When – almost two years ago – the nation was ordered into lockdown, it was the people immediately around us to whom we turned for support.
Now, as we edge our way from crisis mode to a full, focussed recovery from the consequences of coronavirus, it is to those very same people to whom we must turn again.
For if we are to successfully build a future that is healthier, greener and more sustainable – in every sense of the word – it’s one that starts in the place we call home.
I am more optimistic than ever that a stronger Scotland is one that grows from its grassroots. They lie in our towns, villages and neighbourhoods.
While the restrictions we recently returned because of the Omicron variant were necessary, frustrating and worrying – in equal measure – they have been a sharp reminder of the vital part that the people and places around us play in our lives.
Once again, when some perhaps haven’t felt comfortable in travelling – or those who had made even a partial return to offices pre-pandemic worked fully from home again – local businesses have been there with all that we’ve needed.
They have pulled out all the stops while facing challenges of their own, as they have done throughout the past two years. And we have been grateful.
The realisation of how much local life means to us all is an undoubted positive to emerge from living with Covid as we have all spent more time at home than ever. We must not lose sight of that. Indeed, we must embrace it.
As we look to this year as the one in which we should move from pandemic to endemic – at the same time taking significant strides towards net zero – we must do so in the knowledge that the only truly sustainable way to rebuild our national economy is by starting locally. From the ground up.
The signs are positive. I work with people across the country to help them innovate and evolve to create communities which are fit for the future – and there’s really innovative work taking shape involving business improvement districts and others.
The Scotland Loves Local programme, which I am proud to lead, has put real focus on the fact that supporting local businesses is the critical first step that we can all take.
With £10m of support from the Scottish Government, that is shifting up a gear by providing funding support for communities to deliver on their aspirations, backing projects ranging from sustainable tourism in the Small Isles to supporting the takeover of empty buildings in Ayr town centre and green projects at Aberdeen’s Union Plaza.
That is backed by an ambitious agenda of community wealth building which confirms our future will have localism at its heart.
The determination that saw local people go above and beyond to help at the peak of the pandemic is the same drive that will see the nation prosper in the better days to come.