Stephen Conway’s Christmas message

21 Dec 2023
Lib dems by Wokingham town hall with Santa hats etc superimposed on top. The Wokingham Lib Dem logo has been made to look like Santa’s sleigh being pulled by Lib Dem

I don't think I'm the only one who believes, in defiance of all scientific fact, that time moves faster once December begins.  


It seems only a short while ago that I was thinking that Christmas is a long way off and that I still had plenty of time to buy the presents I must give; now it's almost upon us.  


I hope your Christmas is a very happy one.


For most people in the borough, whatever their religious beliefs, Christmas is a time of merriment and celebration. They, like me, will be looking forward to spending a few days away from the pressures of work. The prospect of time off with family and friends is made all the more enticing by the short days and long evenings. Enjoying time at home in the warmth, surrounded by those you know and love, is a very comforting experience. After a challenging few months, with long and exhausting days, grappling with the council’s many problems, I'm looking forward to it very much.


But I am also acutely aware of how lucky I am. I have a warm and welcoming home to go to; I have a loving family and good friends to spend time with over Christmas. For many people in our community, the reality will be very different.


Every year, Christmas is an occasion to be endured rather than enjoyed by people on their own. There is no starker reminder that you are alone than everyone else seeming to have family and friends with whom they can share the festive season.


For others, Christmas will be hard to celebrate because their financial circumstances are desperate. Homelessness is a growing problem, even in Wokingham, much of it associated with private landlord no-fault evictions, but also family breakdowns, and people escaping domestic abuse. Finding a new home when you have little money is no easy matter. High rents and a shortage of available properties make it impossible for a growing number of people to afford a place to live.


Shortage of money is also affecting many families and individuals who still have a roof over their heads. Headline inflation figures may be falling, but food inflation remains stubbornly high. And even when the rate of inflation falls, we should remember that just means prices are rising less quickly, not that they are actually falling. The number of people in our borough forced to use foodbanks is a sign of the seriousness of the situation. Imagine how heartbreaking it must be for parents struggling to buy their children the Christmas presents that others take for granted.


The borough council is working with its voluntary and charitable sector partners in the Hardship Alliance to do what it can to help, and I know there are a lot of local initiatives, often the work of parish and town councils, which are making life easier for many in need and for those who are experiencing loneliness.


But we can all do our bit – by giving money or goods to the charities that work so hard to help those who are struggling, by giving some time to help these organisations in the invaluable work they do, or even just by looking out for a neighbour or friend who we know to be on their own.


Christmas is a time for celebration and enjoyment.  But it's also a time when the moral message - shared by all faiths - of caring for others who are less fortunate than ourselves is more relevant than ever.