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Beechlawn School, based in Hillsborough, is the first school to take part in the MAC’s Arts Award and one of the first groups of people through the doors for an exclusive preview of the newly refurbished Tate Modern.

Arts Award is an accredited programme run by the MAC offering a range of qualifications open to those aged up to 25 yrs to develop creativity, leadership and communication skills through arts, culture and media. The Arts Award assesses a young person’s development and encourages independent learning, confidence building and transferable skills.

The young people from Beechlawn have successfully completed the Entry Level 3 ‘Explore’ award, making them the first cohort in Northern Ireland to graduate on the scheme.  There are four levels starting at Entry Level and progressing to Level 3, a Gold award which is worth 35 UCAS points. Delighted with the result, teachers at the school are hoping many of the young people will continue on to the next level, to achieve their Bronze award.

As the first school to take part in this award, Caroline Harris, Music Co-ordinator at Beechlawn School remarked: “As a school catering for pupils with multiple learning difficulties, which can range from Autism, ADHD, anxiety and behavioural issues to more complex problems, it is just amazing for our pupils, some of whom find reading tricky, to come away with a qualification in Year 9. It is clear to see that our pupils’ confidence has increased and parents are so proud of what their children have achieved.

“The MAC Arts Award provides a fantastic platform for our pupils and the MAC has been mindful of our pupils’ challenges and unique requirements throughout.”

To achieve an Arts Award, young people complete challenges and take part in a range of arts activities. As part of their qualification with the MAC, the pupils of Beechlawn took part in African drumming workshops and a singing workshop with MAC Artist in Residence and local star, Katie Richardson. They learned to create beats, control rhythms and play together.  They also got to experience a theatre production, completed independent research and took part in a music workshop, creating a video of themselves singing and playing drums as part of their final presentation.

With the introduction of the MAC’s signature MACtile tours in 2015 (the initiative which introduces children with Autism Sensory Disorders (ASD) to theatre in a relaxed atmosphere), the accredited Arts Award is another addition to the MAC’s superb education and outreach programme.

Speaking about her role in delivering the Arts Award, MAC Learning and Participation Officer, Clare Lawlor said:

“I am absolutely delighted that our Beechlawn pupils have completed the first Arts Award at the MAC.  I was involved with the group throughout and was lucky enough to accompany them on our special visit to the Tate, which was just amazing. Their response to the art works was a pleasure and I can see how they have grown in confidence and life skills throughout the course.

“The fact that a mixed ability group are the first to successfully graduate and can add this excellent qualification to their CVs is testament to how great Arts Award is. I would encourage other schools and community groups who are thinking about a different route to qualifications to get in touch with us.”

To round off the project, last week some of the Beechlawn pupils accompanied Clare and other staff from the MAC to visit the newly reopened Tate Modern for an exclusive preview. As a Plus Tate partner, the MAC was invited to nominate a local school in the region to be among the first to visit the new Tate and it was only fitting that Beechlawn were chosen.

The 26 pupils from Hillsborough were among 3000 other schoolchildren from across the UK to be the first to experience and explore the Tate Modern’s four new floors comprising a staggering 250 artists.

For more information on the MAC’s Arts Award and Learning and Participation programme, please visit or contact Clare Lawlor at the MAC on 028 9023 5053.



The MAC, Belfast’s award-winning arts venue, and Phoenix Natural Gas, are delighted to announce the details of the MAC’s s comprehensive Christmas programme; the first events programme to be supported by the new title sponsor. The programme this year proves to be even more popular than ever and has already got off to a flying start with a number of dates for the MAC’s family show, Pinocchio, already sold out.

Each year the MAC presents a host of family events for the festive season, that has been one of the key drivers in its increased visitor figures which rose to an impressive 311,000 last year alone, more than 60% of what was forecast for the venue*.

Likewise, Phoenix is marking a milestone year as the company celebrates its 20th anniversary, so the partnership between two of Northern Ireland’s leading brands seemed fitting.

Visitors to the MAC travel from across Northern Ireland and beyond, either as part of the MAC’s learning and outreach programme or as independent gallery visitors and theatre goers.

It seems mad to think about Christmas in June but that’s exactly what the MAC and Phoenix are planning towards.  Now celebrating its fifth Christmas, the MAC has become a place where new family traditions are created.  Many visitors have and will come to see the light switch-on, the unveiling of the magical Phoenix Natural Gas Christmas window and to watch the MAC’s anchor show, Pinocchio co-produced with award-winning theatre company Cahoots NI.

This year is anticipated to be the venue’s biggest year to date regards visitor numbers with the MAC set to welcome over 3,500 school children through its doors and over 10,000 families. Having already achieved 30% of its Christmas ticket sales in May, including seven sell-out school performances, the MAC has developed exceedingly strong relationships with local schools – some of whom are returning for their fifth Christmas visit in the MAC’s short, yet thriving, history.

Anne McReynolds, Chief Executive at the MAC, said:

“We are absolutely delighted to be working with our partners, Phoenix Natural Gas, who are supporting our Christmas programme. A MAC Christmas is something very special and has quickly become a firm tradition for many schools and families across Northern Ireland. 

Just like Phoenix, we share a commitment to providing exceptional service to our customers from Northern Ireland and we look forward to announcing some very exciting plans together very soon.”


Michael McKinstry, Chief Executive for Phoenix Natural Gas, said:

“We are very excited about this partnership with the MAC, and as we approach our 20th anniversary this Christmas it gives us a real opportunity to celebrate our commitment to the community that we serve.

“We are very proud of our strong corporate social responsibility programme and we believe that the MAC’s additional programmes of support for communities and schools during the festive period are reflective of our vision and ideals. We look forward to a strong and creative partnership together.”

As part of that partnership, thanks to support from Phoenix, visitors to the MAC can expect to find the enchanting ‘Wishing Wood’ where families will be encouraged to make a wish. Just in time for Christmas, Phoenix Natural Gas will help to make one extra-special wish come true for at least one lucky family.  More details coming soon.

For more information on the MAC or to enquire about the Christmas programme, including the upcoming production of Pinocchio, please visit


*From targets set in the Benefits Realisation Plan in 2011.



As anticipation escalates ahead of the 2016 Wimbledon championships, running 27th June – 10th July, Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council prepares for a grand slam of its own.

With the development of a tennis themed events programme, intended to encourage locals in the surrounding areas to get active amid family-friendly activities, Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council will transform Market Square into a hub for Wimbledon and tennis enthusiasts alike.

Following the official draw taking place on 24th June, the first contest of the 2016 Wimbledon championships will get under way on 27th June with local sports group Tennis Fundamentals showcasing the rip-roaring ins-and-outs of the sport which impassions so many with public demonstrations in Market Square.

Artificial grass and inflatable nets will convert the space into Lisburn’s own Tennis Club but without the strict dress codes of the official Wimbledon championships! However, one tradition Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council will stay true to is the indulgence of strawberries and cream – available on select days during the tournament.

Market Square will welcome Downshire Tennis on 1st July, then Lisburn Racquets on 8th July, who will be on hand to demonstrate the fundamentals of the sport with ample opportunities to get involved and learn the basics.

Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council will also be introducing a big screen to the Market Square area of the City Centre. Aimed at allowing locals to sit back, relax and watch Wimbledon live so they don’t miss any of the nail-biting moments as the tournament unfolds.

Cllr. Uel Mackin, Chairman of Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council’s Development Committee says: “Event programmes like our upcoming Wimbledon festivities are a real focus for showcasing the best of what Lisburn has to offer for all residents. Lisburn City Centre, in particular Market Square, has experienced significant revitalisation recently and established itself as the place to be for locals in the Lisburn and Castlereagh areas. We hope to engage as many people as possible and who knows, we might even discover our own local tennis sensation!”

For more information, call Sophie McAuley on 028 9244 7543 or email



Italian eatery Alfredo’s on the Square and Hughes Craft Distillery, two thriving Lisburn businesses, have come together to further boost the fine dining experience for locals in Lisburn City Centre with the introduction of a fabulous new RubyBlue cocktail menu for diners to enjoy.

Under development since April, when Northern Ireland celebrated the best in home-grown brewing and distilling, the teams behind Hughes Craft Distillery and Alfredo’s on the Square had been hard at work concocting their unique drinks menu specifically with Alfredo’s diners in mind.

Using Hughes Craft Distillery’s award-winning RubyBlue Premium Vodka the new cocktail menu will complement the restaurant’s delicious mix of dishes and add another reason to dine out in Lisburn with friends and family for all occasions.

Owned by local restauranteur Richard Graham, Alfredo’s has invested heavily in refitting its premises to revitalise Lisburn’s growing reputation on the culinary map. With the summer season afoot, and locals yearning for a first-rate alfresco dining experience, the signature RubyBlue cocktail menu is set to attract food and drinks aficionados far and wide.

Richard Graham, owner of Alfredo’s on the Square, says:

“It was always our intention to introduce a quality range of beverages into Alfredo’s by way of an exciting cocktail menu. But we wanted to make sure that we were bringing something unique for customers to experience and we are delighted to be the first to bring them RubyBlue Vodka as part of our new offering. It was also important for us to invest in local producers and through its fast-growing reputation and demand, we knew it had to be RubyBlue.”

“We began working with Stuart and Barbara Hughes from Hughes Craft Distillery in early April on a cocktail menu specific to Alfredo’s and our customers. We’re delighted to finally announce that Alfredo’s is the first business in Lisburn serving up this exciting cocktail menu using the locally produced and award-winning RubyBlue range.”

The RubyBlue cocktail menu available in Alfredo’s serves original cocktails such as the Ruby Royale, a blackcurrant liqueur with chilled prosecco, and the RubyBlue Thyme, premium white lemonade infused with green apple, fresh thyme and RubyBlue Potato Vodka. But, for those less adventurous, the menu also serves cocktail favourites including, Bloody Mary and French Martini stirred with RubyBlue Premium Vodka.

Barbara Hughes, Commercial Director for Hughes Craft Distillery, which premiered RubyBlue Premium Vodka in 2015, adds:

“When Richard approached us we were extremely excited by the proposition of creating a cocktail menu using our own range of spirits. It is the first time we have had the opportunity to create a customer-specific cocktail menu for a venue. It’s a great opportunity to give the RubyBlue brand exposure in our home city alongside the exquisite dishes served in Alfredo’s by head chef Will Crawford.”

Alfredo’s on the Square is open Tuesday to Saturday 9:00am until late and Monday 9:00am until 3:00pm.

For more information on the RubyBlue cocktail menu or to enquire about bookings, visit or call (028) 9267 2554.



Mid and East Antrim Borough Council launched ‘Geology at The Gobbins Cliff Path’, a new information guide demonstrating why The Gobbins is a must-see place to visit for so many reasons. Delving deep into the hidden crevasses of the coastline, this short guide aims to increase the amount of geology information available at The Gobbins Cliff Path and other sites of geological interest along the Causeway Coast and Glens Area; enhancing the overall visitor experience.

Commissioned by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, contributions were made by Andrew Bratton and Nikki Maguire from the Causeway Coast and Glen Heritage Trust; Dr Kirstin Lemon at the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland and Ian Enlander from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

The Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough, Councillor Billy Ashe says, “The introduction of this booklet, is a great addition to The Gobbins experience and the area as a whole. It provides a unique and fascinating look at the complex and varied geology along The Gobbins Cliff Path and associated sites in the Causeway Coast and Glens Area.

“It explores the rich geology along Islandmagee’s coastline telling the story of tectonic plate movements, historic eruptions and the more recent rock falls, which can all be seen along the coastal walk.  Other key landmarks, such as Carrickfergus and Cranny Falls also get a mention.

“I think it is extremely important to tell the geological story of the area and to really bring to the fore the wondrous heritage and beauty we call home.”

Speaking on the decision to create the booklet, Andrew Bratton from the Causeway Coast and Glen Heritage Trust remarks: “We took the decision to produce this booklet, as we knew the opening of The Gobbins path would present a great opportunity, to not only profile the spectacular environmental landscape and wildlife along the Gobbins cliff path; but show the link between the new attraction and other local sites of geological interest dotted across the area.

“The booklet unveils other interesting facts about the location. Did you know that The Gobbins is the location where the mineral ‘Gobbinsite’ was first discovered and the location which the mineral is named after? It is also one of the best locations in Ireland to see “tube zeolites”, or minerals, which have been stretched by flowing lava; and to see “Fault Breccia”, a band of rock which formed when two rock masses have rubbed past each other forming a very distinct layer of fractured rock material.”

Andrew adds: “It is the first publication to highlight the unique geology of the Gobbins Cliff Path and we wanted to ensure it presented the information in an interesting yet easy-to-digest way. The rich geology and biodiversity along Islandmagee’s coastline combines beautifully with the coastal processes at The Gobbins to present a landscape of exceptional scientific, aesthetic, historical and cultural value.”

‘Geology at The Gobbins Cliff Path’ is available for free, from the Gobbins Visitor Centre, the Gobbins website ( and

The Gobbins was a £7.5m project to restore The Gobbins Cliff Path Walk in Islandmagee to its former glory as one of the top tourism attractions in Northern Ireland. The project was part funded by the EU’s INTERREG IVA Programme, managed by the SEUPB, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, and Ulster Garden Villages.



Recreating the dramatic scenes of the 2000 Tour de France, the MAC Belfast is set to welcome 2Magpies Theatre, for a uniquely dramatic show Ventoux that recreates the gruelling contest between Lance Armstrong and Marco Pantani during the punishing Mont Ventoux stage of the historical race.  The timing is fitting as the second edition of the Gran Fondo Giro D’Italia takes places on the city this Sunday.

Starring two actors, two bikes, and a battle that captured the world, Ventoux charts the illustrious sporting and personal lives of both Marco Pantani and Lance Armstrong who’s highly publicised doping allegations ultimately led to the end of both former champions’ sporting careers; Armstrong having his Tour de France championship victories revoked and Pantani losing his life to substance abuse in 2004.

Utilising stationary road bicycles, stunning visuals of the taxing Mont Ventoux and in-race audio from the actual 2000 Tour de France, the unmissable Ventoux restages the momentous race unlike you have ever seen before.

Speaking of the physical challenges in the production, Tom Barnes, one of the actors starring in Ventoux, said:

“The Tour de France is physically and mentally demanding, and we’ve translated that mentality into Ventoux. The show is the same length as it took Pantani and Armstrong to ascend Mont Ventoux in 2000, and is testing of us as the performers. The show includes the tough training regimes it takes to become a professional cyclist, so the front rows might see or smell the sweat. It’s physically demanding beyond most productions you will have seen before.”

“The tour for us has been brilliant so far. It started the same day as the Tour de Yorkshire finished in Scarborough and ends on the last day of the Tour de France. In a way this is like our very own Tour de France. It’s great seeing new audiences coming for the love of cycling.”

“But that is also an important aspect of what our production is about. Yes, both men fell victim to doping scandals, one even losing his life to substance abuse, but both were incredibly focused and determined to succeed – pushing their bodies to their limits.”

The Mont Ventoux stage of the 2000 Tour de France was once regarded as one of the greatest races the cycling community had ever witnessed. Pantani, winner of the 1998 Tour de France, and Armstrong, winner in 1999, were neck-and-neck against each other as nail-biting spectators the world over watched on, unaware that both athletes were leading a drug-fuelled charge toward the finish line.

The MAC will host two showings of Ventoux on June 9th and 10th.  Online tickets are sold out but a limited number of restricted view seats will be available on the door each night.

To complement the show, the MAC’s Book Club on June 9th will be cycling inspired. The latest read, over a glass of wine, is Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong by David Walsh, the Sunday Times journalist who was one of a small group during Lance Armstrong’s so-called ‘Tour of Renewal’, prepared to raise awkward questions about his seemingly superhuman feats.

For more information on Ventoux or the MAC Book Club, visit or contact the box office on 028 9023 5053.

NI’s Only Mainland Puffin Colony Arrive at  The Gobbins for the New Season

NI’s Only Mainland Puffin Colony Arrive at The Gobbins for the New Season

A dash of vibrant colour has returned to the shores of Northern Ireland recently and we’re not referring to the brief, yet welcomed, outbreaks of sunshine and warmth we have been experiencing. The Gobbins, a dramatic cliff path walk located on the magnificent Causeway Coastal Route in Islandmagee, is home to Northern Ireland’s only mainland colony of Puffins.

Receiving a welcomed return to our shores for breeding season, the brightly-coloured bird colony dig burrows into the Islandmagee cliffs to lay their eggs and are expected to stay put until mid-August.

These delightful little birds, which are slightly smaller than a pigeon, are some of the hardiest birds that breed on our shores.  Fledging the nest between 38-45 days after being abandoned by their parents, the chicks have to take a leap of faith from their nests burrowed high into the cliff face and into the sea below.

After this momentous leap in their young lives, the chicks then disperse throughout the North Sea and Eastern Atlantic; some may even reach the Grand Banks located off Newfoundland or the Mediterranean. Here they will remain for 4-5 years to mature before returning to The Gobbins to take their place in the approximately 60-strong colony.

The Gobbins is the only attraction in mainland Northern Ireland where visitors flock to avail of this unique opportunity and catch a glimpse of the dazzling Puffin which typically nests in burrows on offshore islands or the crevices of out-of-sight coastal cliffs.

Speaking of the Puffins’ highly anticipated return, George McGrand, resident Tour Guide at The Gobbins, said:

“It’s tremendous to once again have the wonderfully coloured Puffins return to The Gobbins cliff path after such a long winter wait. The first Puffin to return was sighted on April 15th which was right on the expected arrival date. It’s now June and we are delighted to see that the full colony has now returned. Now we wait patiently with bated breath to catch a glimpse of the first chicks of the breeding season which are expected later this month.”

A location immersed with rich biodiversity, The Gobbins is an area of special scientific interest attracting many breeding sea birds for its high cliffs, abundance of concealed ledges perched safely above rising tides and bounteous population of fish for feeding.

To celebrate biodiversity of The Gobbins, in particular, the vibrant colony of Puffins that make the return journey to the site year after year, The Gobbins’ Visitor Centre will soon be introducing its latest team member, and playful mascot, Paddy the Puffin. Along with the resident team, Paddy the Puffin will be on hand to ensure visitors to the unique tourist attraction have a memorable, and educational, experience.

For more information on the biodiversity of The Gobbins or to book a tour, contact the Visitor Centre on 028 9337 2318 or visit



Hollah Preserving offers a growing selection of tantalisingly peculiar condiments toying with the taste buds of Northern Ireland. It is the entrepreneurial spark of Paula Latuske and Trudy Hodkinson, two stay at home mum from Moira, County Down, and is one of only 20 companies in Northern Ireland to be accepted onto Invest NI’s growth and export initiative, the Propel Programme.

Taking a hiatus from the hustle and bustle of corporate life to focus on their young, growing families, the women were keen to make their triumphant return to employment – but on their own terms.

The two neighbours channelled their energies, and newly found free time, into developing a recognisable and relatable brand of chutneys, relishes and sauces to market in their local area.

Initially setting up shop in their kitchens, the duo was quickly met by high demand for their range of quirky condiments, all containing Hollah Preserving’s signature chilli kick.

In October 2014 Hollah Preserving Limited officially opened for business and to date have secured in excess of 70 retail stockists, over 20 bars, restaurants and cafes, and established crucial distribution channels with Henderson’s Foodservice and Musgrave NI, where the Hollah range will be available through Supervalu stores. The businesswomen have since expanded the production of their range with the help of a local manufacturer.

Speaking of the business’ humble beginnings, Paula Latuske, Hollah Preserving Co-founder, said:

“It’s strange to think it all began one morning as myself and Trudy waved goodbye to our girls as they were heading to school. We then had some free time and we both wanted to get back into meaningful employment. We had a passion for exploring new tastes and decided to channel this into making our own homemade range of condiments. Hollah Preserving has grown year on year ever since.”

Hollah Preserving’s inventive product range includes ‘Bucky BBQ Sauce’, a sauce infused with Buckfast Tonic Wine, ‘Chilli Strawberry & Prosecco’ and ‘Vodka & Cranberry’ chutney.

Trudy Hodkinson, Hollah Preserving Co-founder and neighbour to business partner Paula, added:

“Being accepted onto the Invest NI Propel Programme is a huge boost for us. The £20K investment, ten months of dedicated mentoring and business support will help us increase exports of the Hollah range. To coincide NI’s Year of Food and Drink we have been collaborating with other local businesses, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and have recently begun supplying Fortnum and Mason in London.”

Run by Invest NI, Propel is a programme for those entrepreneurs who have the greatest potential to start up and scale an export focused company, that is innovative and has the potential to become a significant exporter and employer.

The businesswomen have since been accepted on to Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council’s Food & Drink Programme. Developed with business growth in mind, the programme provides eligible businesses based in the Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council areas with tailored mentoring and business support from a dedicated team within the food and drink sector.

For more information on the Hollah Preserving product range, visit




The newly opened Beef and Bird, located at the Lisburn Leisure Park, is looking to enlist the help of Lisburn’s budding young artists, to help design novel artwork for its new signature cow and chicken life-size sculptures. The sculptures, which are currently blank canvases, will take up pride of place outside the restaurant’s front window where they will remain on display for all to marvel at.

Open to all children under the age of 11, the two winning designs will not only have their submitted drawings professionally transferred on to the Beef and Bird sculptures but will also have a celebratory plaque bearing their name installed, plus win a Beef and Bird party for themselves and up to nine friends. The second place runners-up will receive a jam-packed Beef and Bird goody bag and third place runners-up will walk away with a Beef and Bird T-shirt and baseball cap.

Appealing to young artists in the making from the local area, Bronagh Campbell, owner of Beef and Bird, said:

“If you look at the interior of Beef and Bird you’ll quickly see that we created a space that allowed us to express ourselves in creative ways; from our scrabble boards and play areas to quirky fixtures. There was no set formula; we want to work and eat in a space that inspires.”

“Our sculptures will eventually become integral pieces to the entire feel of the restaurant. We hope to receive wacky, vibrant and downright fun submissions to be professionally transferred onto the sculptures.

“We can’t wait to see who the winners are and what new funky designs our cow and chicken will be rocking.”

To enter simply collect an entry form and colouring-in stencil from the Beef and Bird restaurant, Lisburn Leisure Park, or download a copy from the restaurant’s website and submit by post or in-store before Wednesday 15th June.

For more information on the Beef and Bird Children’s Colouring Competition or to make a reservation, visit or call 028 9260 7306.