WELCOME to my first column of 2018. I hope you all found time to relax and enjoy the festivities over Christmas and New Year.

For most of us this week marks the first full return to the regular routines of daily life — revolving around work and school with memories of the recent festivities already starting to fade.

For me 2017 marked my appointment as Provost and a thoroughly enjoyable time meeting some wonderful and interesting people and having the privilege to attend numerous events, concerts and celebrations.

It never ceases to amaze me the breadth of talent, compassion and sense of community we are fortunate enough to have in Inverclyde.

A new year is always seen as an opportunity for new beginnings and to make changes — for the better — in our lives. Once the excitement and the excesses of the holidays are over, reality hits hard and in a carpe diem moment the promises are made to head to the gym, give up smoking or alcohol or to try to cut out the things that make life stressful or difficult.

Personally, I found giving up cigarettes really difficult. I had started smoking in my mid-teens because it was seen as the ‘grown-up’ thing to do. I did stop four or five times but I always started again — and always at some kind of social function.

I gave up for good when I realised that I had a choice: I could smoke or I could breathe — and breathing is so important nowadays.

The Inverclyde Health & Social Care Partnership (HSCP) offer a range of services to help smokers kick the habit but perhaps need a gentle push or a helping hand to overcome a lack of willpower or a fear of failure if they are thinking about doing it on their own.

Statistics show that those who get help kicking the habit are more likely to be successful than those who go it alone.

There is no doubting the benefits — both health and financial — that can be gained from successfully staying off tobacco and that is why Smokefree services offer a personalised quit plan, friendly support from an advisor and nicotine replacement therapy.

There is also plenty of support for people wanting to cut back on their drinking.

Alcohol Concern are currently running their ‘Let’s all go dry for January’ campaign, challenging people to give up booze for a month and the council’s own Integrated Alcohol Service is available for support and advice to anyone who needs it.

I am looking forward to another busy year ahead as Provost. My diary is already starting to fill up — the Gourock Highland Games of course one of the annual highlights to look forward to.

2018 has been named the Year of Young People — an opportunity for generations to come together and celebrate our young people, giving them a stronger voice on issues which affect them and to showcase their ideas and talents.

It is also the year we mark a century since the guns of World War One fell silent at 11am on 11 November 1918.

Inverclyde — with its strong links with the armed forces and the legacy of local lives lost — will play its part in marking the anniversary of such an important moment in history.