Christa Ackroyd looks back on a year of heartache and hope

As is customary on New Year’s Eve, this week’s column is a look back at events and happenings which have moved me, inspired me and spurred me on for the year ahead. Tonight is the only night of the year I allow myself the luxury of turning to the past, reminded, as I have often written here, of my father’s adage “Never look back. It is not the direction you are travelling in.” But once a year I am sure he will forgive my customary thoughts on the past twelve months.
Christa AckroydChrista Ackroyd
Christa Ackroyd

I start not with politics nor even princes. Enough has been written about them this past year. Instead today I reflect on people who remind us all of the good in the world at a time when we need it most. And I start with our beloved late Queen. Life for us all will never be the same again. Most of us have known no other Sovereign. And her death, even at her great age, brought us together to mourn, not just the passing of our Queen, but the end of an era, symbolised by her funeral and the queues of people who came to pay their respects. And it is that respect for a generation who are largely no longer with us that is worth remembering. And that moved us all.

But it is not her passing nor her funeral that will stay large in my memory in years to come, but of one moment of pure joy that reminds me that as people grow older they are often at their most wonderful. That moment was unexpected, even unlike the woman who had reigned over us for 70 years. But it gave us a true glimpse of the woman behind the throne, a woman with a twinkle in her eye and a marmalade sandwich in her Launer handbag. And that moment was when Paddington came to tea for the Platinum Jubilee. I was watching it with my dear friend Kathy and we gasped then reached for the tissues as her little surprise was unveiled, the steadfast symbol of our nation meeting another national treasure was perfect.

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My greatest sadness this year was shared by many of you, the death of one of the kindest men I ever knew, my lovely friend Harry Gration. This Christmas, like every Christmas we would have got together and raised a glass to friendship. That he is gone leaves a hole in my life and an ache in my heart, but also a determination to do as he did and try every day to make the world a better place. He would have been in awe of the incredible Kevin Sinfield and his remarkable display of friendship for his pal Rob Burrows. We might not run 50 marathons but we can all be better friends this year, just as Harry was to me in good times and more importantly in bad.

But Harry would have certainly agreed with me that our greatest sporting achievement in 2022 came from a group of women who brought football home this July. I would have teased him that it took the Lionesses to show the men how to play the beautiful game. But their victory at the Euros reminds us how far women have come in this country when they earned the respect of die hard sports fan who at one time would have denounced women playing sport as just frippery.

Which brings me back to my hero women of the year who reside in a country far removed both geographically and morally from ours. As the Taliban in Afghanistan announced a virtual end to education for girls, in Iran women took to the streets to protest at a government who would use ‘morality’ police to determine how they live and how they dress, following the death in custody of a woman for not wearing a scarf on her head as they dictated. That they burned those scarves in the streets, that they marched without fear, that they risked arrest and even death rather than being put down is in my view the greatest act of female defiance since the suffragettes. And among the bravest acts witnessed this year.

Which makes me think of the bravery of the people of Ukraine. There little old ladies stood before the mighty tanks of Putin and told the Russian soldiers to go home, an image that will live with me forever. As is the sight of a hundred thousand refugees huddled in the cold outside the train station in Lviv when I crossed into Ukraine in the early hours of the morning in March to the sound of sirens and the palls of smoke coming from the military base which had been bombed that same day. I will never forget speaking through an interpreter to a surgeon who begged for medical equipment or the response of those I had travelled with from Calderdale which led to hundreds upon hundreds of volunteers collecting humanitarian aid and loading it onto wagon after wagon day after day week after week, month after month, culminating in raising more than £360,000 in one night to ensure that work continues to this day. That we as a nation, a nation largely built on immigration, responded by opening our homes to those in need is the greatest act of kindness I have witnessed this year. Goodness lives if we let it. And we are the better for it.

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Which brings me to one act of kindness and forgiveness which has prayed on my mind this week. For me it is both humbling and inspiring. You may even have missed it. A little over a week ago an elderly woman appeared in court over her complicity in more than 10,000 murders in a Nazi death camp in Poland 70 years ago. Her two year suspended sentence was criticised by some as being too lenient. But it is the words of one of the Holocaust survivors of that Stutthof camp that stopped me in my tracks. While Manfred Goldberg also believed the sentence did not reflect the crime he also had this to say: “No one in their right mind would send a 97 year old woman to prison.” Wow. After all he witnessed, after the cruelty and murder he saw first hand, after the systematic killing not just of those who shared his Jewish faith but of the sick, the elderly and the infirm, he still did not want an old lady who had turned a blind eye incarcerated. His words are both humbling and empowering. And remind us of the power of forgiveness. And that is worth reflecting upon this year and every year.

Of course there were other happenings which struck home. Best Film, Elvis. Greatest TV moment the wonderful Hamza who made us all smile on Strictly and don’t forget we nearly won Eurovision after so many years in the wilderness. But for me it was the hug from one of those we support with the Homeless Street Angels that was my greatest achievement, a hug from a man who needed a hug, but from a man who rarely shows his emotions but one night decided we were friends enough to do so. And it felt wonderful.

To each and every one of you, even those who have often disagreed with me, let’s make next year count. And never forget there are those in need who need our help. And yes our love. A Happy New Year to you all.