The First Minister and deputy First Minister have welcomed a special day in our journey to recovery, as significant parts of society have opened up.
Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill were speaking after a visit to the Strand Arts Centre in Belfast, where they marked the reopening of indoor arts and hospitality venues, as part of the relaxations that came into effect today (Monday 24 May).
Following a screening of classic short films from the 1930s, the Ministers met with local film fans as part of the Strand’s Silver Screenings programme for older audiences. They also had the chance to catch up with young artists of the future when they stopped by an arts and crafts after-school workshop.
First Minister Arlene Foster said: “This is a welcome return to the important cultural and social experiences which bring joy back into all of our lives.
“Our arts, entertainment and hospitality venues are all important meeting points for people and have been much missed over the last five months.
“The Strand is at the heart of community life in East Belfast. For almost a century people of all ages have come together to share their own stories or those on the big screen. It is just magical to see it open its doors today again.
“I’m pleased today to see all of the robust measures in operation to keep people safe and ask everyone to keep following the public health advice so we can keep moving forward towards a full re-opening of our society.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “This is such a positive and uplifting day as people are able to resume doing so much of what they have missed. The sense of optimism among the community is almost palpable.
“It has been wonderful to see services resuming at the Strand Arts Centre and it’s clear how much it means to those who are able to take part in activities here again. Young people and our older population have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic and it was so heartening to meet with both age groups here today as they look forward to better days.
“As people enjoy being able to come back together again, we urge everyone to stay as safe as possible so we can have more good days like this one.”
The Ministers were welcomed to the Strand Arts Centre, which is the oldest cinema building in Northern Ireland, by Strand Arts Centre Chief Executive Mimi Turtle and Chairman Jonathan Hegan, MBE.
Strand Arts Centre CEO Mimi Turtle said: “It has been a pleasure to welcome the First Minister and deputy First Minister along with our regular customers and wonderful staff to our iconic East Belfast building today. Since we announced our re-opening we’ve been overwhelmed by the response from audiences of all ages saying they can’t wait to come back – from young families to older people attending our Silver Screenings.
“There are plenty of film screenings to choose from, but we’re not just the pictures anymore. We have weekly performing arts classes and creative workshops, and we look forward to the return of live theatre and music in our venue soon. Social distancing will be with us for a while and people can rest assured that, when they book tickets for an event, the seats around them are automatically blocked off to make for a safe and enjoyable experience.”