Mayor of Derry and Strabane, Councillor Sandra Duffy looks back on a year packed full of celebration
20 December 2022
Mayor of Derry and Strabane, Councillor Sandra Duffy looks back on a year packed full of celebration in spite of the challenges.
As I sit here writing this I can hardly believe that over half of my term as Mayor is already over and that we are about to see in another new year.
There’s no doubt that 2022 has been a challenging year for the majority of us, and there will be further difficult times to come. But as we take some time out now to be with family and friends it’s an opportunity to reflect on the past 12 months and all that we have had to celebrate in that time.
There have been some wonderful highlights since I first donned the Mayoral chain. We have enjoyed an absolutely bumper year when it comes to festivals and events and I really have to pay tribute to all in the Council staff and our cultural partners who have been flat out delivering an array of outdoor entertainment in 2022.
Hardly a month passed when the streets weren’t buzzing, with an absolutely jam-packed programme of events that had the city celebrating throughout the year. It’s been such a pleasure to see restrictions lifted and people being able to come together as a community to celebrate and share memorable moments once again.
As well as the usual medley of annual festivities, the city hosted some new large scale cultural celebrations, kicking off in February with the Illuminate Festival, followed by two events within the Unboxed – Creativity in the UK programme - About Us and Our Place in Space. The City was the only location selected to host two events, testimony to the reputation we have established for staging top quality outdoor experiences.
One of the biggest highlights for me this year was the chance to welcome people from all around the globe as the Clipper Race fleet made Derry their home for two weeks in July. The atmosphere along the quayside was absolutely amazing, and I was so proud to showcase our beautiful city to an international audience. That was closely followed by Halloween, another fabulous celebration that drew over 100,000 visitors and shone the spotlight once again on the North West.
Then in November we had the added lift of Derry City FC’s FAI Cup win, when we absolutely stormed Dublin to support our young heroes, before thousands flocked to the Guildhall Square for a homecoming event to remember. Ruaidhri and the team have done this city so proud, and they now have an army of younger fans ready to hit the Brandywell next year thanks to all the wonderful school visits and special appearances they have been making sharing their success after the final.
Personally it was a particular pleasure this month to be able to bring the Ulster Elite Senior Boxing Finals to the Guildhall. And what an amazing night it was. I am a huge Boxing fan, and I’ve seen the pride and confidence it can instil in our young people, so it’s been a real highlight for me being able to support some of the local clubs and promote their wonderful work over the past few months.
I was so proud this year to honour two of our most celebrated ambassadors for the City and District, by extending the Freedom of the City to musical maestro Phil Coulter, and Derry Girls creator Lisa McGee. Over the years Phil Coulter’s music has become synonymous with Derry, and his song-writing success has spanned the decades. It was wonderful to welcome Phil and his family back and to see him celebrated once again in the town he loves so well.
As a proud Derry Girl myself, I was absolutely thrilled to have the chance to welcome Lisa McGee back to her hometown in recognition of her many screenwriting achievements, and the wonderful platform she has provided to showcase our amazing city. The series has become a bit of a global phenomenon, and if you’ve got Martin Scorcese’s attention then you know you must be doing something right! Thank you to Phil and Lisa for continuing to carry the message that Derry is a creative, talented and vibrant place, wherever they go on the world stage.
The past few weeks have been a bit of a sparkly blur, but I have just loved visiting areas throughout the city and wider district for festive switch ons, Christmas craft fairs, and other seasonal highlights. I just love this time of year and I think this year in particular we are all in need of some festive cheer and time spent with loved ones.
‘Cost of Living’ has to have been the most repeated term this year, and never have we had to face so many pressures affecting all aspects of our lives, from the food we put in our shopping trolley to the heating of our homes. While there is no sign of this easing in the very near future, this City and District has been through tough times in the past and we have developed a resilience that carries through to today. We know that we will get through it, and there are brighter times ahead.
I have made it my priority as Mayor to do whatever I can to alleviate these pressures and to lobby for those most in need throughout my time in office. As someone who works with the disadvantaged both in my own place of work and in my role within the Ballyarnett community as an elected member, I am all too aware of the terrible blight of poverty on our society. In the coming months I will continue to work closely with my Council colleagues to do all we can to raise awareness of the great need within our Council area, and to make our voices heard by the Westminster Government when we call for additional financial support for all who need it.
Despite these pressures, it’s been really heart-warming to see the support local people have been giving to local food banks and a wide range of other local charities in the run up to Christmas. As Mayor I have had the chance to meet with lots of individuals who have been collecting gifts and food for those in need, or raising money for local charities. The generosity here never ceases to amaze me, especially when so many people are struggling to make ends meet themselves. It’s that community spirit and kindness which really sets this place apart, and makes me so proud to represent this Council as Mayor.
On that note I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has donated this year to my chosen charity First Housing Aid and Support Services. This is a cause that’s especially close to my heart through the work I do day and daily, and to have the opportunity to raise money on their behalf has been one of the most important aspects of this role. We have all experienced some level of hardship recently with escalating food costs and soaring energy bills. For some poverty and homelessness is a daily reality, and First Housing Aid and Support Services offer a lifeline to so many people in need. I will be hosting a number of events throughout next year to help raise valued funds, including a 24-hour busking event, a St Patrick’s Day Ceili, and the Mayor’s Supercar event. I hope you will all join me for some great fun all for a good cause.
It’s been an absolutely amazing whirlwind of activity so far and there’s still so much more to look forward to next year. Personally I have had my own challenges, and as I look forward to 2023 it’s with a renewed sense of love and appreciation for all those family, friends and colleagues that I am so lucky to have around me. I simply couldn’t do it without you all.
I must admit that I’m looking forward to a slower pace for a few weeks and time to spend with loved ones. We all need time to recharge our batteries as we prepare for a New Year with new opportunities, new challenges and new people to enrich our lives.
In the meantime, I want to wish everyone a very happy and healthy Christmas and a peaceful and positive New Year.