Members of the committee met in the Guildhall, where they heard how the COVID-19 pandemic was having a major impact on events across Northern Ireland, and the restrictions relating to large gatherings of people meant that traditional events such as the Awakening of the Walls, the Legenderry Food Village, the Carnival Parade and Fireworks display along the Quay, could not go ahead.
Aeidin McCarter, the Head of Culture with Derry City and Strabane District Council outlined to elected members the risk of proceeding with a full Halloween programme in its usual format during a pandemic, not only to the general public who attend, but to staff, contractors, artistes, statutory authorities and agencies who work with Council to deliver the event.
She said officers have been working with the public, private, voluntary and community sectors to develop a creative programme content for Halloween 2020 that will include a Community Participation Dress Up initiative , a citywide dressing scheme, a Hay Bale Sculpture Trail, multiple firework displays and a First Light event on 01 November. She said a key focus will be on digital content with online Little Horror and Samhain Sessions currently being developed.
She said that due to the restrictions the marketing of this year’s Halloween festival will be mainly to a domestic audience with the intention of promoting the digital content to a wider international audience.
She said officers were working with partners in Visit Derry, Tourism NI and Tourism Ireland to capitalise on the opportunity to tell Derry’s unique best Halloween destination in the world story to a global audience.
Aeidin McCarter said the Halloween festival was very much loved and enjoyed by locals and visitors alike and every effort was being made to allow people to celebrate and enjoy the festival in a new way and in a safe environment.
The event this year will include a Halloween Dressing Scheme that will see large scale themed inflatables being located across the city centre ensuring that the Halloween brand will still have some impact in the city centre but in a safe manner. In Strabane and across the District, plans are in place to further develop the Hay Bale Sculpture Trail, while officers are working with the five Neighbourhood Renewal Areas through the North West Carnival Initiative, to support a range of community outreach programmes such as the All Hallow First Light Community Lantern Installation, a Costume and Prop Support for community activity and a care home home/residential centre window display.
She added that it is hoped that a number of sites will be utilised for firework displays across the City and in Strabane. While the displays will be shorter they will fire from all sites simultaneously with the overall aim that they can be seen from as many places as possible, therefore encouraging people to stay at home and enjoy the festivities from the safety of their homes and local communities.
Other planned events currently being developed are a Wheelie Banshee Bike Ride, a First Light service with music and choral experiences on 01 November and a Halloween themed Inside Out Animation programme to assist businesses and encourage customers to visit the retail and hospitality sector in the town and city centres and create a festive ambience and a safe experience.
Members were informed that officers had just received communication on the outcome of an international funding application to Tourism NI. In light of the current pandemic and restrictions on international travel the events receiving financial assistance in 2020/2021, a two-year letter of offer will be issued which will take into account 2020/22festival. For Derry, Halloween the amount allocated is £120, 000 and this spend will be deferred until the 2021 event as the international outcomes cannot be achieved during the 2020 event . However, officers are continuing to work with TNI in terms of providing online content support and marketing assistance.
Approving a revised budget of £80,000 to include £30k for fireworks, members said it was important that the Halloween Festival went ahead in the new format and welcomed the proposed programme of events.
Chairperson of the Business and Culture Committee, Cllr Rory Farrell said Halloween was hugely important for the city in terms of its cultural identity but also from an economic and business point of view. He said the local tourism and hospitality industry were dependent on the festival and everything that can be done to enhance the experience and encourage people to enjoy the festivities from home and in a new and safe manner was to be welcomed.