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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.



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.