This weekend sees the start of the first Greater Shankill Winter Festival with a celebration of the Indian festival of Diwali. The inaugural three month festival will end with Burn’s night in January and take in the biggest ever celebration of Christmas on ‘the road’.
“Light Up the Road is the festival’s theme”, says Jackie Redpath, one of the organisers, “and given that we have Indian groups based in the Spectrum Centre we were delighted they offered to share the celebration of Diwali, the Indian festival of light, with the whole community”.
November will focus on a series of community acts of remembrance with a week-long nightly observance in Shankill Memorial Park, an evening of armistice memories and parades on Remembrance Sunday.
The Christmas season opens on December 1 with a lantern parade leading to the switch-on of the community Christmas tree lights.
“We knew we had hit on something special last year when upwards of 700 participants in the lantern parade passed through 7000 spectators to the tree lights switch-on,” said Beat Carnival’s David Boyd. “This year it will be bigger and better and we’re already running lantern making workshops across greater Shankill and beyond.”
“We’re delighted the whole community has come around this”, adds Steven Pollock of Greater Shankill Act Initiative, who have erected the Christmas tree over the past few years. “Last year someone said the night had the feel of our Notting Hill Carnival and that has inspired this winter festival.”
Two weeks of festivities will follow across greater Shankill with carol services, a Santa’s grotto, a Christmas show, winter wonderland roller skating and tea dances in the Spectrum Centre plus an elf trail in Woodvale Park. Packed between all this over the three months are theatre performances, exhibitions, lectures, debates and book launches.
“Our objective is to light up the Shankill over the dark winter months,” says organiser Nicola Verner. “We are sure that this inaugural festival will set the tone for many years to come and become a feature on the Belfast calendar, with the Shankill once again becoming the ‘go to’ place. We are grateful to our sponsors and funders, in particular the NIHE for enabling this to happen.”