The world’s top golfers are preparing for The 148th Open, which returns to Northern Ireland after 68 years.

Sports fans from around the globe are set to descend upon Royal Portrush in July to watch the greatest players compete for the iconic Claret Jug in golf’s oldest championship.

The event, which runs from July 14 to 21, is returning to the region after 68 years, making it only the second time The Open has been staged outside of Scotland and England.

The best players in the world will take on the Dunluce Links, a tough test of golf. Originally designed by Harry Colt, the course is routed through the rugged links land and constantly changes in both direction and elevation.

The Open was last staged at Royal Portrush in 1951, when Max Faulkner was crowned champion.

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The last few seasons at Derry City Football Club have been far from vintage, but there is a growing feeling around the recently renamed and refurbished Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium that the club is back moving in the right direction.

Last season’s 8th place finish in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division table and the subsequent departure of Manager Kenny Shiels left the Candy Stripes at their lowest ebb since 2009, when they went into financial administration and were relegated to the First Division.

Devine returns

With the vast majority of the 2018 playing staff out of contract and a limited budget, Declan Devine returned to the club for a second spell in the hot seat and took on the unenviable task of rebuilding the squad virtually from scratch.

Despite some shrewd signings, the majority of the 2019 first team playing panel are players elevated from the club’s youth set-up and the expectation of most supporters when the League of Ireland season kicked off in February was that the club would be doing well to avoid relegation.

While the results from their opening six games have been mixed with two wins, two draws and two losses, there is a confidence and excitement around the club again that has been sorely missing in recent seasons.

New formation

The team look to have their swagger back with Devine deploying a 4-2-3-1 formation that encourages his midfield players to push forward and be creative, perhaps most notably in their 3-0 opening night win over UCD at the Brandywell.

Their two defeats to date have come against Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers, the top two sides in the league whose spending power has lured local talent such as Patrick McEleney, Michael Duffy and Aaron McEneff away from the Brandywell.

Perhaps most crucially, they have conceded just seven goals in their seven games played to date, which compares particularly favourably with the 70 they let in in 36 league games last season.

Refurbished stadium

Despite the significantly improved match day experience at the newly refurbished stadium, attendances last season were at an all-time low, but there has been a marked increase in the crowds and fans appear to be buying into what the new manager is trying to achieve.

There will surely be highs and lows this season, but with a marked increase in the number of local players in a first team squad who are playing attractive football for a management team made up of former players, Derry City seem to have rediscovered their identity and the feel-good factor has returned to the Brandywell.

Northern Ireland’s biggest and best Jazz Festival returns this May Bank Holiday weekend, with a headliner performance from Tainted Love singer Marc Almond.

More than 70,000 revellers are expected to descend on the city for the annual celebration, which is now in its 18th year.

Jazz and big band artists from all over the world will perform at the event, which runs from May 2 to 6, including Kitty LaRoar, Mr Wilson’s Second Liners, Jumpin Up!, Jive Aces and Kaz Hawkins.

Former Soft Cell frontman Marc Almond will perform in the Millennium Forum on May 3, while visitors can also avail of Jazz Master Classes with respected musicians and Jazz Hubs at the Playhouse, Bennigans and the Great Hall at Magee.

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Derry’s city centre was a blaze of colour as the city’s biggest ever St Patrick’s Day Parade filled Shipquay Street with a vibrant display celebrating youth and culture.

Over ten thousand people lined the streets despite the windy conditions, as over 700 performers from community, arts and sporting groups brought the magical story of Tír na nÓg to life.

The parade, which is delivered by the North West Carnival Initiative with support from Council, was the highlight of a weekend of multi-cultural events taking place across Derry and Strabane, with a whole host of family friendly activities and animation.

Leading off the parade the Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Councillor John Boyle, said he was delighted to see so many people enjoying the festival. 

“It’s fantastic to see so many local groups taking part in the festivities today. 

“It really is a massive community effort and a great cultural event for the City that showcases our creative talent and community spirit. 

“I’m delighted to see so many people flocking to the city centre to support the event that will benefit local businesses and enhance our profile as a cultural hub.

“Over the weekend we have celebrated cultures and traditions from around the world, and embraced the rich tapestry of ethnicity that makes our City and District such an inclusive and welcoming place. 

A high-level delegation of senior UK diplomats visited Londonderry in Feb as part of a two day visit to gain a wider understanding of the political structures, strengths, and unique offer of Northern Ireland. The visit was an opportunity to engage local interests and discuss how the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with other partners, is delivering support internationally for all parts of the UK, including Northern Ireland. During their visit, the group met with the Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council Councillor John Boyle and senior officers of council where they were given an overview of the council’s Strategic Inclusive Growth Plan and the work the council is doing to secure national growth in the city region. Mayor John Boyle said the meeting was very positive in identifying opportunities the Foreign and Commonwealth Office can help to represent the city and district’s interests abroad and to assist in helping the city region achieve its ambition.

Visting Heads of Mission Discuss Derry City and Strabane Growth Plans

He said it was an excellent opportunity for the council and its stakeholders to engage directly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to discuss common interests in terms of business, trade and investment and education opportunities. The delegation also met with representatives from Invest NI before they travelled to Seagate Technology and the Ulster University. The delegation participated in a walking tour of the Historic City Walls before sampling a range of the finest local food and drink produce a food and drink tasting event at the Bishop’s Gate Hotel that was hosted by Invest NI, before an evening reception hosted by the Mayor. Speaking after the visit the Mayor extended his thanks to the delegation saying it was hugely significant in forging links with the FCO and in sharing information that will help the region with its current business and education challenges.

He said: “This visit by the UK senior diplomats was a very important visit for the city and wider region. It was a great opportunity for us to showcase our city and the really positive work we are doing through our Strategic Growth Plan to attract investment, invest in research and education and improve our health and wellbeing. We were able to show the benefits of strategic partnership working between council, the Ulster University and Seagate and welcome the commitment of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in representing the interests of Northern Ireland Internationally.”

The Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District, Councillor John Boyle, this week welcomed the Chinese Consul General to the city for a colourful celebration of the Chinese New Year.

A series of events took place at venues across Derry showcasing elements of traditional Chinese culture including a Chinese dragon dance performance, music and cuisine, led by the Sai Pak Community Association.

The events concluded with a special celebration of the New Year in the Guildhall hosted by the Mayor and the local Chinese Community.

This was the first visit to the city by the newly appointed Consul General Zhang Meifang, who took up her role in December.

Welcoming Madame Zhang to the City, Mayor Boyle said the Chinese New Year festivities presented an opportunity to celebrate the developing relationship between N. Ireland and China and engage with our local Chinese community and students.

“I was honoured to be invited to visit China myself in October as part of a NI delegation visit to Dalian City for the UK-China Regional Leaders Summit, and to have the opportunity to learn more about the wonderful culture of the country,” he said. “As a region we have many shared interests with China, particularly in terms of tourism, business, technology and education, which has resulted in a Friendly Co-operative City Agreement which Council signed last year to formally acknowledge this strong working relationship.

“Links with the East are hugely important in assisting us expand our business, tourism and education connections, in tandem with the ongoing work to develop partnerships in the US. These international networks will be pivotal in raising the profile of the region in keeping with the ambitions set out in our Strategic Growth Plan, and encourage foreign direct investment interest in our vibrant and dynamic region.”

During the visit the Mayor held a private meeting with the Consul General before Madame Zhang and the group also enjoyed a tour of the city’s historic Walls before the traditional New Year celebrations took place in the Guildhall.

Speaking after the event, Head of Business with Derry and Strabane District Council, Kevin O’Connor said: “It was an honour that Madame Zhang joined us here in the city for the New Year celebrations. It was also an opportunity for us to discuss the ongoing collaborations with Dalian City which we expect to yield new opportunities for trade and investment as well as developing global business and education connections.

“China’s foreign policy programme potentially offers areas of real benefit to Northern Ireland organisations as it seeks to develop and strengthen relationships through economic and cultural partnerships.”

The Sai Pak Chinese Community Association helped organise events around the celebration, and welcoming the Consul General to the city, Nikki Linfung Yau from the group said: “We would like to thank the Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District, Councillor John Boyle, for hosting the Chinese New Year ​Dinner in the Guildhall and inviting our new  Consul General Zhang Meifang, and also the local Chinese Community to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

“As the collaboration with Dalian City continues we are delighted that we can showcase the Chinese Culture and Traditions in Derry City and Strabane District.”

A delegation from The Executive Office attended the celebration in the Guildhall and addressed the audience to express their support for the event and commend the local Chinese Community for their contribution to its success.

The event was funded under Council’s Good Relations Programme which is part funded by the Executive Office and delivered locally through Council’s Good Relations Team. 

Three local women who use video games to explore social issues including LGBT rights and racism have been named in a prestigious list of 50 New Radicals.

Derry-Londonderry-based company Kippie C.I.C. was founded by Katherine Rowlandson, Caroline Anderson and Justine Scoltock in 2016.

Katherine explained: ” While many people perceive video gaming as being negative or a waste of time, a few years ago my sister Caroline, my friend Justine and I started thinking about the possibilities of harnessing the positive storytelling power of gaming.

“We thought about how game design and the logical step-by-step nature of games – where specific actions have specific consequences – could be used as a tool to help people explore issues and events in their lives.”

The trio have now been named in the UK-wide list of 50 New Radicals compiled by the innovation foundation NESTA and The Observer, recognising individuals and organisations tackling societal issues in creative ways.

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A young print technician crowned Apprentice of the Year at the 2018 Irish Print Awards has urged women to apply for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) apprenticeship roles.

Lauren Harkin, who joined Derry-Londonderry’s Nuprint Technologies as an apprentice two years ago and now works as a pre-press technician, beat 74 of her peers to win the accolade.

“The print industry is developing very fast and becoming increasingly technologically advanced, so the future will require staff with a strong background in STEM subjects,” she said.

“While my male colleagues are great, it would be fantastic for all companies to engage with more women. I’m glad I work for a company which encourages me as a young woman in STEM.”

The Playtrail’s new ‘Tea in the Park’ initiative has been announced as a joint winner of this year’s £2k Social Enterprise Competition run by Derry City & Strabane District Council as part of Enterprise Week 2019.

£2,000 from the Council’s ‘Social Enterprise Innovation Seed Fund’ was up for grabs as budding social entrepreneurs from throughout the City & District pitched their creative ideas for innovative projects they want to see get off the ground.

Following the Social Enterprise Competition, £1k has now been awarded to ‘Tea in the Park’ and the ‘Strabane Community Project’ to help both groups set up a shop / kitchen and training facilities.

The Playtrail’s £1k prize will go towards retrofitting a traditional ‘Horsebox’ with tea & coffee-making facilities which will provide customer service training for a group of 15-20 young people with disabilities who will serve refreshments to visitors at the Pennyburn site.

Jennie Marshall from the Liberty Consortium, which delivers programmes for young people with disabilities at The Playtrail, said:  

“We’re delighted to have been awarded £1k from the ‘Social Enterprise Innovation Seed Fund’ which will make such a huge impact in terms of us being able to take this exciting project forward.

“Much of the work on the retrofitted ‘Horsebox’ will be carried out by young people with disabilities themselves in partnership with our Fab: Social Project. This will involve using laser cutters, vinyl cutters and 3D printers!

“This initiative will also provide up to 15-20 young people with the necessary training in customer service, Barista training and cash handling whilst providing a weekly work placement / volunteering opportunity. 

“The project will also address a gap in terms of us not currently having a shop available on The Playtrail site. Indeed, the new ‘Horsebox’ will ensure families will be able to avail of refreshments and enjoy a full day of outdoor play and activities.

“The ‘Tea in the Park’ initiative also aims to address the limited education and training programmes that are currently available for young people with disabilities.  Indeed, it will be great to see the project providing them with the opportunities to build their life skills – not only in terms of developing confidence and increasing their independence, but also helping them become more active members of society!”

Danielle McNally, Business Officer with Derry City & Strabane District Council and a member of the four-strong panel who judged the £2k Social Enterprise competition, said: “I was delighted to judge this year’s pitching competition and hear from the many groups and social entrepreneurs from across the Council area who are interested in developing their new project idea.

“Importantly, the ‘Social Enterprise Innovation Seed Fund’ is about rewarding and encouraging creativity, talent and innovative ideas within social enterprise.

“As part of this year’s prize package both ‘The Playtrail’ and ‘Strabane Community Project’ will not only secure £1k in financial support, but can also avail of business support services from the Council which will help them grow.

“Indeed, it’s great to see funding for the new ‘Tea in the Park’ initiative will not only help young people with disabilities gain meaningful work experience – but will also increase The Playtrail’s offering by providing refreshments to thousands of families who visit their wonderful facilities every year!”

Business Start-Up Challenge

Emma Kirwan, owner of Empire Clothing & Leotards, is celebrating today after being announced as the winner of this year’s £10k Business Start-Up Challenge.

Emma is a Wexford native and former gymnast who is based at the Inner City Trust’s Fashion & Textile Design Centre on Shipquay Street. Her successful business sells a range of leotards and fashionable sportswear with a 90’s streetwear edge – catering for gymnasts, dancers and performers often overlooked by other sports. 

Seven budding entrepreneurs from the Derry City & Strabane District Council area pitched their business ideas yesterday (Thursday 8th March) in the Foyle Theatre of North West Regional College’s Strand Road Campus in front of an audience and panel of judges made up of Martin Gallen (Banba Designs & Strabane Chamber of Commerce), Liam Nelis (Gravity Architecture), Deborah Lamberton (So27 skincare), Christine Graham (Senior Business Manager, Bank of Ireland) and Louise Breslin (Business Development Manager at Derry City & Strabane District Council).

This year’s ‘pitchathon’ was part of Enterprise Week 2019 – and the seven entrepreneurs who made it through to the ‘Dragon’s Den-style’ final all took home a prize ranging from £1,000 to £2,500.

Congratulating this year’s winner, Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Cllr John Boyle said:

“I would like to warmly congratulate Emma for making it through some very tough questioning from our local ‘dragons’ and coming out on top as the winner of this year’s £10k Business Start-Up Challenge!

“It is also really great to see that Emma’s business has gone from strength to strength following her involvement in Council’s ‘Designer Enterprise Programme’ and last year’s opportunity to showcase her collection at an exclusive exhibitor event in the lead up to London Fashion Week.

“I would also like to pay tribute to all seven finalists for their creative and innovative business ideas – and for clearly demonstrating the ability to create jobs and export their products into new markets to the benefit of our local economy.

“Now in its third year, the £10k Business Start-Up Challenge really is a fantastic competition which is continuing to inspire, encourage and develop a spirit of entrepreneurship and enterprise throughout the council area.”