Christmas will not be cancelled, Derry councillors insist as details emerge of major reduction in festival celebrations budget

Number of popular events will not take place this year because of pandemic

Christmas will not be cancelled, Derry councillors insist as details emerge of major reduction in festival celebrations budget

The annual public switching on of the lights in Derry will not take place this year.

Christmas has not been cancelled, Derry councillors insisted this week.

They were speaking at a meeting of Derry City and Strabane District Council where it was revealed that the budget for the local Christmas celebrations has been cut by 75% because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Before the pandemic, the council had been looking at spending £80,000 on the local festive events.

However, that budget has now been cut to £20,000.

Among the main events to be cancelled are the annual switching on of the Christmas lights in the city centre and the Christmas Craft Fair in the Guildhall.

Details of this year's reduced budget were outlined at a meeting of the council's Business and Culture Committee at the Guildhall on Tuesday.

In a report prepared for the meeting, the financial pressures facing the council were outlined.

“Due to the ongoing financial pressures that council have been facing the annual Christmas budget of £80,000 may no longer available. Currently we are working to a revised budget of £20,000,” the report stated.

The report also said that the budget that had previously been made available for Christmas events in local communities will have to be reduced.

“It is recommended that a maximum of £3,000 grant from the overall Christmas budget be made available to neighbourhood renewal areas who would have participated in this activity,” it said.

Among the events being planned this year are a virtual switching on of the Christmas lights in Derry on November 22, a Christmas market in the Guildhall Square on December 5 and a virtual tea dance on December 16.

Speaking at this week's meeting, Sinn Fein councillor Aileen Mellon said she understood the financial constraints facing the council but asked that ways be looked at ensuring that community Christmas events can receive as much support as possible.

DUP Alderman David Ramsay said it was a difficult task to plan for Christmas events given the reduced budget.

“The good thing is that it is not going to be cancelled and this council is not going to cancel Christmas.

“The biggest issue for us is obviously crowds. We can't afford to have crowds of people gathering for any event.”

His party colleague, Alderman Graham Warke, asked that events aimed at young people be looked at for Christmas given the difficult year that they had experienced.

Aeidin McCarter, the council's Head of Culture, said they would continue to explore ways of organising more events at Christmas time.

“We have been clear that if we can do more we will do more. The chief finance officer has indicated that we can have an ongoing discussion about the budget. So if things open up and we are able to do more we will have that conversation,” she said.

“We will do what we can absolutely and I am very conscious of the fact that we don't want to be killing Christmas.”

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