Strand Arts Centre celebrates first 5 years as East Belfast community rallies to secure its future
From an intimate gig with Van Morrison and the premiere of Good Vibrations to creative activities for kids and large-scale youth musicals, no two days have been the same at the Strand Arts Centre, currently celebrating its fifth birthday.
The not-for-profit charity took over the tenancy of Northern Ireland’s oldest cinema building in 2013 with the aim of securing both its short-term survival and long-term redevelopment. Since then it has enjoyed a new lease of life as East Belfast’s only dedicated arts venue.
Almost 60,000 people each year now attend a busy programme of live theatre and music, performing arts classes and filmmaking workshops for children in addition to film screenings. The Strand is widely used by many festivals and by the local community for school visits, local film premieres and charity fundraising events.
Mimi Turtle, Chief Executive of Strand Arts Centre, said:
“The Strand has enjoyed tremendous support from the people of East Belfast and beyond since we opened our doors. We’ve demonstrated an overwhelming appetite for more live entertainment and community engagement for all ages, from our Saturday Minors Club for families to Silver Screenings for older audiences, proudly supported by Specsavers Connswater.
“All of this, however, has been delivered in a building that is physically deteriorating, has limited disabled access, and inadequate facilities to meet the demand for its activities.
“The Strand is full of character and we want to preserve its heritage. But it urgently needs renovated and in doing so we can provide so much more for our audiences and the local community.”
An important first step towards securing the Strand’s future has been made with Belfast City Council’s offer of £1.8 million from its Belfast Investment Fund. The overall project cost is estimated at £4.2 million. Leading figures from the creative industries, tourism and the East Belfast community are urging support for the Strand’s proposed redevelopment.
Gavin Robinson MP said: “If we lost the Strand it would be a devastating blow for East Belfast. Generations of families have been through its doors, including my own. They deliver an outstanding programme for all ages. A renovated and reinvigorated Stand would be a massive asset for our local area and it can’t come soon enough.”
Actor and director Sam McCready, no stranger to the stage of the Strand, said: “It’s a gem in the East Belfast crown, not only as a piece of architecture with those art deco elements to it, but also as a meeting place for people within this community.”
Novelist and screenwriter, and Strand ‘Champion’ Glenn Patterson said: “It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the Strand for the city of Belfast, and for East Belfast in particular. The Strand has been here for 80 years and it’s always been adaptable. It’s been resilient. It’s managed to change with the times. When you come into the Strand, you can feel a real buzz off the place.”
Noirin McKinney, Director of Arts Development at Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said:“East Belfast has an incredible legacy of producing artists of exceptional talent right across the spectrum – painters, musicians, performers and writers. Unfortunately it’s never had the facilities to match and incubate that talent, so the redevelopment of the Strand into a state of the art centre has huge potential for the whole area.”
John McGrillen, Chief Executive of Tourism NI, said: “Our industrial heritage is a very significant element of our past, and what people did and where they went during those times is very important in that regard as well, and the cinema was a central element of the community.”
Lisa Barros D’Sa, co-director of Good Vibrations, said: “I think it’s really exciting to see what’s emerging here at the Strand. These hands-on workshops for animation, filmmaking and music production are the kind of thing I would have really relished when I was starting out. The creative industries are so much on the rise in Northern Ireland and we really need our young people to be able to take advantage of those opportunities. And it’s this kind of skills development that’s going to give them those chances.”
Strand Arts Centre is encouraging its audiences, past and present, to share their memories and future aspirations for the building.
“I know there are many people who have fond memories of the Strand,” said Mimi. “Many went through the life cycle of attending the Minors Club as children, progressing to courting in the back row and subsequently bringing their own children, and sometimes grandchildren too! And let’s not forget the dozens of projectionists, usherettes and concierges over the years.”
You can find out more about the Strand's plans and how to share your memories at www.strandartscentre.com or on social media.