Little did any of us think when we wished each other a Happy New Year at the end of last year that 2020 would turn out as it has.

We have encountered a year like no other, where we have all been stopped in our tracks. Our plans and hopes for 2020 have been altered dramatically and our focus has had to change as we grapple with the ongoing challenges of COVID-19.

Nonetheless, whilst we all look forward to some semblance of normality returning in 2021, the experience has seen many virtues manifest themselves, not least in our own community, such as kindness, consideration and support for others.

It has been very difficult at a personal level for many in our community as they cope with issues such as being restricted in the usual contact and caring for loved ones, the isolation of separation, the lack of social interaction and of course the economic uncertainty and impacts on jobs and income. These have all taken their toll on individuals to different degrees and we are mindful of this and should all try and support where we can.

There are some, as COVID-19 was prioritised, who have had inevitable delays in treatments or diagnosis which leads to its own stresses and worries and we are mindful of them and hope the good news on vaccines will bring improvement there.

We all too have seen many pass away in our community to whom we couldn’t pay the usual respect through attendance and support at worship and funerals; we know that such respect and attendance is an admirable feature of our lives here and all such affected by loss will be aware that the community will have had them in our thoughts and prayers.

At your council, whilst we continue to face serious financial pressures and the ongoing COVID challenges, we are on track to deliver a two-year balanced budget in February and this will ensure we maintain a planned and prudent way forward. We will, as we have done throughout this year, continue to ensure that our elderly are cared for, our children are educated, bins are emptied, businesses are supported and all other core services are maintained. We will continue to develop and deliver the major capital works across our islands which are so important in creating and protecting hundreds of jobs and we will increase our drive to ensure housebuilding is supported especially in rural areas across our communities. In doing so, we will work with partner organisations and communities themselves to deliver good outcomes for our islands.

As we approach the end of this year therefore, we probably have more to pause and think about than we might normally have, not least the fact that at this time of family reunions, happiness and reflection we have not been able to gather as usual.

A common theme as I meet and chat with many is that we have a lot to be thankful for in these islands and I think that is the thought I would like to take into the new year. I wish for us all a fulfilled and happy 2021 and that this time next year we will, Deo Volente, have cause to see the pandemic diminished, social and business interaction revived and a positive year to reflect upon.

Meantime I hope many of you can join us in the next Comhairle Ceilidh hosted by Calum, Costello and Willie at 7pm on New Year’ Day on the Comhairle Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/comhairlenaneileansiar