This is a very different Christmas message to any that I have written before. I know that for many this Christmas will be far from what was expected.  It will be different.  It will be challenging.

Christmas is of course a time to remember and celebrate the birth of Christ.  It is also an opportunity to pause for a moment and reflect:  to remember those who are elderly, unwell or alone at Christmas, and those less fortunate than ourselves: to acknowledge the service and dedication of our Armed Forces and the brave work of the men and women who work tirelessly to keep us safe and secure:  and to recognise those who work around the clock, to provide life-saving healthcare, policing, fire and rescue, and emergency services for us all.

This year in particular we have seen our local communities, churches and faith groups adapt and find ways to offer support to those in need.  Walsall Council and Walsall Housing Group have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to provide vital services and their work continues.  There are many more, including our teachers and local businesses who have also stepped up to the challenges of Covid-19.

But, above all, we remember the dedication and commitment of our NHS staff and all those key workers who are working at the front line in our battle against Covid-19, the teams of staff, and the volunteers, who work alongside them, and the families at home who support them.   I thank you all.

At local neighbourhood and street level I am proud of the tremendous ways in which groups and individuals have responded and demonstrated how our real sense of community spirit continues albeit in different ways:  from acts of kindness, and help with shopping, to events such as the walking Christmas Tree festival in Streetly, and the street “carnival” in Pelsall, on-line Church Services and the annual Act of Remembrance.

Reflecting on the past year and the evolving Covid-19 pandemic, we have learnt new ways to communicate and keep in touch and now more than ever is a time to reach out to those we love, to friends and to neighbours, to those we support, or who have lost a loved one, and who may be feeling isolated or alone at Christmas.

Over 500,000 doses of the vaccine have now been given to people across the UK to protect those most at risk from coronavirus, but the battle against Covid-19 continues. it is incumbent upon each and every one of us to continue to play our part, follow the rules, and remember hands, face and space.

I send you all my best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.