THE SUNDAY INTERVIEW - Karan Leonard

Karan Leonard, Festival and Events Officer, Derry City and Strabane District Council. DER1915MC048

Karan Leonard, Festival and Events Officer, Derry City and Strabane District Council. DER1915MC048

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Karan Leonard is a woman who likes to throw a party - on a big scale.

Karan Leonard is a woman who likes to throw a party - on a big scale.

As the festival and events officer with Derry City and Strabane District Council Karan plays a key role in delivering the many events that bring crowds of people out on to the streets during the year.

And she says that with a commitment from council in continuing the festival tradition that Derry people fell in love with during the City of Culture, things are set to get bigger and better.

But before that Karan has her own festival to organise, her wedding on August 1.

“I’ll be going back to my native Fermanagh for my wedding,” said Karan. “But I’ve been in Derry since 2000 when I was a student at Magee so I’ve been here a long time.”

Karan secured her current role as festival and events officer with Derry City Council in December 2013.

She’s a graduate of international business communication and has a post graduate certificate in event management and PR.

“I previously worked in the private sector,” said Karan. “My current role is a new one and when I saw it advertised I decided to go for it, I was ready for a change.

“It was an exciting time because it was just coming to the end of the City of Culture Year and a big commitment was being made to festivals and events in the city.

“For the first time festivals and events were set up as a dedicated section which was really good because it reiterated the commitment being made to events in the city and where strategically they see the place for events in the city in the future.”

Karan’s role is to help deliver Derry City and Strabane District’s core civic events.

These include the jazz festival, the Hallowe’en celebrations, St Patrick’s Day and Christmas.

“We have these four and anything else that pops up,” she said. “Last year we had more than 25 events including MTV and Bill Clinton’s visit. We also work with all sections such as tourism who bring the Flavours of the Foyle and the Legenderry Food Festival. We also work with sporting events such as the Waterside marathon and work with different sections in council to deliver it.

“Another part of the job is working with community groups and managing and administering the community festivals fund.”

Karan says the team was delighted with the success of this year’s Jazz Festival at the start of the month.

“It was absolutely brilliant,” she said. “The reason we do this is to attract visitors into the city and increase visitor spend. This year our occupancy levels are up 7%. We’re still working with venues to get the exact figures but from talking to venues we know the numbers are up. We had been concerned because of the euro but it is great to know there were so many extra visitors to the city.”

And Karan says as Derry is the only city to do jazz on such a big level, that trend for growing visitors should continue.

“Belfast does some jazz, but it’s on a small scale and it is only just starting up,” she said, “We work with organisers of jazz in Sligo, Limerick and Cork to learn more about acts and how to make the festival better.

“The festival and events team do everything from booking the acts to making applications for funding. The council funded it as well as Diageo/Guinness. We also had a funding application to Tourism NI which we were successful with.

“I think we have a really good balance of jazz and big band, and there’s a real international flavour along with local performers. We had bands from Amsterdam, Paris and England and dancers that come every year from America. On the Thursday night we opened with a celebration of Derry jazz artists including the Quigleys, the McIntyres, the Trotters and George Hasson. It was brilliant and the sound had a lot of tourists coming in from the street to see what was happening.”

But the question Karan often gets asked is - when is Clipper coming back?

“We don’t have the exact dates but we will have it back in the Summer of 2016,” she said.

“It’s full steam ahead for 2016 and we’re working hard on it. The race starts on August 31 in London, we have our boat, our crew and bursary people.”

Looking ahead to this year Karan said she’s excited about the Strabane Jam on June 13.

“The event will be like a countryfest theme with lots of country music and markets

“We’re also working hard on Halloween and this year’s theme is the Rise of the River Gods so if people want to start planning their outfits it’s never too early.

“The Christmas light switch on will be on November 19 in Derry and November 21 in Strabane.”

And the weather...

“Of course we are hugely dependent on weather but people here are great and come and support things whatever the forecast. If we waited for sun to come out we would never do anything. With Hallowe’en and Christmas we expect it to be wet and windy but at last year’s switch on the weather was lovely. At the end of the day you bring your raincoat and stick up your umbrella if the rain comes.

“In terms of strategy development, because we are in change and in our new department which is culture, and within that sits tourism, culture and marketing we are looking at our strategies and how they link together, and part of that is looking at what other events we’d like to see in the city, we are evaluating things all the time.

“The Community plan is crucial in terms of the strategy of where we are going and looking for fresh and new things. The community plan is the opportunity for public to have their say and it’s important the general public get involved so we steer things in the right direction.”

“Everyone knows 2013 was a unique year, no one would argue with that, our challenge is that with our core events we continue to do them better.

“In terms of budget council have made a commitment to festival and events as one of the key areas of growth and there has been an increase in terms of the money made available for festivals and events this year and a commitment on a recurring basis that this will happens. And that’s a recognition of the key driver it is for the economy.”

It is a job she loves. And that was cemented this week when maritime festival was awarded event experience of the year at the NITB awards.