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Local designers let their imagination run wild for St Patrick's Day

16 March 2021
Local artists and makers have been busy this week bringing a splash of Springtime colour to the city with the installation of some fun and creative local pieces to brighten up the streets this St Patrick's Day.
The installations form part of the North West Carnival Initiative's eye catching 'Imagine That…' programme - a colourful collection of artist led creative, online content including online tutorials and neighbourhood focused activity. The programme is part of Council's wider Inside Out spring programme, which aims to reanimate and reenergise places and spaces in town and city centres.
In recent days the city centre has been bedecked with pop up displays to be enjoyed safely outdoors in areas including Shipquay Street and several quiet spaces within the Walls; fairy dwellings in Kilfennan and St Columb's Park, Foyle Road, the Fountain and Brooke Park; a willow hare sculpture at Strabane Allotments, and even the Alley's famous Ambrose the Pig has undergone a seasonal transformation.
One of the city's most popular creative hubs, the Fashion and Textile Design Centre in Shipquay Street, is just one of the buildings to undergo a makeover over the weekend. The Centre exists to support designers in the creation of their businesses, and work with schools and the local community to provide skills development and job creation. Business Development Manager Deirdre Williams, said the designers and artists based at the hub were delighted to have a fun creative focus during what has been a very challenging time for the creative community.
 "The FTDC will always get involved with Council's annual events programmes and was delighted to be approached by Arts Officer, Sharon Meenan, and Jim Collins from the North west Carnival Initiative, to see if we would play a role in the 'Imagine That…' Spring Event," she explains.
"As with most organisations here the pandemic has put a stop to all physical classes and events within buildings like the FTDC. However, this has not deterred the team, who have adapted to these strange circumstances and embraced technology to provide digital content instead – tutorials on face coverings and craft workshops. We are pleased to have recently been awarded funding from the Community Foundation to create an FTDC digital hub which will connect with the community in ways that we would never have imagined."
The 'Imagine That' theme resonated with the team at the FTDC, who, despite the abrupt halt to creativity and production during the pandemic, believe that good times are on the horizon for the industry. "New and positive beginnings will always start after periods of turmoil and disruption," Deirdre reflects. "The city of Derry was built on a thriving shirt manufacturing industry in the early to mid-1900s, and even though it was lost to cheaper overseas production in the 1990s, local manufacturing became key during the pandemic with the immediate need for quick turnaround of quality PPE.
"We are very proud to say that many of our members dropped everything in 2020 to make PPE when there was a shortfall in the community. The FTDC joined forces with NI Scrubs to make tops and bottoms for care workers and hospital staff, NI Big Community Sew for face coverings and a huge amount of effort was put into the laser cutting and assembly of face visors. The doors of the FTDC may be closed, however, the team have found innovative and safe ways to help in the community during this time."
Though Deirdre admits that the pandemic has still taken its toll on the FTDC designers and other local creatives. Orders have stopped, government support for newly self-employed businesses has been minimal, and an uncertain future has led to cautious planning. "Creative people need an outlet and when given the chance, the designers jumped at the opportunity of creating something positive, colourful and inspirational for the people of the city through the Imagine That Spring Event," she explains. "We hope that many people get to enjoy the wonderful transformation of Shipquay Street and The Diamond when having a drive or a socially distanced walk over the coming weeks.
"The 'Imagine That' installation symbolises everything that the FTDC is passionate about – vibrancy, creation, growth, and colour! We chose the statement "Sewing Seeds, Supporting Growth" as a play on words to incorporate our practical, supportive and inspiring ethos.
"The design of the installation incorporates flowers, bees and butterflies - to symbolise spring and new beginnings, and sewing tools – scissors, needles and thread, sewing machines, bobbins – a nod to our wonderful shirt manufacturing history and a positive future for the industry. In normal times, this project would have involved a series of workshops with young people and as many FTDC designers lending a hand. However, due to Covid 19 safety reasons, we had to keep the numbers to a minimum and carry out most of the preparation work in individuals' homes."
FTDC residents, Joanne Doherty (Piece Makers), Alan Creswell (Alan Creswell Print Designs) and Paul Stafford (The Season Hats) all worked on the project alongside Deirdre.
"The team brainstormed ideas together and worked to our strengths when it came to limited contact with each other with social distancing," Deirdre reveals.
"We decided to laser cut all designs in colourful polypropylene and wood to withstand the weather which ended up being very simple but effective. We are very pleased with the results and will use the pieces again and again for different events."
Despite the difficulties of the past year Deirdre is confident that the centre will bounce back and is already looking ahead to a busy and bright future.
"It's difficult to know what the next few months will look like; however, we are always
working behind the scenes to improve services for our designers, schools, apprentices, and
the wider community – whether it is in the FTDC building, or digitally, through online
tutorials and live classes.
"The FTDC has been awarded The Skills Education Group approval for apprenticeship
training and assessing. This is a collaboration with Strabane Training Services and will
be supported by O'Neills and other NI manufacturers. We also recently became an education partner with UKFT to strengthen our links between education and the industry."
So if you're out and about over the coming weeks keep an eye out for some of the magical Imagine That highlights, which capture the vibrancy and energy of spring and a new era of renewal and hope.
The Inside Out Programme is organised by Derry City and Strabane District Council with funding through the Department of Communities' Business Revitalisation and Recovery Programme. 
Find out more at  www.derrystrabane.com/insideout