Video: Brendan Bonner and Ralf Alwani on how £25m 'Our Future Foyle' project will transform Derry's riverfront

The multi-million pound ‘Our Future Foyle’ project will radically transform how Derry views the River Foyle, an audience of stakeholders were told yesterday.

Brendan Bonner, Head of Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement at the Public Health Agency (PHA), said the innovative scheme would help markedly improve mental and physical well-being in Derry.

Brendan Bonner, Public Health Agency, Councillor John Boyle, Mayor of Derry City and Strabane, Ralf Alwani, Royal College of Art and Jim Roddy, City Centre Initiative, pictured at the launch of the Our Foyle Future project in the Guildhall yesterday morning.

Brendan Bonner, Public Health Agency, Councillor John Boyle, Mayor of Derry City and Strabane, Ralf Alwani, Royal College of Art and Jim Roddy, City Centre Initiative, pictured at the launch of the Our Foyle Future project in the Guildhall yesterday morning.

“We have no choice. It has to happen,” he said at the official launch in the Guildhall yesterday.

Mr. Bonner kick-started the process of developing a series of social and cultural interventions to change the negative perceptions associated with the river when he launched a PHA review to address suicide prevention concerns back in 2010.

Eight years down the line, the new development - led by the PHA and the City Centre Initiative (CCI) and designed by the Royal College of Art’s Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design - has begun to take definitive shape.

“One of the issues for us is: what do we do with the River Foyle to make it a place of enjoyment, a place of excitement, a place that people go to for the right reasons?” said Mr. Bonner.

An artist's impression of the Foyle Reeds project.

An artist's impression of the Foyle Reeds project.

“In a city where we grew up with this notion of, ‘I’m ready for the Foyle’ with all its negative connotations, we took that concept and decided to turn it on its head.

“My concept is that when, in future, you say, ‘I’m ready for the Foyle’, it’s something positive, it’s something you really want to do and it’s something you bring people to see.”

Ralf Alwani, an architect from the HHCD, has, over the past two years, been working to help make this vision become a reality.

Mr. Alwani and his team have come up with three landmark projects: ‘Foyle Reeds’, ‘Foyle Bubbles’ and ‘Foyle Experience’ that he believes can change the way we view the Foyle for the next 50 years.

Perhaps the most eye-catching of these, ‘Foyle Reeds’, will, ultimately, become the largest public art work in the North if, as hoped, it’s rolled out in next three years.

“This is a people’s project. It’s the people’s perception of what they want for their riverfront and all we’ve really done is look at how we curate that into a series of tangible interventions that we can deliver for this city,” said Mr. Alwani.

The architect said the people of the city will be actively encouraged to take ownership of the £25 million project.

For example, citizens will be invited to sponsor thousands of flood-lit ‘reeds’ that will line the Foyle Bridge when ‘Foyle Reeds’ is completed.

“So, we shift from a negative connotation to an idea of celebration. Imagine celebrating your birthday or New Year’s Eve by changing the colour of the bridge. What city can do that?” asked Mr. Alwani.

He said he hoped ‘Our Future Foyle’ will “inform our riverfront for the next, hopefully, ten to fifty years.”