As Provost it's a great privilege to see first-hand the good work being carried out in our communities. I travel across South Ayrshire all year round visiting groups, companies and organisations that work tirelessly to make lives better for all of us.
Looking back over the year one of my personal highlights was the Homecoming Parade in June where 300 soldiers from The Royal Highland Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland were greeted by thousands of people as they marched down Ayr High Street. Our support for the armed forces remains strong and it was fantastic to see such a warm welcome.
2016 was also a significant year for our work with communities blighted by conflict and persecution and this year we welcomed the first families through the Syrian Relocation Scheme. So far sixteen people from four families have settled here and I hope they continue to prosper as they rebuild their lives in new communities.
Support for older people took a step forward, with the launch of Dementia Friendly Prestwick. This new organisation aims to raise awareness of dementia locally, in order to reduce stigma and provide practical tips and advice to local residents and businesses on how to support people living with the condition. It's something I wholeheartedly support and I hope to see the campaign thrive and expand in the months ahead.
As many of you will know, environmental issues are close to my heart and this year saw the very first Provost's School Footprint Challenge take place. Pupils from all of our secondary schools took part, with Kyle Academy crowned the inaugural winners of an award designed to make schools more environmentally friendly. This complements our ongoing participation in WWF's Earth Hour event which we've been recognised as among the best in Scotland for four years in a row, which is really something to be proud of.
Of course all through the year I have been helping couples celebrate their milestone weddings with an incredible 22 visits in 2016, something which shows that long, happy marriages remain an important part of our society, and that's definitely something to applaud.
And our longstanding traditions are also something to celebrate during the festive period. Think back over the years – even to a Victorian Christmas. Back then some folk had a comfortable Christmas, lots of good food, gifts, a warm cosy house, family, friends – and some people didn't. It's almost as if that one day intensifies how we feel about our lives.
As so much changes around us, it's good to know that some things remain the same. That's the thing about Christmas; it's part of our lives, our culture and tradition. So why would we want to change Christmas? Perhaps because we don't like to think that at a time when many have so much there are folk who are lonely, without family, friends or loved ones, children and families who can only hope of better times, folk who feel shut out. If everyone who has a care for others does even just a little good turn, the cumulative impact will be a giant change.
This year was the second year of the Council's Giving Tree appeal with generous staff donating presents to more than 560 young people who might not otherwise have received a Christmas present this year, which is something I'm really proud of. For me, Christmas will always be Christmas, but we can all work to make a difference.
I would like to wish you all the best for the festive season; I hope that the New Year brings you everything that you hope for.