Well! What an amazing year this has been – and how quickly it has flown in.

It is hard to believe that this is my last week as Lord Mayor. Although exhausted, I have thoroughly enjoyed the role and will be stepping down with a mixture of emotions.

It has been such a privilege to meet so many people across this great city who are truly inspirational. In the various engagements I undertook every week, there were opportunities to see at first hand the energy and commitment of people from all walks of life making a big difference to their communities and helping others.

The highlights of my year are too numerous to mention but just some of the more unusual include giving an elephant a pedicure, herding sheep down Donegall Place and playing a washboard alongside Katie and the Carnival.

Let me explain! The first was during a visit to the zoo and part of a series of commitments I made to work alongside front line staff. As well as working for the day as a zoo keeper, I also joined a cleansing crew emptying bins, swept the streets, carried out gardening and maintenance duties in our parks, and accompanied our noise team investigating complaints from the public.

The sheep herding was part of a photocall highlighting the conferment of the Freedom of the City on Dame Mary Peters. And the washboard playing was another launch – this one to promote the successful Belfast Music Week which will be back again this November.

My year opened with a succession of events relating to the city’s celebrations of the Queen’s Jubilee. Those first few days went by in a whirl of street parties, tea dances and carnival activities.

Welcoming the Olympic torch to Belfast and hosting a party to celebrate the Paralympic flame arrival were both honours I will never forget, and were special highlights of my year.

But connecting with the ratepayers of Belfast was highest of all on my list of priorities.

Reaching into all parts of the city and engaging with all communities is what made me proudest of this year as Lord Mayor.

Whether it was helping to secure the forthcoming Giro d’Italia, promoting next month’s World Police and Fire Games, launching the Belfast Bursary Fund and the outworkings of Belfast City Council’s Investment Programme, I was enthusiastic about how much our city has to offer its residents and visitors.

On a personal level, of course, this was a significant year for Lindsay and I and we are both looking forward to our first baby’s arrival in September. Plenty of time now for me to decorate that nursery!

This has been a wonderful year – and I am optimistic that Belfast will continue to thrive in the future.

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