Christmas is a time of year when friends, family and community gather closer to celebrate and reflect on the year just past. It’s also a time of year when issues of inequality, loneliness and isolation are thrown into sharp relief. For many people it’s a hard time of year, and in these times of insecurity, food and fuel poverty and the increasing impact of Universal Credit, it’s all the more important that we all pull together to make the best of life for everyone in our communities.
For that reason it’s heartening to see the wonderful work being done with our partners in public, private and voluntary sectors, coupled with the amazing initiatives which are coming out in our communities as a result of our Community Led Action Plans. Organisations such as Centrestage, Newmilns Regeneration Association, the Kilmarnock Station Community Village and CVO, to name just a few, are making a real impact on the everyday lives of people in need. It’s proof that third sector organisations are not just tick box exercises but really make a life changing difference to many people of all ages and circumstances.
There’s no doubt that austerity has hit our communities hard. As a council we’ve had to pay an extra £6.1m in one year alone to mitigate the effects of the introduction of Universal Credit. We’ve got specialist, multi-disciplinary teams working hard to try to lessen the impact on our residents. But we’ve also done a lot this year that we can be very proud of.
In November we dedicated a new memorial garden to the fallen from the First World War in Kilmarnock. In Galston, the opening of the new Portland Centre, home to the Galston Community Development Trust and several new and growing businesses, was the culmination of a £2m regeneration programme, which saw seven major building grants awarded, eight new businesses set up and 13 new jobs created.
Centrestage in Kilmarnock has had a great year, taking over the former Kilmarnock Academy building and expanding on all the work they do to improve lives and build confidence.
Across East Ayrshire, we have ambitious plans for our Council housing and are proposing an extensive programme of new build homes and significant improvements to our current stock, while in health, we continue to achieve zero hospital delayed discharges, and are supporting people in a more homely setting.
One of the most touching moments I had this year was when we welcomed Professor Liam and Dr Siobhan McIlvanney, son and daughter of the late great William McIlvanney to open the brand new campus in Kilmarnock which has been named in his honour. Willie was a passionate advocate for high quality education for all young people, regardless of their background. I know how proud Willie was of his own children’s linguistic and literary achievements and I hope that his inspiration will excite, motivate and encourage the next generation of eager learners to follow his example.
Above all, this year has been about meeting and facing challenges, working together and realising that we can all draw strength from each other, give each other dignity and respect, remember to be kind, and move forward in hope, knowing that with co-operation and team work, we can all achieve something positive.