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Plans being drawn up for city attractions ahead of council getting Stormont nod to re-open

Work resumes on Market Place Theatre refurbishment, while venue staff and managers across borough 'all trying to come up with new ideas'

Navan Fort Armagh

Work has been ongoing to plan for the reopening of council-owned attractions – like the Market Place Theatre and Armagh County Museum – when the go-ahead is given.

Under the five-step plan, museums and galleries are listed at step three.

And Brian Johnston, council’s head of tourism, culture and arts, said the team leaders at council attractions were working away to see what they could offer to the public, when and how.

He was briefing councillors during a remote meeting of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council’s regeneration committee this week.

Prior to lockdown, work had started on internal refurbishments – part of a £1 million facelift package – for the 25-year-old Market Place Theatre in Armagh.

Mr Johnston confirmed that while the construction work had started and been halted as a result of lockdown, the workers involved “are back on site” now.

He said in terms of arts and culture venues like Market Place,  it would be “more difficult to reopen”.

“We are looking at that with colleagues and the logistics around that and what infrastructure would need to be put in place,” he confirmed.

They may be able to “quickly reopen” the gallery spaces, he said, when that is announced.

“With each of the venues we are trying to be as innovative as possible without the certainty of a reopening date,” said Mr Johnston, who added that staff and facility managers are “all trying to come up with new ideas”.

He said the Market Place was “another attractor into the city centre, it’s a chance for people to congregate”.

And he added: “It’s the same with museums. I know the Armagh County Museum would have a lot of regular visitors who are missing it; it’s kind of a place they congregate.

“We are looking at all of those and trying to be innovative around all of them because ultimately people choose venues like that for an experience. They don’t want to go into some sanitised environment where it’s not a good experience, you’d be better staying at home.”

Also on the issue of the County Museum, he said staff there had been busy too working on how to record what was happening with Covid-19.

He said: “It’s been said a million times but this is a moment in history so our museum staff are proactively looking at how they record this moment in history. It’s all very raw at the minute but this is a moment in time that we’ll all remember for the rest of our lives.”

Alderman Stephen Moutray – turning to another of the council’s attractions – enquired specifically if more could be done around Navan Fort.

He said: “Whenever the tourism season opens up should that be the 20th of July or before I have many indications that the North Coast, Newcastle, everywhere’s going to be absolutely flooded with tourists, whether they are staying in hotels, caravans, tents or whatever.

“Is there anything we can explore around some of our council facilities because not everyone is going to be able to afford to go never mind get accommodation.

“Are we being creative in relation to Navan Fort because to the best of my knowledge the takings we take financially from that are very low. Yet we have lots of green open space there. Is there anything we can do around that maybe in August or something to give a reduced rate or entrance free for a month?”

Mr Johnston said the grounds at Navan Fort had already opened again and it had been noticed in the last week that it was busy and this had caused issues itself in terms of litter and anti-social behaviour.

He said his skeleton staff – given that 70 per cent of his department had been furloughed – were working hard with others in council to see what could be done.

“On the 17th of March everything started to shut down and in many ways this reopening will be harder,” said Mr Johnston.

“Things just don’t open over night. We’ll have to do a piece of work on that.”






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