Council tends toward caution with this year's Halloween plans

Tue, 15/06/2021 - 18:59 -- Editor

Members of Derry City and Strabane District Council’s Business and Culture Committee today received an update in relation to the draft proposals in place for hosting the city’s prestigious Halloween Festival celebrations in 2021 post COVID.Members heard that as the city and district gradually moves out of lockdown and the gradual lifting of restrictions, teams within Council are progressing cautiously with a plan to progress with the festival in a new and revised format subject to COVID regulations and public health advice.Elected Members attending the monthly committee meeting were reminded how last year’s Halloween celebrations were reduced significantly but included a very successful Community Participation programme, a Citywide Dressing Scheme of Large Scale Inflatables and a full Halloween digital programme that included Little Horrors and Samhain Sessions to keep the spirit and brand of the festival alive.Aeidin McCarter Head of Culture with the Council explained that as the city and district takes tentative steps back towards life as we knew it pre-Covid, the Council continues to follow the guidance from on managing COVID-19 with the Festival and Events team continuing to closely monitor the evolving situation and working closely with Tourism Northern Ireland, Tourism Ireland, Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance and other industry bodies.She said that Council is very mindful that there is still a risk of proceeding with an event in its pre COVID-19 format. “Not only is it a potential risk to the general public who might attend the event, but to Council staff, contractors, artists, statutory authorities and agencies who collaborate with Council to deliver the events programme.  For that reason there is likely to be a focus on a local and domestic audiences with international travel restrictions likely still to be in place, however there is an opportunity to promote to an international audience for future events through the delivery of quality digital content.”She added that given this new environment, officers have been working with the public, private, voluntary and community sectors to create and plan programme content for Halloween 2021. She said should some restrictions remain in place in October it is hoped a programme of some scale can be rolled out based on the learnings from Halloween 2020, in particular the large scale inflatable trail.  She informed elected members that with possible restrictions still in place the primary focus in planning for this year’s event is to be the extension and expansion of the Awakening the Walls programme out from the City Walls and into the wider City Centre.  Included in these plans are for the ‘Awakening the Walled City to comprise of a crowd friendly circuit of the City that can accommodate considerable footfall, social distancing and crowd management while enabling people to enjoy a variety of themed locations and experiences safety and at their leisure. It is hoped the Awakening the Walled City could comprise of an illuminated trail with a number of themed zones that could feature a range of installations, large scale inflatables, displays, dressing and animation. A fourth zone would be included for Strabane town with the development of visual art installations.  A number of trading opportunities would be identified within each of the Zones in order to give audiences visiting each area a fully immersive experience that is self-contained and will support crowd management plans, and ensure an even spread of visitors across the city and reduce mass movement. Following consultation with the North West Carnival Initiative it was decided that a Carnival Parade would still be deemed too high risk to start the planning at this stage in its usual format which involves thousands of people in close proximity.  North West Carnival Initiative have proposed, as an alternative, a site based event experience at St Columb’s Park creatively reimagining the space using creative art installations and community participation.Members were informed that an additional fifth zone has been identified with activity to be extended into Donegal with the support of £30,000 from the North West Development Fund.  The objective of this funding is to extend the tourism impact of Derry Halloween into the wider region and placing the wider region on the map.  The plan is to use Grianán of Aileach Fort as a promotional location to help tell the mythical story of Samhain as well as a plan for some family based activity in the recently redeveloped Swan Park site in Buncrana.  The Events, Tourism and Marketing teams are working closely with the officers in Donegal County Council to deliver this project on the ground.  This exciting activity will help reinforce the City and District as the number one Halloween destination.  Aeidin McCarter added that officers in consultation with the Safety Advisory Group (SAG) will continue to carefully assess and plan for all elements of the Halloween programme, as the city and region moves cautiously through 2021.  She said a final decision on the safety of proceeding with wider programming including the Legenderry Food Village, Harvest Market, Live Street Music and Street animation/theatre will be made in August when there will hopefully be more clarity as we ease out of lockdown.  She assured elected members that all content will be developed in line with the COVID-19 safety guidelines of the time.  She indicated that the proposed dates for this year’s Halloween Festival are Friday 29th October – Sunday 31st October 2021 with Awakening the Walled City programme running for three evenings. There will be a Fireworks Displays on the 31st October in both the City and Strabane with the final decision being made in line with the COVID-19 safety guidelines at the time and that officers will also work to explore the opportunities for business and hospitality promotion and the roll out of the LegenDerry food brand, to assist with the easing out of lockdown at this time. As with other years, a call out will be made to organisations across the cultural, hospitality and creative sectors to collate and promote the wider city and regional offering at Halloween.  Members voted to approve the overall budget and procurement arrangements that were outlined at the meeting subject to confirmation of funding from partners and were advised that an updated report would be brought back to the committee in September.Newly elected chairman Cllr Conor Heaney welcomed the report and thanked the officer team for their work saying the city and district was hopeful to see a return of the Halloween celebrations later this year. He encouraged the public to continue to adhere to the COVID regulation guidelines and health safety messaging.