This Christmas period is likely to be a difficult one for many.
With Coronavirus cases rising once again, and the prospect of more restrictions coming our way, it would be easy to be despondent.
But the truth is that we have a lot to be proud of. As Oldhamers, this year we have achieved so much, and we have a lot to look forward to in 2022.
Over the last year, Oldham has gone from being consistently top of the national charts in terms of Coronavirus cases, to near the bottom. We could not have done this without people from all our communities pulling together; following the guidance, making personal sacrifices, and helping each other when the going got tough.
From the teams who went door to door, asking if people needed help and support; to those key workers who kept our essential services running; and health and care workers who looked after us all in our toughest times - I thank you all, and I know you're already stepping up once again.
It seems a very long time ago in many respects, but it's only this time last year that the Coronavirus vaccination programme in Oldham had just started, with Dr Harpul Hunjan delivering the very first jab. Now, not only are vaccinations being delivered at walk-in clinics every single day across the borough, but 75% of you have had at least one Coronavirus vaccination, giving vital protection against the virus.
One thing I think we we all learned in 2021 was not to let the pandemic beat us; and to not lose sight of our long term aims and ambitions for ourselves, or communities and the borough.
That's why, this year, I'm glad that so many of you took part in the Big Oldham Conversation; our new approach to engagement and consultation, that I announced shortly after becoming council Leader in May.
You've been telling us of all the issues local people really care about, and I’d like to thank everyone who has come along to one of our residents’ meetings, business meetings and town centre engagement sessions so far.
We’re already working on improving the issues you've told us are most important to you, such as tackling anti-social behaviour, improving local green spaces and cleaning up local neighbourhoods.
These sessions will continue next year and by the end of March we will have held meetings in every area across the borough, giving local people the chance to have their say.
One of the main issues you've consistently raised is tackling litter, fly-tipping and waste across our borough – and that's why, when I became Leader, one of my top priorities was investing an extra £1.27m in our Don’t Trash Oldham campaign.
In the first three months of the campaign alone, 55 tons of rubbish have been taken off our streets, 187 people have been fined and more than 400 streets have been cleaned up.
We also announced lots of improvements across the borough this year - and these are already being delivered and making a real difference to people's lives. In May, we told you that the £35m Hollinwood Junction project was moving to its next phase and now this is complete.
In June you may remember we asked you for ideas on schemes to improve your local area - and just last week these were all approved, with almost half a million pounds now committed for projects such as traffic calming, landscaping, and revamps of much-loved community spaces.
In July we signed off our all-new "Building a Fairer Oldham" strategy, with the aim of creating a place where people understand, respect and celebrate each other’s differences and nobody's left behind. We're already delivering on that too, with our all-new Women's Taskforce, the launch of the Poverty Truth Commission, and our new Black History Month event being held in the town centre in October, in partnership with local community groups.
Construction work is now underway on major projects such as the revamp of Royton Town Hall, to create an all-new community hub and library, while throughout the year we've been consulting you on our plans for next year's significant projects, such as our new-look Town Centre and Northern Roots, to ensure the plans, once submitted, reflect what local people want and need.
With so much to look forward to, it was a pleasure to see so many people out enjoying the town centre at our Christmas events this year. The Christmas lights switch on, reindeer parade, and Brass Monkeys were fantastic for families, local businesses and performers alike, as we celebrated together.
I wish a very Merry Christmas to all of you, and hope you will be able to enjoy it with those you love. But I also know that Christmas is a difficult time for so many.
That's why, as a council, this winter our focus is firmly on supporting you, as residents, with everything from welfare advice to support with food, heating, health, wellbeing and anything else you need. Please remember we are there to help, with information on our We Can Help web pages or through our helpline on 0161 770 7007.
Wishing peace and joy for all Oldhamers this Christmas,