For 40 years the history of the Fountain and Lower Bishop Street has been one of division and conflict, symbolised most clearly by the peace wall which was erected in the early 1970s. The wall continues to separate the two areas today.
Despite this, contact between representatives in the two areas has developed to unprecedented levels in the last few years as the peace process developed. This has resulted in a number of initiatives by the Peacewalls Project and the Gasyard Trust, both based in the Bogside area of the city.
Mickey Cooper, Project Officer on the Peacewalls Community Tourism project explained how the initiative is bearing fruits locally.
“The rationale for the Peacewalls Tourism Project lay in the fact that both the Fountain and Lower Bishop Street, despite lying within the shadow of the city walls and five minutes walk from the Bogside, have never enjoyed the same level of tourist footfall at either location due to a range of factors. These include lack of visitor signage, lack of information about the attractions on offer in both areas, lack of historical information and a lack of online presence promoting the two areas.”
“We also felt there was a clear need to develop projects which would allow input and co-operation from the residents of both areas to further encourage contact between the two populations and to develop employment opportunities for the residents.
“Clearly tourism and heritage are two of the key growth areas in the city’s economy so we saw this as an ideal theme to focus on for all of the reasons listed above. The key issue was how we would secure funding and also what products we would develop.”
The funding issue was resolved when the Peacewalls Community Tourism Project was successful in drawing down funding from the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister’s Building a United Community Fund and from the Housing Executive’s Community Cohesion Programme. This allowed them to develop a range of products which have all been developed in consultation with residents and businesses in the two areas.
“These include a new publication focussing on the shared heritage of the Fountain and Bishop Street areas from early Christianity to the present day and a website which will promote the local heritage but also list every single visitor attraction, retail, food/drink premises and other services in the Fountain/Lower Bishop Street catchment to attract more visitor spend. In addition we have developed an app which will promote the two areas but also feature interactive features which will direct users to all of the attractions in tandem with a separate brochure which will be available in the tourist information centre and other locations throughout the city.”
Through the work of students from the North West Academy and other educational institutions the project has been able to assist a number of local businesses to develop new Facebook pages to promote their products through social media including dedicated pages promoting all businesses in the Lower Bishop Street area, Carlisle Road and Waterloo/William Street areas.
“Finally we have developed twelve new orientation panels in key locations in the Fountain, Long Tower and Lower Bishop Street area,” said Mickey.
“These will direct visitors to all the key attractions including the Fountain heritage tower, Thiepval gallery, Aras Colmcille/Long Tower Church and attractions on the periphery of both areas including the Museum of Free Derry, Gasyard Heritage Centre, St Columb’s cathedral, First Derry Presbyterian Church, St Augustine’s and the Apprentice Boys’ Museum.
“The signs will also give visitors a taste of the areas heritage whilst also tempting them to explore further by visiting the attractions or taking a guided tour with one of the many local accredited guides who we have trained over the last few years.”
It is hoped that the project will be officially launched in May, just in time for the beginning of the peak tourism season. The engagement that has taken place between Mickey and residents in both areas has given him the confidence and belief that both sections of the population will be comfortable with the information contained within the new historical materials that have been produced.
“I am also confident that we can create more jobs and income for residents in both areas as more visitors are attracted and directed to the Fountain and Bishop Street areas,” he said.
“By developing joint marketing packages between these new businesses I also envisage an interdependence will develop which can only assist in enhancing community relations further as we move into the future. I am certainly more confident as a result of managing this project that things are moving forward,” he added.