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Heritage skills brought back to life through Belfast 2024 programme

Date: 07 May 2024

Boatbuilder Niamh Scullion, Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Ryan Murphy, and Dr Paul Mullan, from The Heritage Lottery Fund, with the St Ayles skiff, which is under construction.

Boat building, gardening and sewing are among the traditional skills being brought back to life through Belfast’s City Council’s Belfast 2024 programme.

The celebration of culture and creativity is now well underway across the city, with projects, events and workshops encouraging people to get creative and try their hand at something new this year.

Among them are ten projects celebrating Belfast’s built, cultural, industrial, maritime, natural and intangible heritage, with additional funding of £250,000 provided from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

One of them – Water Works - will see 10,000 boats setting sail down the River Lagan on Saturday 3 August, most of which will be created by residents and school pupils through workshops and events led by arts organisation PS2.

The corso will celebrate the role of waterways in and around Belfast and feature several larger boats, including a St Ayles skiff – a wooden boat crewed by five people – which is currently under construction at Vault Artist Studios, located inside the old Shankill Mission building.

Led by writer and boatbuilder Niamh Scullion, almost 90 people have signed up so far to help build the skiff, which will be 22 foot long and almost 6 foot wide when completed.

Volunteers have been busy putting together the boat’s spruce frame and plywood moulds and shaping the stem, hog and rib skeleton of the skiff from larch – a complex process which follows traditional techniques.

"Boat building is something people get very passionate about," explained Niamh, who is also a founding member of the Lagan Currachs. "It's a chance for us to step outside of our daily routine and a rare opportunity to do something we'll be able to remember and tell stories about for years to come.

“It's great to be able to go through this boat building process with such an enthusiastic crew of volunteers, learning new woodworking skills from each other every day, as well as dozens of skiff groups across Northern Ireland and Scotland who have followed the process before us. There's a lovely feeling of achieving something beautiful together, and a growing excitement that, later this summer, we'll be able to row down the Lagan and out to the open sea!”

Visiting the construction work, Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Ryan Murphy, said Water Works was a great example of how the Belfast 2024 programme was encouraging more people to discover the benefits of creativity.

“PS2and the boat building crews are creating something really special here, bringing back older skills to inspire us to make better use of our waterfront location and consider the role of rivers and waterways to Belfast’s development,” he said.

“They’re also building new friendships, improving their mental health and showing the value that arts and culture can bring to our lives – key goals of why we have invested in our Belfast 2024 programme. I look forward to seeing the boat in action on the Lagan later this summer and encourage anyone who wants to get involved to call into the group’s new drop-in space in CastleCourt and come try their hand at mini boat building, making sails and lots of other free activities.”

Dr Paul Mullan, Northern Ireland Director from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “We are pleased to support ten exciting Belfast 2024 ‘Our Future Heritage’ projects which are using £250,000 of heritage funding made possible by National Lottery players to explore Belfast’s heritage.

“Together, cultural organisations, artists and community groups are providing opportunities for people to engage with the city’s built, cultural, industrial, maritime, natural and intangible heritage. The exciting projects are uncovering forgotten or overlooked sites and stories, sharing skills and bringing people together.”

Other heritage projects now underway through the Belfast 2024 programme include The Hearth, a film about Belfast made by the people of Belfast, with the deadline for submissions fast approaching on Friday 31 May.

Roots, a vibrant community garden which mixes planting with dance and storytelling, is hosting the Big Spring Dig on Saturday 25 and Sunday 26 May, with volunteers from the Black Mountain area welcome to join forces to dig, plant and move.

Sound Links, a unique collaboration between the Ulster Orchestra, Townsend Enterprise Park and Zeppo Arts, will celebrate the history and stories of Townsend Street with a special event on International Day of Peace on 21 September, with their deadline for stories and memories tomorrow (Wednesday 8 May).

Show Some Love Green House, a collaborative space for learning, with a focus on creativity and sustainability, is now open at 171-175 Victoria Street in Belfast city centre, with a programme of inclusive community workshops and events planned for throughout the year, including repurposing and upcycling old clothes and other items.

Safari in the City – led by Wild Belfast – has been encouraging residents to engage with nature on their doorstep through events and workshops, while 9ft in Common are inviting people to explore the potential of over 200km of alleyways across the city.

Later this summer, Shadowdock will invite visitors to experience the iconic Thompson Dock where Titanic was launched, through an immersive display of light, colour, shadow and sound, led by Studio Sykes and Three’s Theatre Company.

In October, North Star will host a musical celebration of black culture in the city, developed with schools across the north of the city, while Are You on the Bus? will look at the development of the city’s LGBTQIA+ community, in partnership with Outburst Arts and Kabosh Theatre Company.

For more details of what’s on as part of Belfast 2024 and how to get involved in projects taking place, visit

You can also follow @Belfast2024 on Instagram and Facebook.

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