2018 is the Year of Young People (#YOYP18).

This means that, all year round and all over the country, there will be a real focus on making sure young people are championed, listened to, encouraged and celebrated.

Locally we really do have young people to be proud of, and so I was delighted that Argyll and Bute’s #YOYP18 programme was launched from Helensburgh on Wednesday, January 31 with the AB Youth Awards in the Victoria Halls.

This was an opportunity to celebrate achievement.

A chance to tell our young people that they matter – and that what they do makes a real difference to local life.

These awards are a reminder that “the youth of today” are donating bone marrow, volunteering on lifeboats, representing Scotland at international athletic events, establishing new businesses and much, much more.

The young people who were nominated and won awards should be a challenge to everyone to strive for excellence, and to make a real difference in their communities.

It was a real pleasure to be in Victoria Halls last Wednesday, hearing so many stories of these amazing young people from all walks of life, who have achieved incredible things – often in the face of significant personal challenges.

Their enthusiasm, commitment, imagination and drive is incredibly encouraging – they really are an inspiration.

This is just the start of 2018 and the Year of Young People, so there are many more events to come throughout Argyll and Bute during the year.

One to mark in your calendar is Helensburgh and Lomond’s Random Acts of Kindness Day on Saturday, February 17 – if you’re out and about, don’t be surprised if you are asked by one of our young people to pick a random act of kindness and pledge to carry it out.

I’m looking forward to much more celebration, inspiration and encouragement throughout 2018.

Hopefully the Year of Young People really will create opportunities for our young people to shine, give them a stronger voice and create a more positive perception of them in society.

Argyll and Bute is a great place for young people to live and grow up so this year is a chance for all of us to build on that and make it even better.