Happy New Year from the Star

AT the dawn of 2002, there is a strong spirit of new hope and optimism in the air, both here in Suffolk and across the land.

A HAPPY New Year to all our readers.

At the dawn of 2002, there is a strong spirit of new hope and optimism in the air, both here in Suffolk and across the land.

This is a time to look forward and build for the future – and we know our caring and determined local community is ready to do just that.

As we all know, in many ways 2001 has been a difficult and turbulent year. Everybody felt a deep sense of shock at the tragic events of September 11, a date which has sadly already gone down in history.

However, as the New Year begins, there are now real hopes that the war against terrorism is set to achieve lasting results, with an international peace-keeping force set to arrive in Afghanistan.

We are also anxiously watching other areas of the world threatened by conflict, in particular Israel, where there has been so much trouble in recent months, and Argentina, where things look increasingly volatile.

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Nearer home, the situation in Northern Ireland continues to be difficult but people are hoping and praying that a lasting peace can still be achieved.

Here in Suffolk, there is real concern over crime – and Christmas celebrations were overshadowed by the brutal murder of pensioner Joan Albert.

The Evening Star has led the way in launching a reward fund to help catch the evil person who stabbed Mrs Albert to death at her home in Capel St Mary.

We are determined to work together with police to help put violent criminals behind bars.

As another important weapon in the war on crime, our Name and Shame crusade against drink-driving will carry on right through January.

Anybody who is caught driving while over the limit will be featured in our newspaper – and we will also wire their Name and their Shame round the world via our online edition, at www.eveningstar.co.uk, which is going from strength to strength.

The Star is a newspaper which fights all the way for its community, and that strong campaigning stance will continue right through 2002.

We want to thank all those who have given such heart-warming support to our latest Christmas appeal, to raise the last £20,000 for the Vicky Hall Memorial Appeal.

On Sunday members of Trimley Red Devils football team went on a sponsored walk to swell the fund.

We appeal to everybody in the community to keep on supporting this truly worthy cause which will help to provide much-needed sporting facilities for children and young people, in memory of Vicky.

As the New Year dawns, this is also a time to thank all those who have supported our other appeals over the past year.

It is great to see the appeal for brave youngster Terri approaching the £100,000 mark. Our appeal to help SARS, Suffolk Accident Rescue Service, smashed its £25,000 target, and The Evening Star Press Ball raised £33,000 for Suffolk charity Disability Care Enterprise in just one night.

This amazing generosity goes to show that Evening Star readers really are the best in Britain – and we thank you all from the bottom of our hearts.

Even at a time of economic uncertainty, you have carried on caring and giving.

Right through the next 12 months, this newspaper will continue to monitor all the local services which are so important to people here in Suffolk.

It is our pledge to provide unrivalled news coverage of the National Health Service, keeping a close eye on our hospitals and on the ambulance service alike and reporting both the good and the bad.

The ambulance service is about to face a tough new target for response times and we will be watching closely to see how it lives up to this.

In our hospitals, bed-blocking is a very major issue and we will be following this through, to see how the health service and social services work together to tackle this problem with the extra resources which have been made available.

There is also a question mark over funding for the Air Ambulance, which needs to be sorted out quickly to ensure that people in Suffolk still have the benefit of this lifesaving helicopter.

Education is of course another top priority for families. Our schools have achieved some brilliant successes in 2001, with record-breaking exam results rewarding all the hard work and dedication of teachers, pupils and parents.

A number of schools have achieved glowing Ofsted reports and received special awards in recognition of their success.

However, there is real concern over the teacher shortages which have hit so hard in 2001 and the shortage of places at schools in the county.

We want to see the Government acting to help our schools in the year ahead, and the Star will continue to press for action rather than words.

Transport is yet another area where action is needed, with concern over the state of our railways and roads. The Evening Star will never shy away from tackling these issues.

Of course, one reason for plenty of festive cheer is the brilliant turnaround in the fortunes of Ipswich Town.

At the start of the Christmas break, it looked like a bleak midwinter for the Tractor Boys – but they have now put all that firmly behind them, with three fantastic victories on the trot.

The 5-0 triumph over Sunderland was just what the doctor ordered, giving fans plenty to shout about.

Today hopes were high that Town could make it four wins running by beating Charlton, continuing their climb out of relegation danger.

The Evening Star has always kept faith with Ipswich Town, and today we pay tribute to manager George Burley, chairman David Sheepshanks and everybody involved with the team. Come on you Blues!