A great deal of collective strength has been required to get through this year, which has at many times felt tough and turbulent due to Coronavirus.

But before we close the book on 2020 – perhaps to put at the back of the shelf for a while – it’s important to reflect on how well we’ve all responded to its challenges.

The pandemic has held a mirror up to our actions as individuals and as communities.

Among the toughest questions it’s asked of us all has been “Will you step up to help others?”, and in our district and across Lincolnshire the answer has been a resounding “Yes”.

NHS colleagues, emergency services and key workers, from drivers and shop workers to teachers, carers and our own refuse crews, have shown huge dedication and continue to do so.

Businesses have put measures in place to protect health and co-operated by closing as required, while supporting their staff.

And in our communities, good deeds are taking place between friends, family, neighbours, strangers and volunteers every day.

We know this because of the 100-odd nominations made by grateful recipients of such actions for our NK Community Champions Awards. Our usual ten categories were broadened to 12 making a record number of award winners and finalists, commended during a virtual celebration supported by community-minded sponsors. If you’ve been the recipient of recent community-focused group or individual actions, you can nominate at www.nkawards.org

As a council we’ve responded to 2020’s challenges by offering support wherever possible.

We’ve reached out to thousands of potentially vulnerable residents via letter and phone, checked in with tenants, created additional hardship help and distributed Government self-isolation grants. We’re currently processing applications for the latest government business support grants, having distributed almost £20 million in the first lockdown. Essential services continue and our democratic processes have moved into a new era online.

All the while we’re investing in our district – and there’s so much in the pipeline for 2021.

Our £1.2 million programme to extend and enhance the National Centre for Craft & Design in Sleaford is well on schedule and we can’t wait to show you the results before summer.

We also hope to be on track for a spring 2021 finish for 15 new business units at Discovery Court in North Hykeham. It’ll provide 21,000 sq ft of start-up and grow-on space.

We’ve submitted proposals for our £56 million Sleaford Moor Enterprise Park, marrying together potential for 500 jobs with measures to respond to climate change.

The environment is front and centre in our ambitions more than ever. For example, in early 2021 we hope to adopt our newly formed Tree Strategy increasing trees on council owned land and working with partners to increase tree canopy cover across NK.

Next year three crucial blueprints for the district’s longer-term future will also come further into focus.

We’re shaping our NK Plan 2021-23, which sets out our immediate vision, backed up by our new Community Strategy which outlines our 10-year plans. We’re aiming for North Kesteven to be carbon neutral by 2030 and our exciting Climate Emergency Strategy and Action Plan details the steps towards that target while delivering broader improvements in life and work.

Check our social media @northkestevendc and the consultations section of our website at n-kesteven.gov.uk/your-council/have-your-say for how to input on these three plans.

And until the sun eventually sets on Coronavirus, please remain cautious and careful in what you do, to protect yourself, loved ones and those continuing to deliver such valued public services. While vaccines are beginning to be rolled out, there’s still a long road ahead and we must still remain alert and aware with every step we take.

Richard Wright is the leader of North Kesteven District Council.

Generally we all know what’s good for us – and what’s not – but still find any and every reason and excuse to resist change.

New Year’s Resolutions come and go and giving things up for Lent follows shortly after; with the motivation to shape up for summer coming quickly thereafter.

I know as much as the next man how hard it is to gain the motivation and the ongoing momentum to take up regular exercise and to keep going with it, but over the last year one thing that has really helped me is the excellence of Sleaford Leisure Centre.

As far back as 2010 North Kesteven District Council saw the need and potential to upgrade it, which ultimately saw an investment of almost £3 million and a phenomenal uplift in use and satisfaction.

Following on from this a further £4 million was invested in a wholesale transformation of the district’s other leisure centre at North Hykeham which emerged as ONE NK, again to broad acclaim and with greatly increased usage.

There can be no doubt that the quality of the facilities, their affordability and the improved environment at both of these refreshed facilities are supporting more people to be more active more often – which was our main motivation for the investment – and to maintain their resolve and momentum in doing so.

Last year alone saw a 50%-plus uplift in use to 739,648 visitors at both Sleaford and North Hykeham.

On a smaller scale the investments made at Whisby Natural World Centre where we have encouraged more adventurous play by enhancing play spaces inside and out are increasing regular active participation there too.

These investments also put the council in a stronger position to re-tender contracts for running these and other leisure services, through which a new operating model transforms previously-subsidised services to now run at an overall surplus to the council.

In turn, this now supports the continuation of and development of other services through a ten-year saving of more than £7.5 million.

This in itself is very welcome and a further vindication of our bold vision to invest in leisure services at time when most other councils were scaling back or closing theirs.

But what, for me, is most gratifying is that all three of the ultimate successors – the companies we have now appointed to run leisure, sports and countryside services over a decade from April 1 – are all social enterprises.

These are: Greenwich Leisure Ltd, operating leisure centres in Sleaford and North Hykeham and the Terry O’Toole Theatre under the name Better; Lincs Inspire Ltd which runs Grimsby Auditorium and other facilities in and around North East Lincolnshire to run Whisby Natural World Centre; and Hill Holt Wood, at Norton Disney to run the Countryside Services including the Stepping Out Walks network, the annual walking festival and grounds maintenance.

The new contract will also see further investment and enhanced outreach to deliver sport and physical activity directly in local communities, specifically reaching out to engage otherwise hard to reach people.

Like the council, social enterprises operate on a not-for-profit basis, with a focus on community benefit over the bottom line.

As we work to mobilise the new contracts I am confident that these are the organisations best-placed to move forward and develop excellent services, focused on improving the health and wellbeing of residents.

What is most clear is that through this new partnership we are all aligned with a shared vision for the benefit of all, to inspire everyone to be more active more often.

Richard Wright is the leader of North Kesteven District Council.

A new year and a renewed focus is what January heralds for North Kesteven District Council.

Hopefully everyone will have had chance to take a well-earned break over the Christmas and New Year period, although it is appreciated that there are many in our vital public services who will have been working throughout to keep us all safe and secure.

As could be expected this promises to be a challenging year – and it will be, as has been the case now for several years. However putting other issues aside for now, there does appear to be a raised public awareness of one issue in particular.

As the government announces a widespread aspiration for tackling some of the environmental issues affecting the country and the globe, it is timely that local consultation and decision making are coming together to shape NK’s corporate priority focusing on Our Environment.

Recent action by China to ban any further imports of numerous waste materials has laid bare the huge issue of what to do with it, especially waste plastic. Additionally, the excellent work by Sir David Attenborough in bringing the devastating effects of our throwaway society to our TV screens all adds to a need to act now, rather than ignore the issue for another generation.

As a local authority, NKDC has been tireless in developing and delivering on its responsibilities to the environment for several years and having set what was seen as an ambitious carbon reduction programme, is ahead of the target.

Continued work with schools and businesses gives the opportunity to offer both educational advice and practical ways that businesses can save energy and make significant cost savings. A number of businesses have already benefitted from this and signed up to a carbon reduction pledge.

As we look to what can be done on both a local and national level, there is more we can all do on an individual level; inevitably needing to change our shopping habits and the way we, as residents, think about our everyday lives.

Visiting several supermarkets, it strikes me how common practice has become adopted, often without real reason or need. In buying my weekly fruit I question the need for the plastic bag dispenser found on most fruit shelves.

Take the humble banana. Nature has had the good grace to provide it with its own protective sleeve and a handy natural clip system, holding several together. So what do thousands of shoppers do automatically? Reach for the little roll of bags to put said bananas in. Why?

This is just one small example of inessential behaviour that has devastating results when you account for the amount of film plastic produced, the lack of realistic recycling opportunities for it, the phenomenal amount of time it takes to break down and the consequences of it escaping into our environment and our oceans.

Perhaps this month and this year can be the time we start to giving just a little more thought to our shopping habits and general behaviour in support of Our Environment, to ensure we are not stockpiling even more problems for future generations.

Richard Wright is the leader of North Kesteven District Council.