There was good news this month with the announcement that Mangata Networks are planning to build an R&D and satellite manufacturing hub at the Prestwick Aerospace Park, bringing hundreds of new high-skilled jobs to the area.

This is not only a huge boost economically for Ayrshire but to the ongoing development of the Spaceport, work on which continues behind the scenes. We maybe need to think of renaming the site ‘Prestwick Aero-Space Park’!

With many retail and hospitality businesses hoping for a boost in sales over the festive period, it was good to visit a number of local shops and businesses to promote Small Business Saturday - the annual campaign to help promote local businesses in the run-up to Christmas.

Of course, with the cost-of-living crisis, many consumers are having to tighten their belts but shopping local, where possible, helps to sustain our town centres during these tough times and keeps more money in our local economy.

With Christmas fast approaching, we should not overlook the broad range of charity shops in our towns, as shopping second-hand can make Christmas shopping more affordable as well as contributing to the ‘circular economy’, whereby clothes, gifts and goods can get a second lease of life.

The current economic climate means that, sadly, more people than ever are visiting local foodbanks and I was pleased to join the team of volunteers from North Ayrshire Foodbank at Tesco to support their annual Winter Food Collection. The following day, I spoke at their ‘Where is the Food?’ event, organised to mark the Foodbank’s 10th anniversary and highlight issues around food insecurity

My contribution focussed on the UK-wide factors, including UK Government policies, which have unfortunately contributed to greater food insecurity - ranging from food supply problems caused by Brexit, including border friction and a reduction in the agricultural workforce, as well as the issue of affordability, due to sky-high inflation and the impact of previous welfare cuts, both of which have driven more families into poverty.

Those gathered at the event also heard about measures the Scottish Government is taking as well as those by community food providers, growers and third sector organisations on the frontline to tackle food insecurity across North Ayrshire.

I was also delighted to visit North Ayrshire Women’s Aid Hub in Saltcoats to hear about the vital work they do to provide a haven for women escaping domestic abuse and help them make a fresh start in new accommodation.

The visit coincided with the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, run by Scottish Women’s Aid, and it was interesting to hear how the Saltcoats centre has also been developed as a women’s community hub where local women can attend for various activities and have the opportunity to chat to staff and ask for help or advice.

It’s been another busy year and also a challenging one, emerging from the worst effects of the pandemic straight into a cost-of-living crisis, and so I hope everyone has the chance of a break over Christmas and New Year and is able to spend some time with loved ones.

It can be a difficult time for many and, for those of us who are more fortunate, let’s try to check on our neighbours and anyone who may be struggling at this time of year – a wee “hello” can make a big difference.

My thanks to all the Healthcare, emergency & voluntary workers who will be working over the Christmas period to keep us safe.

Wishing you all a peaceful festive season and a happy and healthy 2023!