For the second year running the shadow of COVID has dominated the headlines and, for governments across the world, this has been an enormous challenge and a diversion from the many other demands and expectations all administrations face.

So many people have given that bit extra to see us through. Our first thoughts are directed towards those in the NHS and wider medical professions, but we mustn’t forget all those who kept us fed, those in transport and all the essential services on which we all rely, and those volunteers without which our society would be so much the poorer. On behalf of all my constituents I say a big ‘thank you’.

Despite the pandemic the UK economy has performed remarkably well and here in northern Lincolnshire the continuing growth of the renewable energy sector has been exceptional.

Also, at a local level the two councils that serve my Cleethorpes constituency – North and North East Lincolnshire – have been successful in bids for government funding to revitalise our high streets and regenerate our towns and villages – all part of the all-encompassing ‘Levelling-up’ agenda.

That agenda is not just about improving the environment of our towns or improving transport connections, important though they are, but about equipping our young people with the education and skills they need to meet the demands of our new and emerging industries. In this respect we are moving in the right direction as our schools and colleges adapt.

Industry itself must step up to the mark by providing apprenticeship schemes, and many are. During this last year I have visited companies and met young people who are receiving excellent training and have the enthusiasm and determination needed to be successful.

I should also give a mention to the Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise partnership (LEP) who are a vital link between business and government. They are one of the many organisations that play a vital role in delivery of services that we, rightly, think of as being provided by the government. Other such organisations include NHS Trusts, Clinical Commissioning Groups and various groups that advise our local authorities.

To some extent MPs have parallel lives with four days a week in Westminster and the rest of the week at home carrying out constituency work involving surgeries, visits to schools, businesses and being briefed by senior police officers, NHS and council staff and many more, so that we can keep abreast of the challenges and resource implications of the services they provide.

With the information and briefings we receive locally we can better represent the needs of the constituency. It is the political theatre of Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) that most people are familiar with but each day there is an hour devoted to ‘question time’ when ministers from each government department must face questions. Then, of course, there is the detailed scrutiny of legislation. It’s not an exciting spectator sport so, inevitably, it is PMQs that grabs the headlines and there’s no doubting that it is a big test for the two leading plays – Prime Minister and opposition leader.

Governing is about decision-making and that means there will always be winners and losers. In the past year much has been achieved but there is always more to be done. Talking of getting things done I can’t not mention Brexit. It’s just a year since as, Boris Johnson, keeps reminding us “we got Brexit done” and that is a massive achievement. Of course there are still loose ends to deal with and negotiations are continuing to resolve them, most notably those affecting Northern Ireland.

Free from the EU we haver set about putting in place trade deals with the rest of the world. Trading opportunities exist and one of my aims for 2022 is to do more to encourage local businesses to broaden their horizons. If you provide goods and services for the UK market then the chances are that there are customers across the globe that are looking for a supplier who offers good service and value for money.

Despite the challenges of COVID there is much to look forward to in the year ahead. There will be new challenges, new problems to overcome but I’m sure we can overcome them.

My best wishes for 2022.

By City of Lincoln Council Leader

As 2021 draws to a close, we are left to reflect on a year that has, for many been as difficult as the last.

Locally, nationally and internationally, the coronavirus pandemic has continued to affect all of our lives, with the start of the year seeing the city council work with key partners to run testing facilities at Sincil Bank and Monks Road, testing over 15,000 people in January alone.

We continued the hard work of 2020 into 2021, keeping our key services running while also helping to ensure the needs of the most vulnerable in the city were met.

I am incredibly proud of all our city council who have exceeded expectations and continued to provide a high-quality service throughout the year. They have delivered above and beyond for both our residents and visitors, despite the obvious challenges we have faced.

One such example took place in May, when the local elections were at the forefront of all our minds. It is safe to say it was the most challenging elections we have faced in terms of set up – certainly in my time as a councillor.

Voters this year had three votes to make, with the City of Lincoln Council, Lincolnshire County Council and Lincolnshire Police and Crime Commissioner elections all taking place on the same day. Staff worked incredibly hard to provide a safe, and easily accessible election, with the challenges of government guidelines and increased restrictions in place. 2021 saw new polling stations, with some voters visiting different locations, including a car showroom, to ensure social distancing could be adhered to throughout.

As some of you may know, 2021 is the second year of the council’s Vision 2025, and it’s been a year where we’ve delivered projects that have focused on our five strategic priorities including driving economic growth, reducing all kinds of inequality, delivering quality housing, enhancing our remarkable place and addressing the challenge of climate change.

This year saw the completion of the Cornhill Square public realm, Lincoln’s new contemporary space within our city centre, where we hope 2022 will bring a range of family-centred events and cultural activities to be enjoyed.

Key works also began in our High Street Heritage Action Zone in partnership with Historic England, with the first restoration of shopfronts on St Mary’s Street. In 2022 we will do further work as part of the scheme to maintain, protect and restore historic buildings including St Mary’s Guildhall and other heritage sites at risk.

We have further developed our Lincoln Social Responsibility Charter, which now has almost 100 businesses involved and encourages organisations in the city to undertake socially responsible activities which benefit both their employees and the local community.

Works continue at De Wint Court to provide a new purpose built 70 apartment Extra Care facility, with completion expected for the beginning of next year. Once complete, the new apartments will enable residents to maintain independence in their own homes as their needs change, with care providers arranged by the county council.

Our refurbishment of Lincoln Crematorium nears completion with the delivery of a second chapel and new cremators to ensure we continue to deliver a high-quality service, in an attractive environment where people can say goodbye to loved ones.

The capital works as part of the Boultham Park Lake Restoration project were completed this year, improving the water quality of the lake, restoring its banks with further improvements to the biodiversity of the plants and wildlife in the area. I was lucky enough to attend the official opening following the works, highlighting a beautiful green space, which is cherished in our city.

Earlier this month, the Lincoln Christmas Market returned to the city, attracting more than 275,000 visitors over the four-day event. We saw thousands get into the festive spirit, taking in the sights and smells Christmas in Lincoln had to offer, with over 150 stalls, entertainment and outstanding views, showcasing what our city has to offer as a tourist destination. I look forward to celebrating our 40th year of the market in 2022.

Next year sees the plans for Western Growth Corridor being considered by Full Council, sitting as the planning committee. Proposals, which will be decided upon on 12 January, include 3,200 new homes, a local centre for retail and commercial units, a primary school, leisure complex and facilities and a new road infrastructure. This is probably the most significant project the council has put forward in modern times and I look forward to taking part in the debate next month.

I can’t wait for 2022 and the continued improvements we all hope it will bring. I would like to take this opportunity to wish all residents, businesses and visitors in our special city a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Councillor Ric Metcalfe is the Labour Leader of the City of Lincoln Council.

By YMCA Lincolnshire Chief Executive

Bestselling author Neil Gaiman once wrote: “Off to bed. If squirrels take over in the night, I, for one, welcome our new bushy-tailed scampering overlords, and I know where the nuts are.”

These words made me smile, as this year has felt a little like this at YMCA Lincolnshire. ‘We Welcome’ is one of our core values, it’s a sentiment that’s at the heart of our decision making. To ensure a perfect welcome you need creativity, flexibility and an ability to put the needs of your guests first.

2021 presented plenty of unexpected challenges for most us but the team at YMCA Lincolnshire, and the generous people who supported our charity, have always ‘found the nuts’. We’ve been able to offer an exceptional welcome to everyone who needed it.

For those falling through the cracks….

YMCA Lincolnshire expanded its range of services last year to catch and support those who had fallen through cracks or who were in danger of becoming forgotten; the young, the vulnerable, the isolated, and those without places to stay or people to help.

We’ve worked with mire than 1,000 young people through our expanding range of young clubs. We care for more than 200 babies and children in our three nurseries. We’ve supported more than 30 young people who struggled to return to school after lockdown, and helped them rebuild their confidence.

For those who are lonely or isolated…

Bringing people together has been an important part of our work. We’ve established 22 Good Neighbour Schemes (with another eight in the pipeline), and organised friendship groups.

This year we’ve supported more than 5,000 vulnerable, isolated older people across Lincolnshire through the National Lottery Community Fund sponsored Ted Ageing Better programme.

Our Age Friendly Business support team helps businesses reshape their approach to become more welcoming to older people as customers and employees.

We have also established a new network across Lincolnshire for those who are Ageing without Children. The network has been hugely successful and is attracting people who have previously felt isolated and alone. If you are interested in any of our services please do get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.

We estimate we’ve served and drunk more than 50,000 cups of tea this year! A personal chat over a cup of tea with someone who is vulnerable or alone is one of the most important parts of our work.

For those in hardship…

Sadly, people across Lincolnshire have experienced unexpected hardship in 2021. With the help from Barclays we were able to support those in hardship, awarding 263 individual grants and delivering 5,000 wellbeing packs to Lincolnshire schools, helping young people who were anxious or struggling to cope.

Our own residents were also hit very hard by the constant challenges of lockdown. Working in partnership with the NHS we’ve ensured that 70 residents had quality time with a qualified mental health nurse.

Our 121 rooms of supported accommodation welcomed more than 200 people, helping them get back on their feet and access support services to rebuild an independent future.

In addition, with the generous help of Lincolnshire people, we’ve offered emergency accommodation to 210 people at the Nomad Centre, providing a clean, safe space to stay.
Together, working in partnership, we found the nuts to ensure a warm welcome for everyone.

So, who are we expecting to welcome in 2022?
We have an exciting year ahead and we’re look forward to 2022 with optimism.

In January YMCA Lincolnshire will welcome 15 new youth workers who will deliver the Airplay youth work programme at five RAF airbases, on behalf of the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund. We’re very much looking forward to welcoming this new team and meeting the 700 young people and their families who will use this service.

In November 2021 we opened a new nursery for babies and toddlers at The Showroom in Lincoln. Mini Movers offers flexible childcare that fits around family working commitments to help people get back into work after lockdown employment hiccups. We’re looking forward to growing the number of children we support here.

In March 2022, 100 volunteers will brave the elements for our annual sleep out on the newly refurbished Dean’s Green at Lincoln Cathedral. The sponsored sleepers will raise awareness of the mental health challenges that those without homes face, and will raise funds for a dedicated mental health service. If you would like to help support our homelessness work we are currently taking registrations for our sponsored sleep out in 2022, you can register here.

My message for 2022? I would urge everyone to keep finding the ‘nuts’ for those who may unexpectedly arrive needing help, or those who catch your eye on the street, or those you spot in your community who might need a warm welcome. I’m guessing they won’t have a bushy tail but if you look hard enough you’ll see someone who needs you.

On behalf of my team at YMCA Lincolnshire and the people we support, thank you for your generosity of spirit in 2021. We are blessed to live in a community that cares and we can’t thank you all enough.

Wishing you all a magical Christmas and happy New Year.

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