Festival 'first' for Waterside

PLANS are being finalised for a major multi-cultural festival - the first of its kind ever to be held in the Waterside - which could galvanise many estates on Londonderry's east bank and beyond.

Thousands of people are expected to descend on Clooney Park West on Saturday week, July 24, for the Waterside Community Links Festival, which will see all sections of the community working together to create a community-based day of family fun and games.

Many large estates in the Waterside have shown an interest in taking part in the festival, organised by the Waterside Area Partnership.

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Event organiser Louise Moore said she believes it is the first time ever in the Waterside that a festival of this type has been laid on to entice people to celebrate their joint heritage. The festivities will get underway at 12pm, running until 6pm.

"One of the main aims in holding this festival now is to diffuse tension. It is the heart of the marching season, and in order to alleviate tension we have set this festival up for two weeks after the Twelfth and two before the Apprentice Boys of Derry in August, so it is specifically targeted at reducing tension and bringing all sides of community together for an entertaining day," said Louise, adding: "If successful it means that we can, depending on funding, have it as an annual thing and embed it as part of the cultural calendar of the city."

She continued: "It will also have the capacity to put the Waterside on the map as this part of the City is lacking this kind of festival at the minute. Everybody feels that the Waterside is 'sheltered' compared to the Cityside so we are keen that this becomes an event in its own right on the Waterside that attracts people from all parts of the City.

"It is also aimed at people coming together without fear for a family day of fun. It is for everyone to enjoy themselves and forget problems and differences, and to relax and let their hair down."

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A myriad of events are planned for the landmark day, and with the emphasis on celebrating culture, events will include a 'taster session' in which food from 22 nations will be served between 2pm and 3pm.

The festival will be opened by the Hamilton Flute Band, who will be blowing up a storm before handing over to multi-cultural band Beyond Skin and Harmonicity, an interactive band that operates workshop-style with people of all ages allowing them to play instruments and get a feel for music.

Also on the agenda are traditional Irish and Scottish dancers, and there are plans for Fillipino dancers, Indian and Turkish dance displays. Children's activities will include bouncy castles, facepainting and games.

"There will also be a rodeo bull so that children can see their dads make a fool of themselves too, and for mums we will be trying to organise a nail bar," said Louise.

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"Attractions will feature an Army Cadets climing wall, the Air Cadets and RAF, who will have an RAF Hunter jet (fighter plane) with them, the Fire and Rescue Service and the police. It hasn't been finalised yet but we are hoping that the police may be able to bring their dog teams to the event. I don't think bringing in a jet has ever been done on this side of the river either," Louise added.

"The St John Ambulance will be on the scene and the day will be brought to a close with a balloon release, where people will pay either 50 pence or a pound for a balloon and whoever has the first returned to them will get a prize," she said.

A festival of this magnitude has never been staged before in the Waterside, and it is believed that it has the potential to galvanise all the estates in the area: it will also be completely open to members of the Protestant and Catholic communities here, as well as all ethnic communities.

"There will be no entrance fee, so the only money you will need is for stalls and some of the activities," Louise said.

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