Northern Ireland’s future-focused centenary programme has had a positive impact, particularly on the young
New Year’s Eve is traditionally a day of hope and reflection. This year, it also marks the last day of Northern Ireland’s centenary year.
As we look back on another challenging year, I am proud of the centenary programme we have been able to deliver — one of hope, optimism, inclusivity and reflection.
In December 2020, I launched the Northern Ireland Office’s centenary campaign, ‘Our Story in the Making: NI Beyond 100’.
We were determined to produce a future-focused programme of events and activities which had something everyone across Northern Ireland could participate in, coming together to tell ‘our story’.
I’m proud to see the impact this positive work has had on people here over the past year, particularly by supporting our young people, the economy and Covid recovery as well as reflecting sensitively on our shared history.
Young people have been at the heart of the centenary programme.
We engaged with more than 5,000 of them throughout the year, with fantastic initiatives such as centenary scholarships and bursaries at Queen’s and Ulster Universities.
We’ve given more local young people the chance to become future policy leaders and to gain experience across media, performance and youth work.
We’ve offered creative mentoring for aspiring artists; and the opportunity for budding sports enthusiasts to compete alongside top athletes.
We have also ensured that more than 450 schools in Northern Ireland will receive a native centenary tree.
Of course, this year has been incredibly challenging for so many, which is why we’ve ensured our centenary programme contributes to our nationwide efforts to build back better.
September’s Northern Ireland Business and Innovation Showcase in London, allowed local firms to promote their products, services and expertise to business and industry leaders, investors, and government representatives from the UK and abroad.
Just last month, the Belfast firm Axial 3D announced a deal with US-French company Biomodex as a result of the event. This deal will mean that more physicians will be able to train and more patients will be able to benefit from potentially life-saving technology.
In addition to this great Centenary initiative, the UK Government continues to show our ongoing commitment and support to local people through initiatives such as the £2bn New Decade, New Approach financial package; the £600m City and Growth Deal programme, highlighted recently through the £350m funding provided for the Belfast Region City Deal; and the £400m in the New Deal for Northern Ireland; as well as over £60m of investment in Northern Ireland through the new Community Renewal, Levelling Up and Community Ownership funds.
Importantly, our centenary programme has also made sure to support local creative industries impacted by Covid.
The Portrait of Northern Ireland Exhibition, featured artwork of the people and places that have defined Northern Ireland over the past 100 years.
And, just a fortnight ago, the amazing Live at the Waterfront! Concert was screened on Sky TV across the UK and Ireland.
As well as supporting the events and arts sectors, it was a brilliant platform for Northern Ireland’s fantastic performing artists.
I’m pleased that more than three quarters of the concert tickets were given free to key workers, as a token of our enormous gratitude to those leading our fight back against the pandemic.
Throughout the year, it has been especially important that we recognise the complex and contentious nature of our shared history — for those marking it or celebrating it. I’d like to thank our Centenary Historical Advisory Panel for helping us to reflect on these diverse perspectives.
It’s so important that we continue debating, discussing and learning from our shared past to build towards a better, more reconciled, future. We have funded 39 community projects across Northern Ireland, supporting them with £1m to demonstrate what 100 years of Northern Ireland means to them.
We also produced commemorative items, including a centenary rose, one of which is planted at Hillsborough Castle for the public to enjoy. The rose symbolises reflection and hope, and, fittingly, centenary rose pins were also sold to raise money for local charities.
As we look ahead to the next 100 years, I believe the centenary programme has left an enduring legacy of hope and optimism for people here.
As in our much-loved centenary children’s book ‘Our Wee Place’, we all have the power to continue writing the positive, successful future for this place we all share.
Brandon Lewis is Secretary of State for Northern Ireland