It’s the most wonderful time of the year, according to the dulcet tones of the late great Andy Williams on my radio, and so it may be for those of us with family, friends and festive fare abounding.  For others, however, Christmas can magnify the starkness of loneliness and for some, the desperation of homelessness.

But each and every year it is a time when many groups and individuals display the best of the human spirit in outreach and kindness. A fine example is the West Kent Befriending Service, who use the simple concept of friendship to overcome isolation.  Another super community group I visited recently is the ‘Men’s Shed’ in Staplehurst, bringing local gents together for fellowship and debate.

The cold months of the winter holiday period add to the burden upon people without somewhere to live. I am hugely proud of the work that Maidstone Borough Council have achieved in recent months, significantly reducing rough sleeping in our town.  There are still some who slip through the net, however, and we are fortunate in Maidstone to also have some wonderful charities, such as the Maidstone Churches Winter Shelter, and the Maidstone Day Centre who provide shelter, food and support through the harshest weeks of the year.

This is also a period for many who cannot spend Christmas with their loved ones because they are serving and protecting us; in particular the healthcare teams on duty at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells hospitals, the many police officers keeping our towns and villages safe across Maidstone & The Weald, and the soldiers of Maidstone’s 36 Engineers and the Queens Gurkhas who protect us from wider threats.

To all of them, and to all of those in our community who dedicate their Christmas to helping others, thank you. We all owe you a great debt of gratitude and I wish you all a very happy New Year.