Article written for The Cloch, Portlethen’s Community Magazine

As we move from one year to the next, there is a chance to reflect on progress made in 2015 and to plan for what will come in 2016.

Over the last few months, I have been discussing how a Community Sports Hub could bring benefits to Portlethen. These benefits could include training opportunities for local coaches and a detailed assessment of local sports’ needs, which could be used within applications for grant funding, from various sources, to improve facilities. Aberdeenshire Council has been working with Sports Scotland to support communities to develop these hubs, and towns from Fraserburgh to Stonehaven have seen increased sports participation, co-operation between clubs and effective community engagement as a result. It seems that we have another example of where, in the past, Portlethen has been missing out! There has been substantial interest in the potential of a Hub from local clubs, and from the Portlethen Playground Improvement Project, and I hope that in 2016 the Portlethen Hub can become a reality.

Since I became Chair of Education, Learning and Leisure, there has also been progress with the new school. The community consultation clearly showed that Hillside School was the favoured name for this, and so local councillors agreed to that name. Discussions with families about the transition arrangements for children in-zone for Hillside School are underway, as it is really important that the needs of the children are recognised and that the new school becomes part of the Portlethen community. In the meantime, Aberdeenshire has identified £60,000 which is being utilised to improve Portlethen Primary School due to the increase in the school roll there. I know that this extra investment has been greatly welcomed.

Earlier in the autumn, parents from the local schools took part in the consultation on Enhanced Provision in Portlethen and many voiced their support for the proposals being discussed. Comments made by the parents did alert council officers to some change in NHS speech and language provision which officers were able to follow-up. This really underlines the importance of regular dialogue in future between all involved in local education provision.

Throughout 2015 there has been progress in various community initiatives in Portlethen. I have been part of the team working to develop the North Kincardine Public Art project. With an artist now in place, the vision to promote walking routes in the area through the production of an eye-catching Treasure Map, is becoming real. Co-operation with the Council’s Integrated Travel Team means that each household should receive a copy of the map around Easter.

Similarly, the vision of a Men’s Shed in Portlethen is also coming closer to reality. Officers in Property are to undertake some of the preparation work necessary before the former toilet block can be used by the Men’s Shed, and the Area Committee have agreed to pay for work to an internal wall. Hopefully the excellent group behind the project will be successful in the additional fund-raising needed, and 2016 will see the opening of the Men’s Shed.

Another group to gain the support of the Area Committee was the Portlethen Allotment Association, who have impressed many in the way they have managed to get this exciting project moving forward so quickly. Hopefully 2016 will be a good one for this group too!

As 2015 draws to a close though, we are all preparing to say farewell to the Rev Flora Munro. Flora has done tremendous work in the area, both as Minister of Portlethen Church and as a trustee of the Jubilee Hall. The Hall is a lively and interesting place to be every Wednesday in particular, as it transforms into the Fine Piece Café, which provides a real heart to the community. Like many others, I have been very grateful for the friendship offered by Flora and wish her all the very best as she retires from Portlethen.

Wishing everyone all the best for the new year.

New Year Message written for the Mearns Leader

One delightful experience this festive season was sitting behind the local Brownies at Portlethen Academy’s production of Beauty and the Beast. They engaged totally in the pantomime spirit, helping the talented cast to create a brilliant atmosphere full of sparkle and hilarity. The performance itself was notable for the huge cast which show-cased the talents of so many pupils and staff, both those who appeared on stage and those who were involved behind the scenes.

I was struck by the sense of community behind this production – so many people brought together to create something special. There was a similar sense at the Portlethen Gala this summer, when many local organisations set up stalls to let people know of their activities.

As we look ahead to the challenges of 2016, we can see that the contributions made to the local area by community groups will be valued even more by so many people. We know that the budgets of local councils have been cut substantially and that economic changes are putting many north-east jobs at risk. Without the volunteers who give their time and energy to provide activities for our children and young people, maintain community halls, support elderly residents, promote sport and general positivity, so much that is vital to our communities would not be possible.

Now is a great time to say thank you for giving in 2015 and to acknowledge with gratitude what will be given in 2016.