Pioneering unionist New Gate festival attended by Mary Lou McDonald has outgrown its Fountain base

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The organisers of the pioneering Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist (PUL) oriented, New Gate Fringe Festival, have revealed how they outgrew their Hawkin Street home in only their second ever outing over the past fortnight.

However, by branching out to a range of venues, including the Sollus Centre, Clooney Hall and First Derry Presbyterian Church Hall among others, they were able to put on a diverse range of events and talks including one which was attended by the Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald last week.

The festival came to a close on Wednesday with a ‘Tartan Walk’ to raise funds for the ‘Circle of Support- Raising Autism Awareness’ charity.

The organisers of the festival, the North West Cultural Partnership (NCWP), said this year’s programme of over 40 events, mixing culture, music, dance and drama with serious debates, far exceeded the inaugural schedule in 2017 and vowed ambitions are already high for next year.

Festival chair, Derek Moore, who is also the coordinator of the Londonderry Bands Forum, said: “The committee will now apply for the main streams of funding for next year to expand even further, given the quality and diversity of events in this year’s programme.”

Mr. Moore said cultural events such as the successful Ulster Scots poetry night and the work between UV street art and young people highlighted a new aspect to the fringe festival, as did the connections made with the North West Migrants Forum.

James Kee, from Bready and District Ulster Scots Association, said: “The conversations and debates created by the three main ‘Difficult Conversations’ events propelled the fringe on to mainstream TV and newspapers and opened up the idea of ordinary people questioning political negativity at source.”

He added that the ‘Traditions Meet’ event in Bready at the Sollus Centre showcased the coming together of talent from across the cultural spectrum in a spectacular show featuring Highland and Irish dancing, new music composed by local musicians and international composer Sid Peacock, and performances worthy of a bigger venue by local singers and songwriters.

NCWP treasurer, Kyle Thompson, acknowledged the current facilities the New Gate Arts and Cultural Centre in Hawkin Street could not meet demand for this year’s programme but said the use of venues like the Sollus Centre, Clooney Hall, Fountain Primary School, Thiepval Gallery, Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall and First Derry Presbyterian Church Hall proved to be inspired and thank the owners of all venues for their support.