When it came to the City of Culture, the responsibility for most people in Derry in 2013 began and ended with turning up and enjoying the unforgettable events of the year. We turned out in our thousands to witness the visual spectacle of celebrations like the Return of Colmcille, the huge success of Radio One’s Big Weekend, the Walled City Tattoo and more recently the magical Lumiere and the high profile Turner Prize.
A bursting archive of colourful photos along with hours of video coverage show Derry in arguably its best ever light.
While tourists and locals soaked up all kinds of cultural celebrations and watched as fireworks lit up the skies over the Foyle, at the Ebrington end of the Peace Bridge, a dedicated team worked tirelessly behind the glitz and glamour to make sure the city put its best foot forward.
A vital part of ensuring that the events of 2013 would have a long term impact for the North West was forging strong links with the national and international media to ensure that everyone, everywhere, knew exactly what Derry could do.
One of the many people behind this positive publicity blitz was journalist turned press officer Peter Hutcheon. The Waterside based dad of two is no stranger to being involved in high profile events. A lengthy career with the Belfast Telegraph saw the 46-year-old covering sporting events like the Ryder Cup and the Irish Open as well as profiling a young Rory McElroy during his amateur career.
When he first moved to Derry in 1992, Peter’s day job as a journalist meant his background in the arts had to take a back seat. In Belfast, where he grew up, he’d been heavily involved in amateur theatre. “I’d been chairman of an amateur theatre group and I loved being involved in the arts, but when I moved to Derry in 1992 work just took over and I always regretted not being able to get back into it.”
Having lived in Derry for over 20 years, Peter is far from a blow in anymore, but says he took to Derry from the beginning and was proud to be part of the team showcasing the place this year.
“I always felt very welcome here, and that’s what so many people visiting the city for the first time this year have said. Part of the reason 2013 has been such a success is because Derry people do go out of their way to make people feel at home and that’s a great quality. There’s always been strong journalistic fraternity here and I enjoyed being a part of that for so many years.”
When the opportunity presented itself to work as part of the City of Culture Team, Peter embraced it.
“For me, it was going back to something I loved,” he says. And it’s been non stop since day one. Months before any of the big events, we were working on the programme for 2013 and that in itself was a mammoth task. I was asked to write certain sections of the website too so there was a lot of compiling and putting together. As usually happens with things like this, people were getting dribs and drabs of information but after a lot of work we were able to put together one coherent book in October 2012.”
Derry was the UK’s first ever City of Culture, which in itself presented a challenge for the team behind the efforts, as Peter explained.
“There is no blueprint for something like this. the best you can do is put what seems like the best possible programme together. We had a core team of between 22 and 24 people in the City of Culture team at that time and it was a very busy time. Then when the first of the major live events kicked off at the beginning of 2013, we were liaising with press from everywhere around the world. We had the local media and media from England as well as dealing with queries from Europe, Australia and papers like the Wall Street Journal. It was fascinating to be part of it all from that perspective. Ultimately you felt like you were getting this new story about Derry out to the world.
“I remember one moment in particular, the Radio 4 presenter Mark Lawson was about to broadcast his programme from the Rath Mor Centre where we were focusing on the Portrait of a City. I was driving Mark up there and he was just amazed that we were turning into Creggan. His only experience of Creggan was from the Troubles, and the bad news stories that came out of there. He was astounded that here he was in the middle of that same place which had changed so much and was telling a more positive story. He did the introduction to his programme from right there in the Rath Mor carpark. You couldn’t have scripted that any better. There are so many stories like that, being part of telling that story has been so important.”
Peter says he has numerous personal highlights from throughout the year. “It’s hard to pick just one but I suppose the one that sticks on my head from recently is the amazing Lumiere. I’d been part of the team which went to Durham to see what Artichoke were doing there and I just knew it was going to be something really special in Derry and when it happened here - it was. I don’t think anyone who was there will ever forget that. “Personally I’ll always remember being out at Lumiere with my family and looking around at local people looking at the place completely transformed, and using maps to find their way around. That was something I’ll always remember. I think most of us who looked around at the events of this year would agree that Derry is a great place to bring children up in. There have been so many things to do and it’s been great to see children here being able to experience everything that 2013 brought,”
Peter says all of the people working on the ground at City of Culture are proud of what the year has achieved,
“There’s a real appetitie from families here in Derry for more. I have a nine-year-old daughter, Amy, and I know she’s had a great year. It’s important now that the end of 2013 isn’t an end to everything positive which has started this year. I think we all want to see it as an ongoing process for Derry and all the people here and it’s something I’d love to be a part of.”
Peter lives in the Waterside with his wife Erin and children Amy, 9 and Henry 1, and is currently a press officer for the City of Culture.