THE Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council has extended season's greetings to the citizens of the district in an annual Christmas message.
In his message, Alderman Graham Warke reflects on his first six months in office and looks ahead to what he hopes is a better and brighter 2022.
He said: "What can I say about 2021? When I came into office in June COVID was still very much to the fore but with the roll-out of the vaccination programme and the gradual lifting of restrictions and reopening of businesses and services there was a real sense of hope.
"The past few months continue to be a difficult and challenging time. We continue to make huge sacrifices by readapting our lives to a new norm.
"As Mayor I have seen at first hand the great efforts made by people to work together and do everything in their power to show kindness and generosity and share a positive message of hope."
He continued: "I am really enjoying being Mayor, I an overwhelmed at how warmly people have received me.
"I have been to every corner of the council city and district- from villages and communities in rural parts of Tyrone to parks and centres in the city that I have never had the chance to visit before - and on every occasion people are so friendly and welcoming.
"While our older community continue to be hardest hit by the pandemic, our children and young people have also had it tough and I am very conscious of this and make a special effort to reach out to them and engage with schools, youth and community initiatives to offer my thanks and support.
"I have been lucky that I have been able to have some face to face engagement with the public and while I am restricted in terms of numbers for hosting receptions and meetings, I have had the pleasure of having a wide range of people from across the council area to the Guildhall to acknowledge their work and achievements.
"A large proportion of my meetings are carried out virtually and while it isn’t ideal, it is important that I continue to engage with the wider community as much as I can.
"I have also used social media to connect with people and to showcase some of the fantastic initiatives that are happening across our city and district.
"Being in front of the camera for social media videos has been a bit of a baptism of fire for me but it’s a great way to communicate and stay in touch."
Turning to frontline workers, the Mayor continued: "As Mayor I want to acknowledge the important role of all our frontline workers, the health workers, teachers, shop assistants, postmen, street cleansing and refuse collectors to name but a few, for their tireless work and commitment throughout the pandemic.
"For all those who cannot work from home to provide us with the services we require a big thank you.
"I also want to encourage people to avail of their vaccine, if you have not yet availed of your first and second jab please do the right thing and get your jab and help protect yourself, your family and your community.
"For those of you due to get your booster, please avail of the opportunity when it becomes available and help keep yourself safe and vaccinated as we face a few months of uncertainty with the new variant.
"On a lighter note - and we have needed those moments more than ever this year - council teams has been working hard to bring some much needed entertainment and positivity to our streets through the delivery of some amazing events.
"The Halloween festival was phenomenal, it really brought us together in a new way - and while we didn’t have the traditional carnival parade we were able to see animations, music and experience the city’s unique Halloween experience in a new and revised format.
"The Christmas switch-ons with Santa’s parade has been one of my highlights of the year so far, it was just amazing seeing so many families and young people lining the streets to welcome Santa.
"Everyone really appreciated the opportunity to celebrate in an outdoor and safe environment and to feel part of the wider community again.
"Another key highlight has been the work I have been doing with my chosen Mayoral charity, the Foyle Down Syndrome Trust. They are an amazing charity and the work they do is just brilliant.
"They are a very popular and worthwhile local charity and I am so thankful to everyone who has dug deep into the pockets in these challenging times to make a donation, it is really appreciated.
"For those of you who haven’t yet donated please consider making a small contribution.
"While some of the Christmas activities have been greatly curtailed I am delighted that I have been able to visit some schools and community organisations in a socially distanced environment to experience some festive cheer.
"It is always a pleasure to see so many happy faces during what has been such a difficult time."
Looking ahead to the New Year with positivity, the Mayor added: "2022 will be a year of great opportunity for our council area as we see the beginnings of the positive change promised to us through the progression of our City Deal and other strategic investment projects.
"I look forward to being part of the next steps in this journey of transformation for our beautiful city and district and that along with our partners we can deliver the dynamic and revitalised region that we deserve.
"As we look to 2022 it's undoubtedly with a degree of trepidation, as we brace ourselves for a continued fight against a new variant of COVID-19, however its important that we remain focused and positive. There is hope.
"The vaccination and booster programme continues to be rolled out and the public are continuing to adhere to social distancing, good hand hygiene and the wearing of face coverings in an effort to keep everyone safe.
"I am confident that if we can continue with these important steps we can prevent further restrictions and keep our communities safe.
"Over time if we all put the effort in we can return to some form of normality very soon.
"Lastly I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to each and everyone of you for your support to date and wish you a very happy Christmas.
"I also want to thank my family and friends for their continued support and look forward to spending time with them over the holidays.
"To the council staff support team, enjoy your well-earned break and I promise not to torture you all over the holidays!.
"I hope the festive period will bring us all some joy and celebration. I hope as we enter 2022 we do so with a sense of renewed energy, hope and positivity and that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
"For those of you wishing to watch my Mayoral video it can be viewed on the council’s YouTube channel at: