The Head of Culture presented the above report, details of which had been previously circulated to Members. The purpose of the report was to update Members on programming development and marketing for Christmas 2020 and to seek approval for the overall budget spend on this programme.
Councillor Cusack welcomed the report and expressed appreciation for the vast amount of work carried out by the Council Officials. She sought clarity as to how the virtual light switch-on would be managed and other events to ensure adherence to social-distancing guidelines.
The Head of Culture assured Members that as outlined within the report the Christmas light switch-on event would be delivered virtually in order to discourage physical attendance by the public. She said that the main objective was to deliver some level of animation throughout the City centre so to encourage safe numbers to shop and go to the restaurants. She said that it was important to maintain a balance to encourage some physical presence whilst adhering to social-distancing rules. She assured Members that a Health and Safety team would be on the ground for any animation activities and if there was an influx of people the activity would not proceed. She added that it was a challenging time in order to ensure that everyone had a good experience during the Christmas programme of events, despite the restrictions imposed by the pandemic crisis.
Councillor M Boyle welcomed the report and commented that it certainly would be a Christmas programme with a difference this year. She paid tribute to the Head of Culture and her team for their innovative approach in the delivery of a programme of events. She referred to the virtual Christmas Light switch-on events to be held in the City and Strabane Town and queried how the smaller towns and villages throughout the District intended to manage their events to meet the expectation of the Community whilst adherence to social-distancing.
The Head of Culture advised that Council was not responsible for the delivery of the switch-on events outside of the City and Strabane Town. However, the Events team would be happy to give advice to any group who wanted it and the Safety Advisory Group facilitated by Council would operate as usual regarding public safety guidance.
Councillor M Boyle further referred to the success of the Christmas Craft Fair held the previous year. She queried if any consideration was given in terms of the Craft providers using empty premises available in the City and Strabane Town in the run-up to Christmas. She asked that this be explored in going forward.
She also referred to the marketing campaign and asked that Strabane Town be included particularly in the televised marketing as some people had expressed concern that the focus was more on what the City offered.
The Head of Culture in response to Members explained that the Mayor’s Christmas Programme would be delivered across the City and District and Communities would work with the Mayor to allow him to have as much participation as possible. She added that traditionally the Mayor would have delivered various Christmas activities in the Guildhall and Alley Theatre, however due to the current pandemic this was not possible and hence the development of the Mayor’s Christmas Community Programme.
She also clarified that the budget allocated to Neighbourhood Renewal Areas was separate and this activity would be bolted onto other programme activities throughout the City and District. She assured Members that there would be a cohesive programme and because this was the first year of the Mayor leading activity directly in communities it was very much co-ordinated by Council and would be joined up.
She assured Members that if restrictions were lifted the programmes would be adjusted accordingly. However, it was about striking a balance and to encourage smaller community events in order to ensure smaller group attendance.
Councillor Mellon said that it was important to ensure that there was no duplication of activities amongst the communities and that funding allocation was resourced fairly.
Councillor Cooper commented that in terms of duplication and maximisation of events it was important to ensure that if there were areas that offered no events it was essential that the Mayor visited those areas in order to ensure that all Communities benefited from the Christmas programme of events.
Discussion ensued regarding the budget allocation towards Neighbourhood Renewal Christmas Programme activities and a request that it be increased despite a reduction in the overall budget. Members suggested that the budget allocated by the Mayor to his activities could be re-allocated to the Neighbourhood Renewal Areas.
The Head of Culture advised that this was a matter for the Mayor and if Members wished to increase the budget to the Community Christmas Programme she was content to ask the Mayor or alternatively reduce the budget allocated to the wider activity or discuss with the Lead Finance Officer to see if the overall budget can be increased. She agreed for an update report to be brought back to a future Committee Meeting.
Recommended that Council i) approve programming and financial arrangements as outlined within the report; ii) agree for Council Officials to seek additional funding particularly towards Christmas Community Events.