DSD withdraw funding for Laganside Events

laganside boundarySince the closure of the Laganside Corporation on 31 March 2007, the Department for Social Development has given out grants for events and community activities in the Laganside area of Belfast. The area includes the Cathedral Quarter as well as stretching our towards York Street, Corporation Street, the Sydenham bypass (but not including Titanic Quarter), Sirocco, Lanyon Place, St George’s Market, the Markets, the Gasworks and the banks of the Lagan.

Back in 2007, the then minister Margaret Ritchie pointed to the Laganside Events Grant Scheme making “an important contribution in terms of encouraging the arts, cultural and community based events in the Laganside area” and said that “these events play a key role in sustaining life and vitality within this area and indeed Belfast City Centre”.

Last week, DSD informed organisations that normally apply for and benefit from the Laganside Events Grant that it would not be reopened for 2012/13, giving them just a few month’s notice to seek alternative funding sources for events being planned for the spring and summer. The smaller Laganside Community Activity Grant will continue.

Letter from DSD to organisations cancelling Laganside Events Grant

In the letter, the department explains that “the decision to withdraw the scheme is due to pressures on the Department’s budget within the current difficulty funding climate for public expenditure”.

In the last week, DSD has issued a large number of press releases and announcements about other funding streams and development, but until now, there has until now been no public comment about the Laganside Events grant.

Asked for a statement, a DSD spokesperson said:

Due to funding pressures within the Department’s budget we have had to close the Laganside Events Grant from 31 March 2012. We have notified those organisations which usually apply for this grant in order to provide time for them to identify other potential funders for events planned for later this year.

The Department remains committed to promoting the Laganside area and has earmarked £530,000 to support the initial operations of the new MAC when it opens in April 2012. We also have a funding commitment of £100,000 to support the work of the Cathedral Quarter Steering Group.

The Department will also continue to accept applications for the Laganside Community Activity Grant during the 2012/13 financial year. This grant enables local communities to use the amenities in the area.

Over the weekend, I asked the DSD Press Office for a list of organisations that benefited from the Laganside funds along with the value of the grants awarded, as well as the total value of the Laganside grants over the last years.

This information was not made available and is being treated as an FOI!

The clunky Government Funding Database only seems to hold details of a single grant for the 2011/12 Laganside Events: the 13th Open House Festival received £9,000. But there must be more.

Many organisations – including Ethnic minority festivals, CAQF, Festival of Fools, Culture Night and Belfast Pride – have benefited over the years from funding to help organise well-attended events in this often-overlooked area of Belfast which includes public spaces in Custom House Square, Writers Square, Cotton Court Piazza and Lagan Weir.

Has the larger bricks and concrete MAC – which announced its opening programme last week – eaten up the funding that DSD would otherwise have made available to smaller, more organic groups that deliver low-cost, family friendly events to brighten up the city and encourage public participation and cultural awareness?

The relatively small DSD grants helped organisations leverage other funding and sponsorship, creating visitor spend in the Laganside area as well as across the wider city.

While every scheme has a season and public funding of events in specific communities cannot necessarily continue for ever, eliminating the Laganside Events grant in a single year – rather than winding down its level of funding over a couple of years – is a blunt measure.

Within the arts sector, the removal of the Laganside Events Grant has been described as “devastating news” and is being seen as a ministerial decision by Nelson McCausland, rather than one coming out of existing department strategy.

In the year that Belfast ‘bigs it up’ for the Titanic, the overspill area right next to Titanic Quarter will be culturally poorer with the elimination of around £250,000 of events funding.

Map taken from DSDNI funding documentation.

Update – The Cathedral Quarter Steering Group released a statement this afternoon calling the cutting of the fund a “serious blow to Cathedral Quarter” with “serious implications for the continued viability of these highly popular events in Cathedral Quarter”.

The Steering Group has representation from local businesses, venues, arts groups, the university and St Anne’s Cathedral. The group’s chair, Paul Mc Erlean said:

I’ve been in touch with a number of arts groups who have received letters without any prior consultation or indication that the funding would go. This cut will seriously undermine many of the great events that have given Cathedral Quarter and Belfast such an improved image and helped to make the Quarter a shared space in the city centre for the people of Belfast and its visitors. We call on the Minister, Nelson McCausland to reinstate the Fund as soon as possible.

Events and festivals are important for tourism as well as providing jobs in the hospitality sector, with thousands of extra people in the area making use of cafes and pubs. With cheap drinks promotions over the Odyssey still in the news, Bill Wolsey from the Merchant Hotel added:

… unlike other popular night spots in Belfast, the Cathedral Quarter, at least in part because of the diversity of the people that these very popular events attract, is also a very safe and welcoming place to socialise.

Black Box Belfast’s venue manager Neil Jacques said

The lateness of this decision has compounded its impact, with arts organisations being left little or no time to seek alternative avenues of funding.

This year’s Out to Lunch Festival finished a fortnight ago. It’s director Sean Kelly – also responsible for the larger Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival in a few month’s time – said that the Laganside Events funding helped “ensure both festivals could be accessible and affordable to all the people of the city and beyond”.

There’s an argument that the success of The MAC (which opens shortly) will depend on continuing to develop a cultural ecosystem in the Cathedral Quarter. Many of the free festivals have been strategically working close to the MAC building site in preparation for the time when they can also use it’s spaces. And to carve out a place on the map as a cultural centre, Cathedral Quarter needs a range of events, and a range of prices, to develop a broad spectrum of appeal.

The Steering Group suggest that the following events are threatened by the cutting of the DSD fund: Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, Festival of Fools, Black Box Events, Open House Festival, Belfast Children’s Festival, Out to Lunch Festival, Summer Sundays and Culture Night.

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  • This implies there will be no events without funding.
    For once Nelson McCausland is 100% right.

  • AdamTurks

    This implies no such thing. It implies that non-profit events require funding.

    I work for Culture Night which in September delivered 180 free events to over 20 000 people in the city in one 6 hour period. With comparatively small amount of investment events such as these provide a huge ecconomical boost for the City. Funding like this, for all that it is in comparrison to other DSD funding streams, represents tremendous value for money.

    Apart from anything else this concept has formed the centre piece of the development of the area for the last 15 years only for DSD to wipe it out with no warning or consultation with the sector. Regarless of the merits of the fund to pull it like this is nothing short of disgraceful.

  • jthree

    There’s been stuff in the news recently about public sector cuts – something do with a deficit I think.

    I don’t know the full in and outs of it but I think the intention is maybe to cut back on non-essential spending.

    Maybe the decision of the Department for Social Development to stop paying for people to put on plays is part of that?

  • hugodecat

    As someone who has received funding from theses guys before (about 6% of an event) I can confirm they haven’t got round to writing to me yet but as this is DSD it wouldn’t surprise me if that takes a few months for them to get round to it,

    There is a squeeze on a lot of funding at the moment at a time when commercial/corporate sponsorship is getting harder to find and tourists/audiences have a lot less in their pockets, I just hope enough culture and arts survive

  • The Raven

    Marvellous news – they must have finally realised it would be nice to spend money beyond Glengormley!! Now if we can just get the North West Development Office to do likewise beyond Eglinton, all will be well! 😉

  • Carsons Cat

    I’m glad you put the link to the Alternative Ulster story here… some of the comments are just gold.

    Apparently the arts is “Thee most important thing in Northern Ireland”

    So there was me thinking that nurses were the people no-one was ever allowed to criticise or do anything nasty to when all along I should have realised its the luvvies who put on a few festivals – well provided the public pick up the cost at source, not by actually turning up at the events.

    Now run along Government and close a few of ‘dem wards and get my festival back on track….

  • raftonpounder

    This cut is extremely disappointing. The false dichotomy between hospitals/schools and the arts is possibly even more disappointing. The idea that one gets the money or the other is laughable. Obviously DSD funding comes from a different pot and the opportunities for ‘social development’ that comes from singers/writers/performers having spaces to perform are significant.
    I think the real point here is that the Executive is killing itself to promote NI as a tourist destination, a unique place to visit whilst at the same time cutting funding to genuinely innovative and worthwhile events. Events which both attract tourists in and increase the pride of local people in their city.
    I am from Belfast and recently returned from living overseas and was afraid about the scarcity of “cultural” events in Belfast. The cathedral quarter, its festivals and the people involved in those fundamentally changed that opinion. I speak to outsiders with pride about the things that are on in this area and think that funding for the arts is a vital part of the rehabilitation /normalisation of an city.
    The lack of process/consultation is also a slap in the face for the bodies involved.

  • NOT NOW JOHN

    Alan

    It may be worth submitting a further FOI request to DSD requesting all correspondence relating to the decision to withdraw funding for the Laganside Events Grant Scheme.

  • Lucy_Jane

    *some* of these festivals (with the exception of Cathedral Quarter/OTL & Culture Night ) have become highly commercial and in a sense inacessible to their customers. Open House tickets (sponsored by Coors, prob worth a few quid to them) can ONLY be bought online or using an iphone! Call that inclusive?? i don’t have a computer or an iphone I use public internet cafes and don’t like to put in bank card details to book tickets so i am effectively excluded from buying tickets for a publicly funded festival. Open House has virtually doubled their prices whereas Cathedral Quarter has stayed pretty much the same and its a far superior festival and one which I will continue to support.

  • Iwerzon

    Here, we all know whats going on here. Nelson enjoyed the odd bit of controversy as Minister for Arts (proscribing Gospel Music to Festival at Queens, blocking an Irish language act, etc) and as it’s a bit trickier to annoy people from within DSD this is a perfect opportunity. I’d say its a lot to do with his views on Sunday observationism, boozing, homosexuals and having the craic. But don’t worry, the decision will be reversed and Nelson will have his day in the limelight.

  • Iwerzon

    I’ve been yellow-carded for my comment above for some reason. I appologise to all Sunday observationists, homosexuals and boozers.

  • willchamberlain

    raftonppounder makes a good point about how festivals and events are being exploited to promote NI as a tourist destination. The extreme version of this is the NITB TV ad which has numerous examples of the BEAT Initiative delivering the Belfast Carnival, This is used to show how diverse and interesting we are and yet the Carnival has been scrapped for 2012. Same thing happened in 2000 when City Council cut funding to BEAT and continued to use their images for years as a lead image to con tourists into thinking this activity was still going on. The plain objective truth is that these events do generate significant economic benefits. Axing them will damage everybody and save nobody. Spending cuts should be directed initially to non productive areas not to the engine room of the economy. You want to save £250,000 in a year? Talk to anyone in the arts for 10 minutes and you will find out how by cutting huge bureaucratic burdens and reducing wasted time and energy as well as money.

  • streetlegal

    It has got to be said that millions and millions are spent every year on the arts in the Greater Belfast area. Although some public money is now finding it’s way to Derry in time for the City of Culture, outside of the two big cities there is precious little public funding for the arts. Perhaps the feeling amongst the civil service mandarins up in Belfast is that ‘the money would only be wasted on the culties’ – faraway communities of which the Belfast mandarins know little and care even less.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    A disastrous decision. The amount is so comparatively trifling, and the impact so pronounced on the cultural life of the city.

    Belfast is a city that had the life torn out of it. The city centre was a ghost town for decades, we all remember how it was. We are only beginning to relearn what it is to live a civic life in the city, and we’re fortunate in the generation of musicians, artists, actors and writers that are in and around the city right now.

    Once, Belfast was a great centre of intellectual and artistic progress. In recent years, we have seen the beginnings – only the beginnings, mind you – of a renaissance. The support from DSD makes a difference, though the sums involved are comparatively tiny. £250k would pay for, what, one extra nurse per hospital, if that?

    The points made about the extra income generated for businesses in the city, and the economic boost provided by growing tourist numbers, are well made, and fair enough, but they miss the point. The arts community should have the courage to make the case that the arts have a value in and of themselves. Belfast is becoming a more welcoming, more interesting, better and happier city in which to live, as a result of their efforts. They are improving the civic life of the place, and in their small way, improving the actual lives of people who live there.

    All this, for £250k?