Sunday, 26 September 2021

Councillor Ian Hudspeth, leader, Oxfordshire County Council

AS we begin the New Year and end the turbulent year of 2020, there is a great deal for us to look forward to.

It was a very proud moment to see the UK become the first part of the world to begin vaccinating people against covid-19.

Although it will be some weeks into 2021 before we see the vaccine making a serious impact, the return to being able to do normal things is something that we are greatly anticipating.

The spring of 2020 was a beautiful one weather-wise but the cloud of covid-19 hung over us all.

This year spring will hopefully be when that cloud is lifting and, as the daffodils and the blossoms begin to appear, we can begin to recapture some of the normal everyday things that we took for granted, such as visiting friends and relatives and going out for a relaxed meal or a drink with friends.

So many of the regular and much-valued events that are a regular staple of our calendar did not happen in 2020 and we will hopefully see their return too.

That very much includes Henley Royal Regatta with its proud history dating back to the 19th century. It was a sad loss to the Oxfordshire calendar in 2020.

At Oxfordshire County Council we worked around the clock last year to continue delivering the services people value while also dealing with the local impacts of the pandemic.

I have previously witnessed the way our staff and those in partner agencies have stepped up to the plate in difficult circumstances, such as flooding. As ever, special mention should be made of NHS staff and their tremendous efforts.

On this occasion, our staff have operated beyond the call of duty for a very prolonged period, often while managing difficult covid-related situations in their own families.

These include firefighters, social workers for both children and adults, library staff who seamlessly took on other work at household waste recycling centres and in other areas of the council when the libraries were closed, and trading standards staff working with district councils to help businesses be covid-secure. The list is a long one.

During the second half of 2020 we managed to
re-open around three-quarters of our libraries.

It will be a pleasure to see them open again before too long and I am sure the communities whose libraries have been closed since the first lockdown would share that sentiment.

I have been writing a New Year message for the Henley Standard every year for almost a decade, expressing good wishes to the fine folk of Henley and the beautiful surrounding areas in Oxfordshire’s portion of the Chilterns.

This year the phrase “Happy New Year” really does have real depth and meaning. Let’s savour every small step on the return to normality as we move through 2021.

Happy New Year.

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