For me, the abiding appeal of that classic Hollywood film and perennial Christmas TV favourite ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ is the way it makes us think about the interconnectedness of people and the importance of appreciating the simpler things in life. Okay, the director, Frank Capra, piles on the sentimentality in places, but by the end-credits we’ve learned some valuable lessons about just how easy it is to take for granted the community we live in, and how creating and maintaining a vibrant town doesn’t just happen by chance but through the willingness and care of everyone who lives in it. The film tells us plainly: if we really want to create communities worth living in, and places worth caring about, then we have to step forward to make it happen.
I meet people every day who are helping to ‘make it happen’, who are working incredibly hard on behalf of the local community to improve the lives of the people who live and work in our Borough. And so I guess, with the festive period and New Year fast approaching, now feels like an appropriate time to look back at just a few of the many highlights of an eventful and busy 2015, and pay tribute to all of my staff for their hard work in helping to make Colchester a better place for all…
‘Making a difference’ was very much the emphasis during two Community Days of Action held in Berechurch in February and Lexden in September, led by the Safer Colchester Partnership. The Lexden Day of Action was the first to be organised around a bid by the local community to host the event and deliver legacy improvements for local people. Look out for another two events in 2016 – the first one in Greenstead, in March. And, as I write, we’ve just announced Colchester’s Big Choice, offering up to £200,000 to deliver projects that will provide long-lasting community benefits for the Borough, with residents having a final say on which ones go ahead.
Outcomes from across the range of our services tell the story of council staff working incredibly hard to serve our residents and customers. Where to begin? Over 202,000 contacts handled through our Customer Service Centre this year, for starters. I could also mention the 25,440 benefits changes processed between April and October, and the 3910 new Housing Benefit and Local Council Tax support claims processed in the same period. Then there were the 925 planning applications determined between April and October – 90% of which were decided faster than the Government target – not forgetting the 3397 resident permits issued across the North Essex Parking Partnership area.
The Community Hub in the Library continued to create a communal ‘buzz’, offering a host of frontline customer services under one roof and encouraging residents to register for an online account to do many of the things they could once only do in person – such as pay bills and receive help with benefits – which has helped to revolutionise the way people access our services.
Colchester’s cultural life was as vibrant as ever this year. The castle continued to delight and draw the crowds. Colchester Market relocated to the High Street, and the town centre received a Purple Flag award for providing a positive experience to night-time visitors. There was a Green Flag award for our much-loved Castle Park and High Woods Country Park, and Colchester won double awards from Britain in Bloom and Anglia in Bloom. Who, among the thousands who attended, will forget the amazing Light and Shades Halloween laser show which beamed animated stories onto the exterior of the Town Hall? Is it any wonder confidence in the Town Centre continued to grow this year, along with more than £500million earmarked for new projects, including the Creative Business Centre and a new Curzon cinema?
I could literally could go on until Christmas recounting all of the great things over the past 12 months that have helped make our borough a place worth caring about – but perhaps I should use what little space remains just to say a huge ‘thank you’ to all of my council colleagues and to you, the reader, for continuing to take an interest in my Blog.
I wish you all a very happy Christmas and a prosperous 2016.