I’m sure we were all hoping the new year would bring a change in fortunes. Sadly that hasn’t been the case with a third national lockdown, record numbers of positive Covid 19 cases and sadly more deaths in MK than we saw in the first wave of the pandemic. Our warmest thoughts and sincerest condolences go to the families of those who have lost loved ones during this pandemic. Our deepest gratitude also goes to those in our hospital, our NHS and our key and frontline workers who daily put themselves at risk in order to care for others. Through all the difficulties and turmoil it’s great to see the community of Milton Keynes pulling together to support its population.

But with the new year also comes new hope in the form of a vaccine. Whilst lockdown is designed simply to stem the flow of the virus, vaccination is clearly the way out of this situation and a return to some sort of normality. The roll out of the programme has started well and is set to pick up pace as more centres open up. Saxon Court in the centre of MK will find yet another use as a large scale vaccination centre and GP surgeries as well as our hospital will continue to administer the vaccine. Our thanks to all who have volunteered to come out of retirement and are giving up their time to play their part in this roll out.

The Mayoral year, at least in terms of physical and face to face contacts and engagements, came to a pretty abrupt halt just before Christmas, firstly with a move to Tier 4 measures followed swiftly by the new national lockdown. Meetings and engagements continue by virtual means and it’s good to see more and more organisations embracing technology to host events whilst keeping people safe.

The widening use of technology and people’s willingness to embrace the use of it is one of the many silver linings to appear around the dark Covid clouds. One of the few areas to remain physically open are places of worship. With a rigorous enforcement of the rulings in every church that I’ve been to, places of worship have proven to be a safe environment for people of all faiths to continue to worship. And although many smaller churches whose buildings can’t accommodate or easily conform to the regulations have chosen to close in order to protect their communities, some have remained open.

I was privileged to become the first Mayor of Milton Keynes to occupy a pulpit and deliver a Christmas Morning sermon, combining my role as Mayor and a Licensed Lay Minister in the Anglican Church. My thanks to our Mayor’s Chaplain and the people of the Parish of St. Peter and St. Paul, Olney for inviting me.

One of the numerous events to move from a proposed live event to a virtual one was the presentation of awards to the Parks Trust volunteers for 2020. The Parks Trust does an amazing job of keeping our green open spaces in excellent condition and creating habitats for wildlife and biodiversity.

2020 was an incredibly demanding year with so many restrictions and constraints but also so much extra demand for, and usage of, our green open spaces, which continue to be the safest places to be outside of home.

Many congratulations to the trust for all the work they continue to do, to all of the volunteers without whom it literally wouldn’t happen, and a big well done to all the winners in the different categories.

Among the many groups that I’ve been privileged to join virtual meetings with during our Mayoral year is InterFaith MK.

Our new city’s diversity and culture are some of our finest assets and something we can be very proud of. To see the way in which the numerous faith communities are brought together and continue to work for the common good and build on that which unites us, as opposed to arguing about what divides us, has been a real source of inspiration and motivation. In these most challenging of times it’s heartening to see our faith communities taking the lead in keeping us together.

The cold, damp and gloomy start to 2021 is perhaps reflective of the current mood of both our community here in Milton Keynes and of the nation as a whole. But as I conclude this column I do so with a new hope and a sense of optimism.

With signs of new life comes fresh hope and fresh optimism that 2021 will bring much better, happier and more prosperous times than its predecessor. So may I take this opportunity to wish you all, slightly belatedly perhaps, a very blessed and better year. Stay safe and well.

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