businesses making the very difficult decision to close their doors before the Executive lockdown began. We reaped the rewards of that decisive action over the summer months, and while life was very different, thankfully we did not see the rise in cases experienced in other parts of the world.

The initial news of the pandemic sparked a tidal wave of community reaction, thanks to the strong network of organisations involved in our Local Community Growth Partnerships and neighbourhood renewal teams. The mobilisation of people and resources here has been remarkable and over the summer I had the opportunity to visit many of the groups and volunteers involved and assist where I could on the ground. The kindness and sense of community responsibility was quite overwhelming, from the distribution of vital food aid, to the delivery of simple things like gardening packs and birthday balloons, the community stepped up to protect and care for the most vulnerable.

The older community have been hardest hit by the events of recent months, and aware of the issues of isolation and fear I've tried to reach out where I can as Mayor. I've hosted a number of virtual tea dance events which have proved really popular, bringing older people together to enjoy the music and banter they love so much. I also launched a special Christmas card appeal which gave people the chance to send their best wishes to loved ones isolating or alone with a card from the Mayor.

One of the greatest challenges I've faced this year has been engaging with local people as Mayor, finding new ways to reach out to the various groups in our community while adhering to the rules around social distancing. We've had to come up with some very creative ways to connect and I want to acknowledge the support of my team at the Mayor's Office and all the Council staff who have worked so hard to deliver those opportunities.

Social media has become a major part of my life as a result, offering a safe way to interact, share information and generally stay in touch. Life in front of the camera has been a bit of a baptism of fire and the blooper reel is certainly going to be impressive at the end of my time in office.

Among the successes have been the video campaign around Covid which has been supported by so many proud Derry and Strabane folk from near and far. Familiar faces from entertainment, education, sport and business have all added their voices to the campaign for cooperation when it was so urgently needed. Dana, Phil Coulter, Roma Downey, John Duddy, and Damian McGinty are just a few of those who sent their personal appeals from across the world, as well as local school children from Strabane, our local football and GAA clubs. They have all played an important part in the local fight against Covid-19.

As the figures here escalated in September, the world's media turned its attentions to Derry and for the first time we faced the true grim reality of what devastation the pandemic could bring. It was an alarming time for us all and demanded a critical response across Derry and Strabane. People stepped up and took direct action – and must do so once again as we face into Christmas.

Many people have had to endure the grief of losing a loved one in the most difficult of circumstances, some have been unable to say goodbye in the traditional way, others have experienced the unimaginable sadness of being unable to be with family members in their final hours. At a time when we have needed the support of family and friends more than ever, it has been taken from us, and we have had to find a new strength and resilience to sustain us through the crisis. I want to extend my personal condolences to all who have lost loved ones – not just due to Covid19 – but all who have suffered bereavement during these trying times.

It has been an eventful year on many other levels, with the drama of the US election, the undertones of ongoing Brexit talks - now well and truly sidelined by the pandemic - and in August the loss of one of our most significant figures, John Hume.

Amidst the sadness of the pandemic, we said goodbye to one of the most courageous champions of peace and social justice with a quiet and dignified celebration of his life and works. A lifelong hero of mine, John stood for everything that I believe in, both as a politician and as an advocate for civil rights and liberty. An icon to whom we are all indebted as the broker of peace here, John was a statesman of international standing – but most of all he was a proud Derry man.

Sadly we could not come together as a city to remember a remarkable life in the way we would have liked, but the events of the day were powerful and dignified and perhaps more reflective of the man that he was. He leaves behind a fantastic legacy, and through the creation of the John and Pat Hume Foundation championed by his incredible wife Pat, dedicated to supporting and inspiring leadership for peaceful change and reconciliation, that legacy will resonate long into the future.

On a lighter note – and we have needed those moments more than ever this year – Council has been working hard to bring some much needed light relief through the delivery of a wide ranging events programme via online platforms. There have been several cultural highlights over the past few months, with Summer Jamm, Culture Night, Halloween and the Christmas campaign all providing a diverse range of activities and entertainment for all the family.

This was complemented by the activities of our sport and leisure team who continued to get people fit and active with an array of online fitness classes and challenges as we all embraced the great outdoors and became more aware of the benefits of exercise. I was so proud to be joined by my family in September to complete the Every Body Active Road to Running 5k challenge on behalf of my chosen charity Aurora Counselling Services.

It's been an honour to campaign on behalf of the charity at a time when supporting mental health has never been more important. Throughout the year despite the restrictions I have engaged in a number of fundraising activities, and I've launched a Just Giving appeal which you can support via www.derrystrabane.com/mayor. I will continue to work on their behalf over the coming months – so please support if you can.

This month the Christmas activities have been greatly curtailed but I've shared in the joy of socially distanced Christmas switch ons and Santa street and school visits throughout Derry and Strabane – such a pleasure to see so many happy faces during what has been such a difficult time.

As we look to 2021 it's undoubtedly with a degree of trepidation, as we brace ourselves for a continued fight against Covid-19 with the concerning new of a new variant emerging, before the full roll out of the vaccination programme. The fall out of Brexit also looms large on the horizon, and the further economic uncertainty that will bring. But there is hope. We now have the means to tackle Covid, it's just a matter of time before we can create an effective safety net for the most vulnerable that will allow us all to return to some form of normality.

2021 will be a year of great opportunity for Derry and Strabane, as we see the beginnings of the positive change promised to us through the delivery of our City Deal and the single biggest investment in our region. Work has been progressing well behind the scenes and the New Year will see us continue that work towards the delivery of a raft of transformative projects that will put the North West City Region on the map. It couldn't come at a better time as we will have much to do to address the wide ranging impacts of both Brexit and Covid-19. We are certainly owed this opportunity and I look forward to being part of the next steps in this journey along with our partners to deliver a dynamic and revitalised Derry and Strabane.

Inevitably we will carry the effects of Covid with us for a long time, but thankfully there will be positive aspects to be taken from the past nine months. We have all had to endure things we could never have expected, to find a new inner strength and resolve to carry us through times of loneliness, anxiety and sadness. But stemming from this year will be a renewed value for loved ones, our friends and the colleagues who have sustained us through these times. There will be a greater appreciation for Health Service staff and others who led on the frontline, who ensured our lives could continue with as little disruption as possible. We will look differently at our local businesses, and continue to support them as they enter what will be a lengthy period of recovery. We will have renewed compassion for those living alone, for our elderly neighbours and relatives, for those living in care homes and we will put in place the measures needed to respect, protect and care for them as they deserve.

2021 will be a year of reconnecting, of rebuilding relationships and rediscovering the things we value most. It will be a time of hope, renewal and reassessment, an opportunity to review the things that really matter and to decide how we want to move forwards towards a better future.

As we look forward to Christmas and the New Year, the onus is on all of us to do so responsibly with the safety of others foremost in our hearts. If we give any gift this year, let it be one of health, safety and wellbeing as we look with hope to better times ahead.

I want to wish everyone a very safe, joyful and happy Christmas and a hopeful New Year full of opportunity.

Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council,

Councillor Brian Tierney