As I write this last column of 2023 for the Herald and Post, I find myself, unsurprisingly, in reflective mood.
This year has been memorable for a number of reasons. We’ve seen some real highs with the coronation of King Charles III and the coming together of our nation with all the pomp and pageantry. Globally we’ve also seen some real lows with the horrors in Israel and conflict in Gaza, and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
This year also saw the official end of the COVID pandemic. Hard to believe that the start was some four years ago. Of course, the effects are still being felt, from healthcare backlogs to changed work patterns.
Politically there have been challenges, but I’m pleased to see that we’ve ended the year with our economy improving. That’s not to say that we’re out of the woods just yet. I know the very real impact the cost of living has been having on people across East Hants, some of whom I have met in surgery this year. I do hope the government’s package of financial support has gone some way to easing the burden on those people and families most in need.
Away from the global stage, there has been so much to celebrate in East Hampshire. A highlight for me was the Dementia Festival in Petersfield in March. This festival has become a real focal point for local charities and support groups and long may that continue.
Jeff Williams, who started the festival, and who sadly passed away not long after this year’s event, has left behind such a strong legacy. He will never know how many people he has helped to live well with this debilitating disease.
I’m always keen to support any initiatives that aim to make our towns and villages better places to live. Earlier in the year I went out for the morning with students from Treloar’s who were evaluating the accessibility of local shops and businesses. The ultimate aim being to make Alton the most accessible town in the country. A wonderful ambition and one that I hope can get closer.
Away from the large set piece events, there have been so many wonderful local events over the course of the year, far too many to list here. Some particular highlights for me were opening the new ‘pump track’ at Liss (a fantastic example of local active citizenry in action) and, most recently, joining Four Marks brewer Xen Gladstone for a pint of Sundown in Stranger’s Bar in Parliament, where his ale is guesting for the festive period.
I’d like to thank everybody who has been in touch with me this year either to raise a local issue or to ask for assistance with a problem that they just haven’t been able to resolve themselves. I do hope that we’ve been able to help where we can.
I’d also like to thank the many county, district, parish and town councillors who do such a fantastic job for the people and communities they represent – and everyone who will be working in essential services while the rest of us are enjoying a break.
May I wish you a very happy New Year and my best wishes for 2024.