We must maximise the economic legacy of Derry’s year as City of Culture says local Sinn Fein
Councillor Mickey Cooper, a member of the Culture Company Board.
For many residents of the city, the biggest impact of the City of Culture year will not be how many events they attended or how good the city looks as a result of the massive refurbishments that have taken place.
Instead, a key factor will be whether or not they were able to secure employment as a result of the City of Culture Year.
Although many residents have gained employment on a temporary or part time basis in sectors such as the service and security industries it is now absolutely vital that we build on the massive potential created in the tourism and entertainment sectors as a result of this year’s events.Take for example the accommodation sector.
As someone who has worked for many years in the tourism industry both in Derry and Belfast, I can say with some certainty there is room for a number of new hotels in the city, whether in the budget or five star bracket.
Due to a combination of factors such as lack of capital being provided by banks combined with a lack of confidence by some business people to move into the hotel sector, the number of extra rooms envisaged by the City of Culture programme has not materialised. Given the fact that hotel bookings for this year are already up over 100%, I would hope to see a changed approach by the banks to lending to those who are willing to start their own hotel projects.
The confirmation that a new hotel will be created on the Strand Road in the near future is a good start; it needs to be built on. Potential also clearly exists to develop further community accommodation whether in B&Bs, self catering or indeed rent a room initiatives for big events. The fleadh organising committee have already seen this potential and are developing such a scheme for the fleadh in August. NITB and InvestNI need to assist these types of projects further in their development.
In terms of entertainment, there has been much recent debate around whether or not we can retain the Vital Venue at Ebrington.
The Vital Venue, due to the nature of its structure, cannot be used in the long term as a concert venue. Derry needs to begin the lobby for the development of a large scale permanent indoor arena to ensure that we have the infrastructure in place to host big acts once the Venue comes to the end of its shelf-life. Parallel to this, we need to be targeting concert promoters who now have Derry on their radar as as result of the success of the One Big Weekend to ensure that similar acts are brought here in future.
Another key area is training. Over the next few weeks I will be involved in further discussions with community training organisations and providers in the creative sector to continue the process of establishing links between these groups to allow the development of ‘Step up’ in Stem subjects.
It is vital that Magee links into these initiatives to ensure there is a smooth path available for those who want to move from basic training in creative subjects to higher NVQ and degree level.
It is also vital that tourism and history degrees are once again considered by the University of Ulster to match the industry demand created by City of Culture and to link into the tourism and hospitality courses offered by the North West Institute.
Finally, there are numerous other sub sectors of the creative and entertainment industry that continue to offer potential for growth.
For example, if the community sectors are given the chance to develop proper structures to offer year round events post 2013, they will require people skilled in sound engineering, light technicians, film making and sound recording.
All of these skill bases need to be developed now to ensure we hit the ground running post 2013 in terms of maximising the economic legacy of the culture year.