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Belfast Live
Belfast Live
Lauren Harte

Armagh bidders believe borough has what it takes to claim City of Culture 2025 crown

The only Northern Ireland bid for UK City of Culture 2025 - Armagh and the wider borough of Banbridge and Craigavon - will learn in the next fortnight if the area has made the final shortlist.

ABC Council is still in the running after making the longlist of eight from the original 20 candidates.

A place that certainly makes for an eclectic mix of heritage and culture, is possibly why it is currently one of the front-runners to win the prestigious title.

Read more: Armagh unlocking its potential as borough continues race for UK City of Culture

Bradford, Cornwall, County Durham, Derby, Southampton, Stirling and Wrexham County Borough, also remain in the race.

The prestigious UK City of Culture title is designated every four years, for a period of one year after a rigorous evaluation process.

For Armagh city and its borough this is not about a one-year programme of events – it is about creating a foundation for long-term sustainable regeneration, investment and positive change.

Those behind the bid say that winning the title UK City of Culture 2025 would transform the society and economy of ABC and Northern Ireland as a whole, and allow the arts and culture sector to flourish.

ABC’s bid, known as ABC25, focuses on enhancing existing cultural provision as well as developing new arts, economic and digital infrastructure.

It has identified a need to attract more public and private sector investment to develop hotel and accommodation provision in the region and also centres on making ABC25 the most sustainable UK City of Culture yet.

The uniqueness of the people and the location have been integral in the shaping of the proposed programme of events.

Designed by artists, cultural practitioners, communities and even creative bureaucrats, it celebrates the diversity of culture, languages and communities but looks beyond 2025 too to put in place partnerships that demonstrate how smaller cities like Armagh can have a forward-looking approach to culture and heritage.

Pictured, from left, are: Alderman Glenn Barr, Lord Mayor, Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council; Roger Wilson, Chief Executive, Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council; Amberlea Neely, Bid Manager, ABC25 (ABC25)

The bid boasts a distinctive mix of Armagh City, an ancient capital steeped in heritage and traditions; Banbridge, a bustling market town borne out of the linen industry; Craigavon, a manufacturing hub built around a 1960s new town; and a rural hinterland, which makes for a powerful combination for UK City of Culture 2025.

Previous winners include Derry/Londonderry in 2013, Hull in 2017 and more recently Coventry in 2021.

ABC's Bid Manager, Amberlea Neely believes the borough has what it takes to win.

"We have the Georgian jewel that is the city of Armagh and the oldest city in Ireland. In contrast to that there's the 1960's 'new town' of Craigavon and then in the middle of it all is the bustling and vibrant market town of Banbridge," she told Belfast Live.

"This is the first year that regions have been allowed to enter the competition so this is a borough-wide bid with something for everyone.

"We're very optimistic about the bid we submitted and believe that we couldn't have done any better so we're feeling positive. Our programme has been inspired by the places and the people so it's unique and distinctive to this part of the world."

Ms Neely said that winning UK City of Culture 2025 would be a win not just for the borough but for the whole of Northern Ireland.

"What the judges are looking for in the bid is the 'need' and what the impact of having the title for the year would be. One of the main needs we have identified across Northern Ireland is investment in the arts here, which is considerably less than the rest of the UK and Republic of Ireland so we're hoping to change that," she explained.

Lord Mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Alderman Glenn Barr, also said the borough has all the ingredients to make UK City of Culture 2025 the best yet.

“We are exceptionally lucky to have a cultural heritage that is the envy of the world, and talented and creative people who have the passion and drive to bring this bid alive for future generations.

“Our programme of events plays to the strengths of our three distinct urban areas and unlocks the potential of the artists, creatives and entrepreneurs who call this place home.”

Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon's bid was submitted in early February while a judging panel will shortlist the final three cities later this month.

The overall winner will be announced in early May.

Read more: St Patrick's Day 2022: Full plans for Northern Ireland council areas with one week to go

Read more: Transgender flag will not be flown at ABC Council due to lack of policy

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