There is a growing sense of optimism among Derry City fans after Declan Devine’s return to the Brandywell hot seat yielded a fourth place League of Ireland Premier Division finish last month and with it European football for 2020.

The club were at one of their lowest ever ebbs when the former goalkeeper returned for a second spell in charge at the end of the 2018 season having narrowly avoided relegation with an eighth place finish in the ten team league.

With a limited budget, the persuasive Creggan man made some shrewd pre-season signings including UCD midfielder Greg Slockett and the return of Ramelton man Barry McNamee.

They were expected to struggle though following Aaron McEneff’s switch to Shamrock Rovers and the departure of long term custodian and club captain Gerard Doherty.

The new look side rallied however and, playing a high tempo brand of possession football, they got their fight back, conceding just 34 goals in 36 games and netting 56 with striker Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe bagging 34 goals in 34 games.

The lure of bigger wages from clubs south of the border, and indeed the Irish League, means it has been a losing battle to keep the best local players at the club and it is hard to see them challenging for a league title until they can offer local talent a competitive remuneration.

Last month’s FAI Cup Final between Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk was a case in point where North West players McEneff, Danny Lafferty, Michael Duffy and Georgie Kelly all had pivitol roles.

What City can offer however is a proven gateway for younger players to move to full time football in England and Scotland and the chance to emulate the likes of James McClean, Stephen McLaughlin and Ronan Curtis.

With participation numbers strong in the Youth Leagues of Derry and Donegal and Devine’s experience in nurturing emerging young talent, a higher league position and a group stage win in Europe is within their grasp in 2020.

We’ve made a list (and checked it twice) of some of the finest things to enjoy in Derry and Strabane this festive season. Whether you’re returning from overseas or based here, we’ve got Christmas wrapped up for you.

To buy

Made Here – You’ll find beautiful creations from some of the district’s most innovative designers in Made Here on Shipquay Street, Derry-Londonderry, including In Chlomo, from Strabane’s Chloe McColgan.

Velveteen Handmade – Rachel Kelly’s beautiful embroideries – from storybook-inspired pictures to appliqued cotton purses – make excellent Christmas gifts. View her pieces at the Craft Village’s Walled City Crafters.

Little Acorns Bookstore – Jenni Doherty’s independent book shop in Derry-Londonderry’s Society Street is a treasure trove of new and old books. You’ll also find local arts and crafts, literary gifts and must-have Derry Girls mugs.

To eat

With Love Recipes – Overindulged this festive season? Strabane woman Sharron McCormick’s range of guilt-free desserts, sauces and more are a delicious, healthier way to continue the celebrations.

Dart Mountain Cheese – Julie and Kevin Hickey’s award-winning range of artisan cheeses are handcrafted in the Sperrins and include the Banagher Bold local ale washed cheese and the creamy, flavoursome Sperrin Blue.

Grainola Goddess granola – Made using upcycled spent grain from the Walled City Brewery, Grainola Goddess’ delectable range includes Bountiful Berry (with dried cranberries, apricots and cherries), Scrumptious Spice, and Gorgeous Gluten Free.

Ukulele Chocolate – This Derry-based chocolate, from husband and wife team Donal and Sinead, is organic, melt-in-the-mouth, and oh so moreish. Even better, it’s made from sustainable, planet-friendly ingredients. Guilt-free chocolate… What’s not to love?

To drink

Foyster – This creamy new oyster stout showcases our native, sought after, Lough Foyle Irish Flat Oyster. A collaboration between the LegenDerry Food and Drink Network’s Walled City Brewery and Sippy Fest, it uses leftover oyster shells to make a delicious, old-style stout with a hint of saltiness.

Quiet Man Irish Whiskey – This award-winning, Derry-Londonderry based craft whiskey is expertly distilled in small batches and the ideal tipple to relax with on a cold winter’s night.

Rough Brothers – This handmade beer is brewed in Derry-Londonderry and the product range includes pale ale and red ale. You can also try its specially created Mekong Street Beer at Mekong Street Food (and a Beer 57, for Pyke ‘N’ Pommes, is also in the pipeline).

To do

Christmas Winterland Markets – Soak up the atmosphere, meet artisan traders selling local arts and crafts, taste seasonal delights and relax over a mulled wine at these markets in Derry-Londonderry’s Guildhall Square. Dec 12th to Dec 15th.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs pantomime – Enjoy the classic fairytale with some modern local twists – and plenty of gags for the grown-ups – at the Millennium Forum from December 4th to 29th.

The Snowman and Other Christmas favourites – Join the Allegri choirs and the recently formed Orchestra North West symphony orchestra as they present The Snowman and a host of Christmas classics. The Guildhall, December 15th.

Far and Wild Adventures – Treat yourself or an adventurous loved one to a moonlight kayak tour, archery, a foodie cycling tour, boom board adventure or urban mountain biking with Derry-Londonderry’s Far and Wild Adventures. Gift vouchers are also available.

Christmas Day dips – Feeling brave? Why not unpeel yourself from the sofa (and get out of Christmas dinner duties) and take part in one of the Christmas Day charity swims taking place on beaches around the North West.

A Women in Tech-themed event and startup pitching competition have been announced as part of the upcoming Derry-Strabane Enterprise Week 2020.

The 5th March event, hosted by leading startup community and platform Startacus, will focus on the wider themes of diversity and inclusion, and aims to inspire and motivate attendees through discussions, key-note speakers, workshops, a women in tech startup pitch competition and an evening social and networking event.

The pitch competition will invite shortlisted female-led tech startups from across Ireland to the stage to pitch their businesses to a panel of industry leaders and enterprise experts. The overall winner will be announced at the evening social event and the winning startup will receive a prize package.

Alastair Cameron, Startacus co-founder, said: “As well as inspiring and empowering attendees, we see this as a great opportunity to showcase innovative startups in the local area, bring standout keynote speakers to the city, and in turn encourage more people to embark on their own entrepreneurial journeys.”

Enterprise Week 2020 runs from 2nd March to 6th March. For full programme details, go to www.derrystrabane.com/enterpriseweek

If you are interested in getting involved or sponsoring the Women in Tech event, please contact Alastair@startacus.net

The North West region’s unique strategic cross-border location and pipeline of talent were the key messages to potential US investors during a recent trade mission to Philadelphia and Boston.

A number of focused engagements with industry specialists, foreign direct investment executives and venture capitalists took place during the weeklong Ireland North West trade and investment mission, led jointly by Derry City and Strabane District Council and Donegal County Council to showcase the northwest city region’s compelling investment proposition.

Potential investors heard how they could take advantage of the unique combination of benefits the region has to offer, including an accessible, connected and business-friendly gateway region (with a foothold in both EU and UK markets) and a compelling vision for greater international impact, a talented and educated workforce, superb quality of life and a supportive business environment.

The delegation also met with the Mayors of Philadelphia and Boston who outlined their commitment and support for the work being done by the two Councils.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh spoke about his ties with the North West and outlined his commitment to build on the positive work being done to promote strong communities and shared prosperity, while Philadelphia Mayor Senator Jim Kenney vowed to continue to work to celebrate our connections and build on the existing relationship.

The delegation included Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council Cllr Michaela Boyle, An Cathaoirleach of Donegal County Council Cllr Nicholas Crossan, and local businesses from a range of sectors who met with potential clients and business partners.

The trade and investment mission also involved engagement with educational institutions from across the region, and saw the launch of a research project with Harvard Graduate School of Design, exploring how the cross-border northwest city region could be shaped in light of the economic, political and social realities of Brexit.

For more information on the trade mission visit www.irelandNW.com

A sculpture in tribute to Ireland’s largest youth-led peace event has been launched in Ebrington Square, featuring peace pledges by pupils from more than 400 schools.

The Amazing the Space Peace Pledge Tree, a seven-metre high sculpture by local artist Maurice Harron, has leaves containing pledges penned by students across Northern Ireland and the border counties of the Republic of Ireland.

The tree sculpture was designed to be a permanent reminder of the work of young people involved in peacebuilding charity Co-operation Ireland’s Amazing the Space project.

The project, which launched in 2016, came from an idea by Rev Dr David Latimer. The Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry, attended the event in 2017 and 2018, when participating schools reunited to reaffirm their pledges and share their peace building experiences.

The tree sculpture in Ebrington Square, funded by The Executive Office, was launched by the Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, David Sterling, in association with the Amazing the Space programme and the local Pathway to Peace initiative, headed up by Rev Latimer.

North West Regional College (NWRC) has secured a huge €1.6 million of Erasmus+ funding, giving staff and students opportunities to study and work across Europe during the next 24 months.

The funding will be used for staff and students from many of the college’s curriculum areas to travel to partner countries including Germany, Norway, Sweden, Finland, France, Italy and even Reunion Island, and undertake training and development programmes designed around specific curriculum, entrepreneurship, leadership, innovation and creativity.

Staff will also participate in strategic partnership projects collaborating on innovative practices for vocational training and education with a number of key European partners.

Bronagh Fikri, NWRC European and International Projects Officer, said the college was also pleased to announce its success in obtaining the Erasmus+ VET Mobility Charter. Currently held by just 14 organisations in the UK, the charter is awarded to organisations with a track record in organising and delivering high-quality mobility projects.

The €1.6 funding boost was revealed at a special event celebrating the success of the college’s Erasmus+ training mobilities and collaborations across European networks in 2018/2019.

During the event, students who have taken part in a range of different mobilities across the world received awards recognising their various achievements.

A local delegation of commercial, educational and local government leaders have attended a seminar in London to discuss the factors shaping business growth as we enter 2020.

The event, hosted by the Mayor of London’s official promotional agency, London & Partners, brought together leaders in financial and professional services and technology to debate how innovation is reshaping the business environment.

Attendees heard from a panel of specialist industry speakers including Danny Corrigan, CEO, ED&F Man Capital Markets CEEMA Ltd Cyprus, John Healy, MD, Allstate NI, and Brendan Bradley, Co-founder, Seismic Foundry.

They addressed a range of business challenges including Future Technologies and Skills, and the Global View, considering the impact of new megatrends in technology and data.

The event is the latest in a series of networking opportunities reflecting the close local links with the City of London.

Chief Executive of Derry City and Strabane District Council, John Kelpie, headed up the delegation and said he was confident this close collaboration would continue for years to come.

He added: “We want to get across the message that the NW City Region is open for business with an exceptional offering of skills and talent that is second to none.”

The event pre-empted a special visit to Derry by a group from the City of London, led by newly vested Lord Mayor of the City of London, Alderman William Russell.

Philadelphia native Emily McCorkell moved to Derry in 2005. After marrying a local man, relocating to Dublin, and having two children, the family were left devastated when a sudden illness struck her husband. They returned to Derry to rebuild their lives and Emily, inspired by flavours from home, began developing her own hot sauce. Lo & Slo launched in 2018 and in addition to its award-winning Barbecue Sauce and Vinegar Mop, now produces delicious dry rubs and hot street food. You can try Lo & Slo, a member of the LegenDerry Food and Drink Network, for yourself at the Christmas Winterland Market in Derry’s Guildhall Square from December 12th to 15th.

You created Lo & Slo sauces during a very difficult time for you and your family. What were those early days like?

I was stress cooking and force-feeding people! I had a lot of insomnia and I was either baking or cooking or making sauces – anything with food – to take the chaos of our lives and bring a sense of peace and control. My brother visited from the States and saw there was a gap in the market here for an American doing BBQ. With investment help from him, I was able to take it to the Foodovation Centre (in Derry’s North West Regional College), and buy packaging and ingredients. I also got lots of advice at council events and would go and speak to different chefs and butchers with my notebook. I don’t have a business background, so it’s been such a learning curve.

How did it feel to see the finished product for the first time?

It was very, very surreal. Especially because we came out of such a tumultuous time for the family. To see something tangible I could hold, it felt like the key to our future. But it was also really scary. When we took the sauces to last year’s Slow Food Festival, it was incredible. My favourite memory was watching people’s faces as they tasted them. These were strangers who believed in me, my sauce and my business.

How has the business grown since then?

We now have a production unit, rubs and a seasoning blend (with local dulse seaweed). And we’ve moved into hot food catering – I opened up Gumtree one day and stumbled across a food truck for sale locally, all kitted out, so we bought it. After making some small changes, we took it to the LegenDerry Street Food Festival this July. I couldn’t have anticipated how well we did there. I’m also looking into exporting the sauces.

Tell us about the LegenDerry Food and Drink Network?

It’s fabulous. It links up producers of food and drink, chefs, people in hospitality, and tourism. It’s also championing something unique in our city, the Lough Foyle Irish Flat Oyster. It’s about how the food network will benefit the city, and when the city does well, businesses do well.

How has Derry changed since you moved here 14 years ago?

My dad is from New York and I grew up in Philadelphia. In Derry, everything closed at 5pm and I didn’t know how people got anything done! Things have changed now. The only evening option then was to go out drinking, but now there are things like late night coffee shops and more exercise clubs. And there’s so much great food now; there’s an inverse diaspora where local people like Stephen Forbes (from Mekong Street Food) have come back with flavours from their travels. And there are places like La Tia Juana’s, and 2 North, where people who’ve made Derry their home are sharing cuisine from their own countries.

What are your go-to places for food here?

My dad knew all the alleyways to go down for really good Chinese food in New York, so whenever I get stressed or tired, those are the flavours I crave and I go to Mekong Street Food. The Walled City Brewery does probably the best pork burger I’ve ever had. Sean Harrigan at the Sooty Olive is doing really cool things, and 9ine Hostages on Waterloo Street does really good coffee – I like their pour-over coffee. And I love Doherty’s stew with special mince. I don’t try and make it myself, they do it so well.

What was Christmas like growing up in Philadelphia?

It was really normal to get at least two feet of snow. We would have cleared the snow from the grill outside and just cooked on it. It was cold but it was fun. We didn’t have lots of traditions so my memories are different from every year, but my mom always made cookies. When I moved here, she used to send me parcels full of different cookies.

What are your plans this Christmas?

We’re spending it here. We’ll have the Christmas boxes with pyjamas, and hot chocolate the night before. On Christmas Day we’re cooking dinner and bringing it over to my in-laws – I’m making some special stuffing with cranberries, chestnuts and orange zest but otherwise it will be the traditional Christmas dinner.

What would you say to someone thinking of moving to Derry?

Pack warm clothes! No, I think if anybody has moved away, I would definitely encourage them to give it a second chance. The warmth of the people has stayed the same, but the place has changed so much.

Fashion fans flocked to the Guildhall on Saturday evening where a cornucopia of couture awaited as the sell-out annual Fashion Fest show got underway.

The Main Hall of the historic building became an autumnal paradise, as the catwalk cascaded with colour in all the hues of the season. The show was a celebration of creativity, diversity and self-expression showcasing the work of both emerging and established designers.

The event was delivered by Derry City and Strabane District Council with support from Style Academy, who co-ordinated the stunning catwalk display.

Speaking after the event, Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District, Councillor Michaela Boyle said it had been a fantastic production. “I want to say well done to all involved in co-ordinating Fashion Fest this year. It was a delight to see the Guildhall being used for such a glamourous event, and the beautiful backdrop of the Main Hall. The talent on display was fantastic and our local designers are undoubtedly right at the cutting edge of the fashion industry.”

Business Support Officer with Council, Tara Nicholas, said the event had been a great success. “I want to thank everyone involved in the show for the delivery of such a spectacular and ambitious production. We had an array of talent on show here at the Guildhall – not just the designers and models who lit up our catwalk, but also the music and dance performers who helped create such an entertaining experience.

“This year there was a strong message about identity, inclusivity and how fashion is a form of self-expression that is accessible to everyone. We strive to support the local creative industries in terms of offering business advice and mentoring, as well as showcase opportunities such as Fashion Fest. The calibre of the talent here is exceptional and it’s fantastic to be able to see so many local designers coming together for one show.”

The audience enjoyed an evening of live music, song and fabulous fashion from a whole host of emerging and established designers, including Bridie Mullan, Paul Stafford, Una Rodden, Hope Macaulay and Alan Cresswell.

Other highlights included a showcase of eco-friendly fashion by Junk Kouture as some of the past winning designs took to the runway to inspire people to resurrect old materials and transform them into stunning ensembles and local dance company CREATE with a show stopping opening. 

The show closed with a magical collaboration with US label Badgley Mischka showcasing their luxury Bridal Collection which made for an epic finale.

Entertainment included performances by Irish Singer / Songwriter Racheal O’ Connor and Derry’s award winning DJ, Louise DaCosta, plus live sax accompaniment.

You can find out more about Fashion Fest at www.derrystrabane.com/fashionfest Follow us on Instagram @FashionFestDerry

Ann Marie McGlynn and Kenyan Gideon Kimosop have claimed the respective women’s and men’s titles in the 38th staging of the Waterside Half Marathon, as a record-breaking field of over 2,000 runners took on the challenge of the 13.1 mile course.

Strabane’s McGlynn recorded a record-breaking time of 76 minutes and 54 seconds as Jim Corbett claimed the wheelchair honours at the September event.

Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Councillor Michaela Boyle, started the race and was at the finish line at Ebrington Running Track to greet the runners as they finished.

“Congratulations to the thousands of runners who took part in the Waterside Half Marathon and in particular the category winners, where the competition was particularly stiff this year,” she said.

“It was heartening to see the runners encouraged around the course by the hundreds of spectators who lined the route, and it was clearly an emotional moment for many at the finish line. 

“Well done to the Festival and Events team at Council and City of Derry Spartans for hosting another smoothly co-ordinated event and good luck to all the runners as they continue their running journey and pursuing their personal goals.”       

Festival and Events Manager at Derry City and Strabane District Council, Jacqueline Whoriskey, thanked everyone who contributed to another successful event.

“A lot of work goes on behind the scenes to manage an event of this scale so I would like to thank all the volunteers who helped out as stewards and at water stations and, in particular, to Gerry Lynch and the City of Derry Spartans Club, without whose expertise this event wouldn’t be possible,” she added.

“We were delighted that more teams than ever took advantage of the relay option this year, it allows more people to enjoy the race day experience and I’m sure many relay runners will return in 2020 with some attempting the full distance.

“We are also proud that the event is one of the most environmentally friendly races ever hosted in the UK and Ireland through a number of eco-initiatives including paperless registrations and race instructions, smaller water bottles, more recycling bins and recyclable race pack bags.”