‘It is a privilege to work for and alongside you’
With 2020 on the horizon, Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council Michaela Boyle has reflected on her opening six months as the First Citizen, and looks forward to further success and growth within the District, while continuing to navigate the change and challenges ahead.
This time of year is always one for reflection, and as I look back on 2019 I do so with a sense of pride at serving as your Mayor for the last six months, particularly as the first person from Strabane town to do so. I have experienced so much in my political career, but this has been – and continues to be – one of the most rewarding and enjoyable roles that I have ever held.
From when I first took on the Mayoral chain in May, I have had the pleasure of taking part in engagements across our entire District, and even further afield. In those many engagements I have met new faces aplenty from our community groups, schools, charities and all the local organisations who make a positive contribution to our society. So many times I have sat back in awe of the talented, kind, inspiring people that we have here, and that have allowed Derry and Strabane to keep growing as somewhere we are proud to call home. These are people who do so without want for praise, who work tirelessly and quietly behind the scenes, and I want to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to them.
We have continued to embrace diversity, and all cultures, ages, religions and orientations have been celebrated this year. A particular highlight for me has been engaging with both the younger and older members of our District. I have visited several of our primary and secondary schools and seen for myself the many wonderful young people with whom our future is in very safe hands, while my regular Mayor’s Tea Dances have been thoroughly enjoyable. I’ve heard so many stories, had so many laughs, and enjoyed a few spins and twirls on the dancefloor along the way!
Another element of great pride for me has been the money raised for my two chosen Mayor’s charities – Foyle Women’s Aid and the Koram Centre, Strabane. They are two charities close to my heart and representing issues – women’s rights and mental health – that I feel are very prevalent in our society. I have always tried, and will continue to try, to raise awareness of the wonderful work that they both do, and it brings me real joy to know that it has made a positive impact for them.
Once again 2019 has been an award-winning year for the District, with Brooke Park given the prestigious ‘Green Flag’ status for the third year running, while, for the first time, we were victorious in winning the Small City category at the Britain in Bloom awards. Congratulations to everyone who helped us achieve those successes, they were certainly well-deserved.
On a regeneration front we have continued to move in a positive direction. In June, we received the fantastic news of €8.96 million of EU PEACE IV funding for the ‘Riverine’ project, which will create an exciting cross-border community space across Strabane and Lifford. We have made further investment in our local play parks, including Newtonstewart, while launching our ‘Out to Play’ Play Plan Public Consultation. Furthermore, the opening of the Clooney Greenway and the re-opening of St Columb’s Park Avenue has highlighted our commitment to investment in the regeneration of our beautiful District, while work begun on the St Columb’s Park Walled Garden project.
We have also been working hard on a corporate front and in that regard it has been a real trademark year. Recently we have published our first Statement of Progress in line with our Strategic Growth Plan. This has been a huge step in our Community Planning process, and one that will help the District develop on a social, economic and environmental front. We also published our draft Local Development Plan which will guide development decisions within our District in a transparent and open way. Linked in with that is our pioneering Green Infrastructure Plan which aims to maximise the number of functions that our local parks and green spaces can provide.
As well as that, we launched our Council Arts and Culture Strategy which, also in line with the Strategic Growth Plan, is designed to complement Council’s Tourism Strategy and Integrated Economic Development Strategy.
As a Ballycolman native, I have, of course, been delighted with the ongoing progress of our Strabane Business Improvement District plan. The continued efforts of the BID team has encouraged people to shop locally, while the introduction of additional CCTV cameras in the town, and the granting of planning permission for the Strabane Public Realm project has further encouraged positive development.
We also emphasised the importance of giving our young people a voice when I hosted our Local Democracy Week in the Guildhall in October for primary schools and secondary schools (I’ve never faced such hard-hitting questions!), while our recent careers fairs in Derry and Strabane gave them a chance to learn more about their future.
Meanwhile, in November I travelled as part of our north-west trade delegation, alongside Donegal County Council, to Boston and Philadelphia. It was a trip of real significance in ensuring that we continue to strengthen our business links and personal relationships with those across the Atlantic, while I was also delighted to meet with some of our diaspora.
As Mayor I am in a unique position where I have a platform to bring attention to various issues, and I have been happy to do so in supporting organ donation week, gas safety week and blind cord safety awareness. In September, I was honoured to speak at the 30th International Association of Suicide Prevention conference, held in our city. I have also been passionate in my support for the battle against domestic violence. As I mentioned regarding my Mayor’s charities, these are two issues that are, unfortunately, extremely relevant in our current society and ones that I will continue to support wholeheartedly.
While there have been so many things to celebrate this year, I’d also like to take a moment and reflect on those we have lost. The death of Ivan Cooper in June was something deeply felt not just across Derry, but on a national scale. Ivan’s role in the history of the city is one that cannot be underestimated, and we continue to remember the actions that he, and others, took which paved the way for all of us to enjoy a more prosperous future. We also lost Pat Gillespie in August, at the age of 102. Aptly nicknamed ‘The King of Strabane’, Pat – who was renowned for his collection of bikes and cars - brought a smile to many faces in his long and happy time on this earth, and he leaves behind a legacy that will be felt in the town for many more years to come thanks to the kind donation from his family of some items from his archive. I’d like to take this opportunity to once again offer my condolences to Ivan and Pat’s family and friends, and to all who have lost loved ones in the last year.
Our District is one that has always been welcoming to all, and we had a host of events that showed the very best of what we have to offer for both our local community and our hundreds of thousands of visitors. Once again, the Street Food Festival, Strabane Summer Jamm, Waterside Half Marathon, Sperrins and Killeter Walking Festival, Slow Food Festival, Culture Night and Fashion Fest all proved huge successes. We had a fantastic year celebrating our young people with the Rewire Festival for Youth, while in July Derry played host to the National Cycling Championships – an iconic moment in our sporting history. We had the chance to mark our illustrious heritage with the Walls 400 programme, and diversity was at the fore as I attended and led the Foyle Pride parade in August. Indeed, I have been delighted to immerse myself in all cultures in 2019, and in September it was my pleasure to host a Chinese cultural celebration in the Guildhall. As always, our Halloween festival proved to be bigger and better than ever before – with Derry making headlines around the world. And what better way to round off the year than our festive Christmas celebrations, with a real highlight my Santa’s workshops in both Derry and Strabane. I’d like to thank all those in Council who have played a role in putting together so many exciting events.
And so, we all turn our attentions to a new year. Now at the halfway point of my tenure as Mayor, I can only hope that the next six months will be as wonderful and rewarding as the last. In our current climate, the role of local councils has become more important than ever before, and I am honoured to stand at the helm of that. But, the bottom line is that it isn’t about me or my fellow councillors, it is about you – the people of Derry and Strabane. You are what makes this District what it is, and it is a privilege to work for and alongside you to make sure we are the best that we can be. I would like to wish all of you a happy and healthy Christmas and New Year, and I look forward to meeting more of you in the months ahead. Already there is so much to look forward to in 2020, and I, for one, cannot wait.