It’s great to be at the cinema, says Arlene Foster as she and Michelle O’Neill enjoy films with ‘silver screeners’
The red carpet was rolled out for First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill in east Belfast, as indoor attractions reopened for the first time this year.
Mrs Foster said it was “great to be at the cinema” as she arrived at the Strand Arts Centre, one of the oldest surviving cinemas in Northern Ireland.
Ms O’Neill was also upbeat as she arrived and took her turn on the red carpet, hailing a “positive and uplifting day” after months of tight restrictions in the effort to halt the spread of Covid-19.
Mrs Foster and Ms O’Neill joined a group of “silver screeners” enjoying some classic short films from the 1930s.
They are part of the centre’s Silver Screenings programme for older audiences.
They also met children taking part in an arts and crafts after-school workshop in another part of the centre.
Mrs Foster welcomed the return to “the important cultural and social experiences which bring joy back into all of our lives”.
“Our arts, entertainment and hospitality venues are all important meeting points for people and have been much missed over the last five months,” she said.
“The Strand is at the heart of community life in east Belfast.
“For almost a century people of all ages have come together to share their own stories or those on the big screen. It is just magical to see it open its doors today again.”
Ms O’Neill added: “This is such a positive and uplifting day as people are able to resume doing so much of what they have missed. The sense of optimism among the community is almost palpable.
“It has been wonderful to see services resuming at the Strand Arts Centre and it’s clear how much it means to those who are able to take part in activities here again.
“Young people and our older population have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic and it was so heartening to meet with both age groups here today as they look forward to better days.
“As people enjoy being able to come back together again, we urge everyone to stay as safe as possible so we can have more good days like this one.”
Strand Arts Centre chief executive Mimi Turtle described their art deco era building as the oldest cinema building in Northern Ireland.
She said since announcing their reopening they have been “overwhelmed by the response” from audiences of all ages saying they cannot wait to come back.