Stevenage Borough Council leader Sharon Taylor's festive message to residents.

As we approach the end of 2021, it has been another challenging year for many of us. Yet, with the true Stevenage spirit, residents, businesses and local people found a way to continue to get through the highs and lows of the year.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your patience and support of our team at the council and to so many of you who have ‘gone the extra mile’ to support our community through these difficult months.

It has been over 20 months since the start of the pandemic and my thoughts go out to all those who have lost loved ones or who are living with the long term effects on their health or mental health.

I would also like to pay a special tribute to all the key workers who have continued to support us all in Stevenage in spite of the impact of COVID on themselves and their families.

Following the roll-out of the nationwide COVID and Winter Health vaccine programmes, I was delighted to see the return of our events programme. During the summer, a number of outdoor events returned to the town centre.

This autumn, the Pride of Stevenage Awards 2021 were held at the Gordon Craig Theatre and thousands of people came along to our Fireworks Display event at Fairlands Valley Park which had been sorely missed in 2020 when it had to be cancelled due to the pandemic.

Our Armistice Day event in the town square and Remembrance Day gathering at the War Memorial in the Old Town resulted in hundreds of residents attending to remember those who gave their lives for our freedom, and all those who live with the impact of conflict.

Despite it being a year of the ’new normal’, we still found time to win awards.

Our environmental and green team and our volunteers worked together to help us retain our five Green Flag awards for the second year in a row. We continued to expand our Stevenage Against Domestic Abuse (SADA) service. We are pleased to see even more councils from Hertfordshire and further afield are using our expertise and as they pay for this service, it helps us continue to improve our offer in Stevenage. Our Clean, Green, Safe and Thriving focus is clearly under way.

Our Transforming Our Town programme has also gathered speed. The look and feel of the town centre has been revitalised and new businesses have opened in the town alongside ones that waited patiently to safely reopen and follow COVID guidelines.

If you haven’t visited our new Co-Space flexible working unit, it’s worth popping in to see this new vision of Stevenage work spaces for our growing business community and we were delighted that a global cell and gene therapy company, Autolus, chose Stevenage for their new headquarters in the heart of our town centre.

This will provide more footfall to support our retail and leisure, provide over 300 local jobs and see cutting edge cancer treatments being developed right here.

New homes on Elliot Road and in the Addison House development have been built and are being allocated to applicants on our housing register as part of our More Social and Affordable Housing programme.

Alongside these new homes, we are on site at schemes which will deliver another 294 dwellings for local residents. This includes the entirely social rented scheme of 29 homes on Scarborough Avenue in Symonds Green, and the Kenilworth Close regeneration scheme, which will provide new homes, retail units and community facilities as part of the development.

These new homes, built to better environmental standards, and available at genuinely affordable rents will help build the resilience of our town and has boosted the local economy.

We all know the pandemic has affected us all and led to various changes to the way we work, shop, travel, interact and use public services.

We have had to become agile due to government cuts and operate differently while still delivering over lots of services to support people who rely upon our help as part of our Making Your Money Count programme.

Finally, our Co-Operative Neighbourhoods plan brings residents, councillors, officers and businesses together to work on projects that improve local areas. It has driven people to unite and bond over common themes and passions to take pride in their local communities.

As soon as we are able to organise more engagement events, we look forward to being able to work together with local residents on your priorities and plans for your neighbourhood.

There will be more successes and challenges in 2022 and our amazing team of councillors and staff will be there to help you because the ‘heart of the town lies in its people’.

I wish you and those you hold dear, a very merry Christmas and a happy and healthy 2022.