A special concert will take place in August to honour the contribution of Belfast's frontline and healthcare workers during the pandemic.
The concert will also include a ceremony to award the Freedom of the City to these workers, following a motion agreed by Belfast City Council (BCC).
Back in May 2020, just a few months following the Covid outbreak, members of BCC's Strategic Policy and Resources Committee agreed to award to the Freedom of the City - Belfast's highest honour — to healthcare workers and “all those working tirelessly on the frontline to care for vulnerable citizens” during the pandemic.
The request to award the Freedom of the City honour was made by the former Lord Mayor, Daniel Baker, and subsequent proposal by Sinn Fein councillor Ciaran Beattie, which was seconded by the DUP's George Dorrian.
The council was due to hold an event to mark Belfast becoming a UNESCO City of Music and it was later decided to combine this event with one honouring frontline workers. Funding for the event will be provided from money set aside from existing budgets to mark Belfast's UNESCO status.
Plans for the event, which will take place on August 25 at the Waterfront Hall, have been detailed in a briefing paper for a meeting of the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee.
The briefing paper reads: “A concert will take place at the Belfast Waterfront on Thursday, 25 August 2022 to include a ceremonial element marking Freedom of the City.
“Council officers have been working in partnership with BBC NI on this project. Music has played an important part in people overcoming the challenges of Covid-19 and creatively it is the ideal art form to signal the city’s ongoing recovery. This also celebrates Belfast achievement in becoming a UNESCO City of Music in November 2021.
“The official Freedom of the City ceremony will take place as part of this music event commemorating this unique project. This main stage event will include profiled acts, breakthrough artists, the Ulster Orchestra and live performance of the songs produced with the participants of the musician in residence programme. There will also be involvement from the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust choir. The full artist line-up for the event is being finalised and will be released in due course.
“The concept for the evening is to focus on songs that have a particular meaning to the city and associated with the city’s Covid response. These songs will form a Belfast Mixtape and have been selected by frontline workers and community participants. In addition, there will be a screening of a specially commissioned film that captures the city’s response to Covid and personal stories through this unique project.”
Past recipients of Freedom of the City of Belfast were US President Bill Clinton and Senator George J Mitchell, who were awarded the honour in April 2018. Three months earlier the honour was bestowed upon Sir Kenneth Branagh became the 82nd recipient.
Other past recipients include Van Morrison and Dame Mary Peters.
In May of last year, former Lord Mayor Frank McCoubrey planted a tree to commemorate those who lost their lives during the pandemic, and to pay tribute to healthcare workers and frontline staff.
“This is a small gesture of our appreciation as a city but one which I hope demonstrates the enormous admiration of the people of Belfast for all those who worked so tirelessly to care for the sick and most vulnerable in our society during a time of immense challenges,” Mr McCoubrey said.