The Elite Ayrshire Business Circle

The Elite Ayrshire Business Circle

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Green light for transformational plans to breathe new life into Ayr riverside

Ambitious plans to transform a neglected part of Ayr's historic town centre into a thriving new public realm have been approved by South Ayrshire Council. The new masterplan from Ayr Renaissance involves the demolition of a section of High Street to create a new thriving hub.


The masterplan, which involves the regeneration of land between the medieval "Auld Brig" and the Victorian "New Bridge", includes the demolition of the massive retail stores which have blocked access to the river since the 1960s, the creation of landscaped public realm, alongside a festival building and an elegant new waterfront for the town.

The masterplan will deliver a vision for a mixed development including quality office accommodation and housing, as well as space for niche retail units, cafes, restaurants and spaces for public engagement. The plan sets out a commitment to top quality design including the use of materials that relate to existing historic buildings and to an overall scale that respects the surrounding conservation area.

Councillor Bill McIntosh, Leader of South Ayrshire Council said the decision marked an exciting time, not just for Ayr, but for the whole of South Ayrshire, "I'm very proud we're now at the point when we will see the physical works to regenerate Ayr get underway. This has been a long time coming and marks the start of a whole new era for the town that will create a legacy for generations to come.

"The transformation of this riverside site and the opportunities to open up the river as a feature once again, will breathe new life into the town and will well and truly ensure Ayr is a true destination of choice for living, working and leisure. Ayr has a vibrant and exciting future ahead – and it starts now."

Traditional vennels, in keeping with the existing town centre, will open up informal pedestrian connections throughout the Riverside Block site from all directions; while in the longer term, the River Ayr Walk, which currently ends at the Auld Brig, could continue across the site, running along the river to the sea. The north shore is also part of the plan which will be re-landscaped as part of the framing of a new River Square including the stretch of river flanked by both bridges - with the potential to become the focal point for festivities and events.

James Knox, Chairman of Ayr Renaissance, said: "This decision marks a turning point in the fortunes of Ayr. Decades of blight will be swept away, opening up the river to the locals for the first time in generations.

"Our masterplan offers a humane and beautiful solution to the transformation of this key sight which will act as a magnet for visitors, office workers and inhabitants alike."

The masterplan was prepared by architect Niall McLaughlin, who has worked extensively for Oxford University and the London Olympic Authority, and Charles Jencks, world renowned land artist and co-founder of Maggie's Centres which builds cancer centres designed the world's top architects.

The full application for the Ayr Riverside Block can be found CLICK HERE.

South Ayrshire Council is a Founder Member of the Elite Ayrshire Business Circle.


Friday, 17 February 2017

South Ayrshire Council waste to be transformed by new recycling facility

South Ayrshire councillors had a sneak preview of the new green waste recycling centre in Prestwick last week. 


The new facility will be used by the Council to transform its own green waste such as grass and leaves into usable products like mulch and top dressing soil.

Council staff came up with the idea for the Glenburn Green Waste Recycling Centre and then worked to implement the pilot project. The Council’s grounds maintenance team see many advantages for the centre and will be able to use the composted material in parks and golf courses helping to save £42,324 a year on disposal costs. 

If the pilot is successful, the Council will look to roll out the use of end products such as mulch and top dressing soil in public spaces, reducing the need to purchase these materials in the future.

Councillor John McDowall, Sustainability and Environment Portfolio Holder for South Ayrshire Council was impressed with the facility, he said: “The emphasis these days is very much on reducing waste and reusing as much of it as possible, so this centre ticks all the boxes. 

“Staff came up with the idea and they should be applauded for their innovative thinking and their hard work to get the centre up and running. We will monitor the quality of the material produced as part of this pilot to deal with Council waste, but I am confident the centre will prove its worth.”

South Ayrshire Council is a Founder Member of the Elite Ayrshire Business Circle.


Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Japan's growing market for Scotch whisky

The value of Scottish food and drink exports to Japan has surged to almost £100 million, strongly supported by the country’s growing taste for Scotch whisky, External Affairs Secretary Fiona Hyslop said today.


Latest available export figures show the overall value of food and drink sales to Japan rose by 9% to a record £98.7 million in 2015, compared with £90.3 million in 2014 and £51.63 million in 2007.  Whisky exports account for 77% of the total, with seafood 16.71% of Scotland’s current food and drink exports to Japan. 

Ms Hyslop highlighted the quality and provenance of authentic Scottish produce during a visit to the first ever Scottish food and drink fair at the Isetan Shinjuku Store in Tokyo, which boasts the highest sales of any department store in Japan.

Ms Hyslop said: “Scotland has a fantastic larder of some of the world’s best natural produce, a flair for innovation and a longstanding reputation for producing top quality food and drink – so it is no surprise our food and drink industry is enjoying significant success in the Japanese market.

“A growing appetite in Japan for our whisky has supported a strong surge in the value of food and drinks exports to almost £100 million – the highest on record.

“We are committed to building on this success and strengthening relationships with major food distributors and retailers across Japan. I was delighted to help promote Scottish seafood at Japan’s most prestigious department store today, and look forward to working more closely with Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings and others like them in the future to ensure our produce enjoys continued success in the Japanese market.”

Mr Itazu Takashi, seafood buyer of Isetan Mitsukoshi, said: “We hope customers will enjoy the high quality of Scottish seafood through this promotion, and we hope the unique added value of Scotland produce such as the sustainability of seafood, will inspire them to try it.”

Background

Japan is Scotland’s 13th largest food and drink export market, worth £98.7m million in 2015, up 9% from 2014.

Scotch whisky exports increased by 18% to £75.849 million, making Japan Scotland’s 14th largest market for whisky.

Sources: Overseas Trade Statistics and Regional Trade Statistics

The store visit is part of a programme of activity delivered by Scottish Development International (SDI) and the Scottish Government.

The Cabinet Secretary’s programme of engagements runs from 13 to 17 February in both Tokyo and Nagasaki.

On Monday night, Ms Hyslop held a Business Reception at the British Embassy to promote Scotland as an ideal location for further Japanese investment.

On Tuesday, Ms Hyslop announced Scotland Day will be hosted by Toshima Ward, a cultural hotspot of Tokyo, with a promise venues for Scottish performers on an ongoing basis.

More will be announced throughout the coming week.


Thursday, 9 February 2017

X Factor’s Emily Middlemas to appear at Coral Scottish Grand National Festival

By: Iain Ferguson

THE teenage Scottish singing sensation who took The X Factor by storm is to perform in front of the expected 17,000 crowd at this year’s Coral Scottish Grand National on Saturday 22 April.


Emily Middlemas (pictured above) finished in fourth place on the last series of the show after impressing judges with her amazing voice.

The 18 year-old will sing her special version of the Proclaimers’ classic 500 Miles, which is sure to get Scotland’s biggest and richest raceday off to a rousing start.

Looking forward to the big day, Emily said: “I’m excited to perform at such a classic event, and can’t wait to be a part of it.”

Ayr Racecourse managing director David Brown said: “The Coral Scottish Grand National is always a truly special occasion, and I am sure Emily’s very distinctive voice will add to the occasion.”

Emily was mentored by Simon Cowell in The X Factor, and was his last remaining contestant.

The Coral Scottish Grand National Saturday was a complete sell-out in 2015 and 2016, and its expected this year will be the same. Tickets are selling fast, so to ensure your place at this occasion great event book in advance by calling 01292 264179 or go to www.scottishgrandnationalfestival.co.uk for more details.

For further information please contact Iain Ferguson on 01292 294972 or 07795 565691.

Ayr Racecourse and the associated Western House Hotel are Founder Members of the Elite Ayrshire Business Circle.


Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Ayrshire takes Growth Deal campaign to Westminster

The campaign to deliver the Ayrshire Growth Deal – the exciting initiative to build on Ayrshire's potential to boost business, jobs and prosperity – will take a significant step forward this week at a special event at Westminster.


The four Ayrshire MPs – Alan Brown, Patricia Gibson, Philippa Whitford and Corri Wilson – supported by East, North and South Ayrshire Councils and industry partners, will host the Ayrshire Business Showcase on Wednesday (8 February).

The event will feature representation from some of Ayrshire’s most prestigious companies within key industry sectors including aerospace and space, life sciences, manufacturing, tourism and coastal (ports and harbours). It will provide an opportunity for MPs and invited business guests to learn about the Ayrshire Growth Deal and these key industries and find out more on the Growth Deal’s potential to strengthen the Ayrshire, Scottish and UK economies.

A key aim of the event will be to secure a commitment to the Ayrshire Growth Deal from the UK Government – similar to the support for the ambitious proposals which has already been given by the Scottish Government. A total of £360 million is being sought to deliver the Growth Deal.

Councillor Bill McIntosh, Leader of South Ayrshire Council, said: “We know we have an extremely strong case for growth in Ayrshire and a fantastic platform to build upon thanks to our established industries and growing markets. However, we need the support of our governments in both Westminster and Holyrood to fully realise our ambitions and ensure we have the necessary infrastructure in place to bring in the investment and jobs that will transform the lives of our people and communities. The Ayrshire Growth Deal is both aspirational and bold and I welcome the opportunity to put that message across right at the heart of the UK government this week.”

Councillor Douglas Reid, Leader of East Ayrshire Council said: “For many months now we have been working collaboratively across Ayrshire on a range of innovative and ambitious business proposals which will transform communities across Ayrshire.  Having already engaged the Scottish Government in this process, we now welcome this opportunity to take our proposals to the UK Government to secure further commitment.”

Councillor Joe Cullinane, Leader of North Ayrshire Council, said: “The Ayrshire Growth Deal offers a real chance to make a lasting and meaningful transformation to the Ayrshire economy. This isn’t about a short-term fix – it’s about creating an economic legacy which will have a positive impact for generations to come. We are hopeful that, when the full scope of our ambitions are detailed on Wednesday, it will help secure that commitment we need from Westminster to make them a reality.”

As well as getting the chance to meet with some of the key businesses based in Ayrshire and build a better understanding of how they can complement other industries and other areas, MPs will also get a chance to sample some of Ayrshire’s world-famous and award-winning food and drink produce, with a number of key companies in attendance.

The vision of the Ayrshire Growth Deal is for Ayrshire to be a vibrant, outward looking, confident region, attractive to investors and visitors, making a major contribution to Scottish and UK growth and local well-being, and leading the implementation of digital technologies and the next generation of manufacturing.

The objectives of the Growth Deal are to:

Attract and develop innovative and internationally focussed companies with high levels of productivity through developing key infrastructure and targeted business support programmes.

Position Ayrshire as the ‘go-to’ region for smart manufacturing and digital skills.

Improve key elements of strategic transport and digital infrastructure to help businesses get goods to market and people to work (physically and virtually).

Work with our communities to raise aspiration and ambition, provide employment and skills support, and improve access to jobs through innovative community empowerment and employability programmes.

South Ayrshire Council is a Founder Member of the Elite Ayrshire Business Circle.


Tuesday, 7 February 2017

CKD Galbraith reports a flying start to 2017 for the Ayrshire property market

Scotland’s leading independent property consultancy CKD Galbrait, has revealed that a steady final quarter of 2016 in Ayrshire has been followed by a burst of activity during the first month of 2017.

Buyers from across the country are continuing to prove key to successful sales in the Ayrshire property market, with an increasing number of prospective national buyers recognising the value for money offered across the region.

During the fourth quarter of 2016 (September – December) CKD Galbraith in Ayr experienced a 19% increase in the number of viewings conducted by the residential team, and a 54% rise in the number of property sales the firm are currently handling in comparison to the same quarter of 2015.

The firm’s Ayrshire office also reported a notable change in selling season habits, with a significant rise in buyer activity during the first month of 2017. January is traditionally a quieter time of the year in the property sector, however the Ayr office handled 167 viewing enquiries and 198 new applicant registrations during the first five weeks of 2017 alone.


Bob Cherry (pictured above), head of residential sales at CKD Galbraith’s Ayr office, said: “Property supply and demand across the region remained steady throughout the final three months of last year, but January’s surge in buyer activity should act as a catalyst for those who are still delaying until the spring months to sell.

“We now operate in a twelve-month market, and our viewing figures demonstrate a healthy buyer appetite which should be seized upon now by sellers.

“Ayrshire is becoming an increasingly popular option for those priced out of a progressively more expensive Glasgow market. Buyers are beginning to recognise the value for money and lifestyle options on offer here, with many sought after rural family homes available under the £350,000 mark.”

CKD Galbraith operates a network of regional offices across Scotland and figures for the firm as a whole during the last quarter of 2016 show a rise in sales of 17% compared to the same period in 2015.

The firm also reported a 12% rise in the number of properties available for sale during quarter four, demonstrating the increased confidence of sellers to make a move. Scotland is continuing to experience strong levels of demand across all aspects of the residential market despite confidence and sales volumes dipping in other regions of the UK over the same period. CKD Galbraith believe this due to the competitive pricing and value for money that remains available in Scotland.

About CKD Galbraith

CKD Galbraith is an independent property consultancy employing 236 staff in offices across Scotland including Edinburgh, Stirling, Perth, Cupar, Inverness, Castle Douglas, Ayr, Elgin, Galashiels, Kelso, and Aberdeen, offering local knowledge, national expertise and enjoying international reach.

The firm is Scotland’s largest and leading rural consultancy managing and providing advice on farm, forestry, land and estate interests on over three million acres. CKD Galbraith provides the full range of property consulting services across the residential, commercial, rural and renewable energy sectors throughout Scotland and northern England.

CKD Galbraith 
7 Killoch Place 
Ayr KA7 2EA 

Contact: R A Cherry BSc MRICS 
Tel: 01292 268181 
Fax: 01292 292300 
  
To find out more about CKD Galbraith visit www.ckdgalbraith.co.uk

CKD Galbraith’s Ayr Office is a Founder Member of the Elite Ayrshire Business Circle.


Monday, 6 February 2017

First steps taken towards the transformation of Maybole town centre

A project to breathe new life into the historic heart of Maybole has taken a step forward after landing significant backing. The Heritage Lottery Fund and South Ayrshire Council are making funding available to help reinvigorate the town centre.


The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) recently announced investment of just under £2million from its Townscape heritage programme, as part of a £17m programme of grants across the UK. Of this an initial £329,900 is being made available for a development grant. South Ayrshire Council has also committed £50,000 towards the development costs with Ayrshire LEADER and the North Carrick Community Benefit Company both contributing £25k.

Maybole’s Outstanding Conservation Area was designated in 1974 and there are now more than 40 listed buildings in the town centre. When the new town bypass opens in 2020 it is forecast that the volume of cars travelling through the town centre will drop by 50% and HGVs by up to 95%, making the current grant a timely contribution to Maybole’s changing landscape.

Maybole Community Council’s regeneration project aims to create an attractive, safe and sustainable town centre for the town. It will focus on a section of High Street running from the Castle to the Speakers Club.

Councillor John McDowall, South Ayrshire Council’s Portfolio Holder for Sustainability and Environment said, “We’re at the start of a really exciting chapter for Maybole, with dozens of historic buildings set to benefit from this project.

“An approach to the Heritage Lottery Fund was identified as one of the priorities at our Talk Maybole event in 2015, and I’m pleased to see that the idea’s enjoyed early success.

“The Council looks forward to working with the Community Council in the development phase which will refine the detailed plans for heritage works in Maybole.”

Mark Fletcher, Chair of Maybole Community Council said, “This is great news for Maybole and it’s a further step towards an exciting future for our town.

“The community has been at the forefront of this development and we look forward to working with South Ayrshire Council to build on this success.”

*Priority buildings have been identified as Maybole Town Hall, Maybole Castle, 48-50 High Street, 52-54 High Street, Maybole Charity Shop, and The Speakers.

MR is a partnership between: Carrick Centre, Carrick Community Leisure Group, Culzean and Cassillis Estates, Maybole Community Association, Maybole Community Council, Maybole & District Business Association, and South Ayrshire Council.

For more information on the HLF grant CLICK HERE..

South Ayrshire Council is a Founder Member of the Elite Ayrshire Business Circle.


Sunday, 5 February 2017

Trainer Mike Smith gets back to winning ways at Ayr Racecourse

By Iain Ferguson

TRAINER Mike Smith, who trains just 10 miles from the track at Galston, trained his first jumps winners for eight months at Ayr Racecourse last Monday when landing an 84-1 double in the first two races.


Strong Economy, ridden by Stephen Mulqueen, won the opening two mile five furlong maiden hurdle at odds of 4-1 by a comfortable six lengths after going clear two out. Half an hour later Glingerside (pictured above) defied odds of 16-1 to win the two mile novices’ hurdle under jockey Henry Brooke.

A delighted Mike said: “My horses have been running well enough without winning, and I was confident we would do well today.

“Hopefully we can kick on from here and land a few more wins in the coming weeks. Glingerside didn’t hurdle well last time out, but we schooled him at home and he was slick today.” 

The stable was denied a treble in two mile four furlong handicap chase when Nakadam, 4-1, was beaten a length and a quarter by the Nick Alexander trained, Lucy Alexander ridden The Orange Rogue, an 11-1 chance.

The fourth Scottish trained winner of the afternoon was Newtown Lad, 5-2 favourite, trained by Lucinda Russell and ridden by Tom Scudamore, who was very impressive in winning the three mile limited handicap chase by 19 lengths from Sevenballs Of Fire.

Other winners on the card were Simply Sam, 3-1 favourite, in the two mile three furlong handicap hurdle and Sam’s Adventure, 8-11 favourite in the final race of the day, the two mile national hunt flat race.

Ayr’s next meeting is on Tuesday 14 February.

For further information please contact Iain Ferguson on 01292 294972 or 07795 565691.

Ayr Racecourse and the associated Western House Hotel are Founder Members of the Elite Ayrshire Business Circle.


Sunday, 22 January 2017

Housing sales stutter in Scotland during December but prices remain firm

The number of house sales across Scotland faltered in December, although predictions for expected new sales over the next three months remained steady, according to the December 2016 RICS UK Residential Market Survey.


While it remains to be seen if this is a temporary setback, 2% more chartered surveyors saw a fall rather than a rise in sales across Scotland last month. Figures for predicted sales over the next three months were slightly more positive, with 15% more respondents anticipating an increase in sales during the coming three months -  albeit down from 26% previously.

Supporting the predicted slow start to 2017, the survey showed that the number of potential new house buyers was only marginally positive in December following much stronger figures for the previous month (+4% net balance).  New instructions to sell also failed to see any pick-up, marking the eighth straight month of declining supply. Respondents to the survey continue to highlight low stock levels as a key concern and a lack of choice for would-be buyers is weighing heavily on the Scottish, and wide-UK housing markets.

RICS chief economist Simon Rubinsohn said: “A familiar story relating to supply continues to drive both the sales and lettings markets impacting on activity, prices and rents. The latest RICS survey provides further evidence that both price and rent pressures are continuing to spread from the more highly valued to more modestly valued parts of the market for good or ill.”

Looking further ahead, the twelve-month sales outlook is positive with 32% more contributors expecting sales to rise (rather than fall) across the UK. Looking at the differing markets within the UK, Scotland and Northern Ireland saw the strongest twelve month expectations, although figures are in positive territory across all parts of the UK.

Potentially due in part to the lack of supply there was a continued growth in Scottish house prices, with 32% more chartered surveyors reporting a rise rather than fall in prices in December, from +27% in November.

Prices expectations remain positive in the short term, with a net balance of 21% more respondents predicting prices to continue to rise over the next three months. All parts of the UK are expected to see higher prices over the year, although expectations remain relatively subdued in Central London.

Robbie Buchanan MRICS, Graham + Sibbald, Kirkcaldy, commented: “It appears buyers and sellers are content to sit tight at the moment and not take any action unless there is a good reason.”

In the lettings market, tenant demand (non-seasonally adjusted) increased marginally across the UK as a whole while new landlord instructions were more or less flat. As such, rents are being squeezed higher due to demand consistently out pacing supply. This trend is expected to continue, with respondents projecting rental growth to average close to 5% per annum over the next five years.


Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Ayr Racecourse’s Emma Marley appointed Head of Raceday Operations at British Horseracing Authority

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) is pleased to announce the appointment of Emma Marley (pictured below) to the position of Head of Raceday Operations.


Emma, who is currently Racing Manager and Clerk of Course at Ayr Racecourse, will join the BHA in April.

Well known to many in racing, Emma participated in the BHA Graduate Development Programme in 2007 after completing a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management for the Horseracing Industry. Following this Emma has held various roles within the industry including the position of Clerk of Course at Bath Racecourse before moving into the role at Ayr in 2010.

Emma is also presently completing the Thoroughbred Horseracing Industries MBA through Liverpool University as part of the inaugural intake of this recently developed post-graduate programme. 

As Head of Raceday Operations Emma will report to the Director of Integrity and Regulatory Operations, Brant Dunshea, and have responsibility for management of various raceday regulatory teams including the Racecourse Inspectorate, Starters, Clerks of Scales and Judges. In addition to this the role will involve oversight of racecourse licensing, Point to Point racing and the BHA’s relationship with the Arabian Racing Organisation (ARO).

Emma Marley said: “I am delighted to be given the opportunity to join the BHA team, utilising my years of experience in the horseracing industry. I have enjoyed a memorable seven years at Ayr, and sincerely thank the Directors and Ayr staff for their vital support.”

Brant Dunshea, Director of Integrity and Regulatory Operations for the BHA, said: “We’re thrilled to welcome Emma to the team. This is such an important role for the BHA and for the operation of the sport, and the quality of applications we received reflected that. Emma really stood out, not only because of her proven track record at both Bath and Ayr, but also her understanding of the racing industry as a whole, which is reflected in her qualifications and participation in the Horseracing MBA.”

Ayr Racecourse Managing Director David Brown added: “Emma has been an outstanding contributor to Ayr’s success during the seven years that she has spent here. Although we will be sad to lose her, we are delighted that she will be able to further and develop her career at the very heart of British Racing. We wish her and the BHA even greater success in the years to come.”

Ayr Racecourse and the associated Western House Hotel are Founder Members of the Elite Ayrshire Business Circle.


Thursday, 5 January 2017

Trainer Sandy Thomson’s luck returns with a double at Ayr Racecourse

By: Iain Ferguson

BORDERS trainer Sandy Thomson saw his luck turn at Ayr Racecourse’s first meeting of 2017 on Monday when he saddled a double.

His successes came with Rowdy Rocher (5/1) in the three mile handicap hurdle with Rachel McDonald riding, and Donna’s Delight, the mount of Brian Hughes, in the bumper sent off at 6/5 favourite.


[Pictured: Donna’s Delight ridden by Brian Hughes 
wins at Ayr Racecourse on Monday.]

And afterwards Sandy said: “That’s a relief, as I’ve had five seconds from my last ten runners, so to have two winners is great.”

Ian Duncan, who trains a few miles from Ayr in the village of Coylton, has a decent sort in King Of Fashion who won the two mile four and a half furlong maiden hurdle after being sent off the 11-8 favourite.

Jockey Brian Harding oozed confidence and won by six lengths from Strong Economy. His trainer said afterwards: “He’s getting stronger all the time and there’s no doubt he’s improving. The ground was ideal and he stays well.”

Sunderland football boss Davie Moyes has a share in Desert Cry who won the feature race of the afternoon, the Racing UK Winter Season Ticket Handicap Hurdle comfortably after being sent clear three out by jockey Will Kennedy.

It was a day when five of the seven favourites won, with the easiest success of the day belonging to the George Bewley trained, Brian Hughes ridden Casual Cavalier who won by 14 lengths and was returned at evens.

Jockey Hughes rode a treble with Nortonthorpelegend, 6/4 favourite, completing the hat trick.

Despite overnight temperatures of -3C, the meeting went ahead owing to frost covers being laid on Friday and Saturday to protect the track.

It was a move appreciated by all, including senior jockey Brian Harding, who commented: “All credit to the team here. This wouldn’t have gone ahead without these covers being down.”

For further information please contact Iain Ferguson on 01292 294972 or 07795 565691.

Ayr Racecourse and the associated Western House Hotel are Founder Members of the Elite Ayrshire Business Circle.


Friday, 16 December 2016

A Christmas message from South Ayrshire Provost Helen Moonie


As Provost, it’s a great privilege for me 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, when 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.

And 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.  

And 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 for 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.

South Ayrshire Provost Helen Moonie.

South Ayrshire Council is a Founder Member of the Elite Ayrshire Business Circle.