This is the time of year when we pay tribute and give thanks to all those who work in the public service: those who give up their Christmas and New Year in order to provide vital services through the NHS, the police, fire and rescue and ambulance services, those in our Armed Forces, both here and overseas, those who serve as carers, and of course the families to support them.
But we should pay special tribute to all these people this Christmas, because the pandemic and its effects on our economy and public health have made the past two years so extremely and unusually difficult.
And more widely still, I believe we should recognise the struggles of businesses small and large, especially in the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors, who have worked so hard to keep themselves afloat, only to see their Christmases clobbered by the Omicron virus.
There have been few more depressing sights than to walk around Hereford city centre or our market towns on what should normally be some of the busiest shopping evenings of the year, only to see them almost deserted.
Yet there is so much to be positive about. The pandemic has jolted many people Into a different understanding of what they most value in life: the countryside, the natural environment, good local schools, the importance of friends and family and community.
These are things vital to happy lives, which our county has in abundance. We have not fully cracked the issue of fast broadband yet, but we have made huge progress over the past decade, with full fibre in prospect. Both are proving to be absolutely invaluable in closing down distances and allowing people to work remotely.
But think forward, and you have a potent combination of factors all supporting long term economic and social wellbeing in Herefordshire.
What do we need to do to make further progress in 2022?
Three things: we must continue to support NMITE, which is going really well, taking students and already transforming lives.
We must make more progress in cleaning up the Wye, both through citizen energy and pressure on government, the Environment Agency, Natural England and Natural Resources Wales.
And we can support the idea of a Shires National Landscape, which is the best way to preserve and enhance so much of what is special about our county. Happy New Year!
First published in the Hereford Times, 30 Dec 2021