Seamus Heaney HomePlace launches virtual arts programme

Like all arts venues across the country, the Seamus Heaney HomePlace was forced to close its doors when the Covid-19 lockdown measures were introduced in March,

Friday, 28th August 2020, 11:02 am

Developed by Mid Ulster District Council, Seamus Heaney HomePlace, which is based in Bellaghy, is a purpose-built arts and literary centre, which celebrates the life and work of the late poet and Nobel Laureate, Seamus Heaney, and contributes to his legacy.

As well as the Seamus Heaney exhibition, the centre welcomes numerous artists and musicians throughout the year to perform in the arts space. Sadly, many of this year’s live performances had to be cancelled. However, the centre recently reopened to allow visitors to enjoy the Seamus Heaney exhibition once again.

Despite the interruption to services, and unable to welcome people directly, Seamus Heaney HomePlace was determined to continue the connection with its audience. Taking an innovative leap, a new virtual arts programme called ‘Keeping Going’ was conceived. This series of readings and performances, named to recall Seamus Heaney’s poem dedicated his brother Hugh, highlighted a range of impressive writers and performers.

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Among the cream of home-grown talent featured was renowned author, Glenn Patterson, singer-songwriter Anthony Toner, award-winning poets Maureen Boyle and Stephen Sexton and the short story writer and playwright, Rosemary Jenkinson. ‘Keeping Going’ proved a resounding success for HomePlace, by receiving numerous positive reviews and supportive comments on social media, gaining widespread media attention and the YouTube channel gaining over 800 new subscribers.

Addressing the active family and younger audience who engage with Seamus Heaney HomePlace a further novel approach was adopted. The Creative Learning Zone, normally housed in the upstairs area of the exhibition, was transformed via an online blog with weekly updates, downloadable PDFs and numerous engaging educational activities. This programme was similarly successful, generating social media engagement and glowing feedback, with children and families sharing their own poetry and artworks with HomePlace.

Despite managing to adapt its delivery both online and virtually, Seamus Heaney HomePlace was absolutely delighted to reopen its doors to the public on July 10. Being the first attraction within Mid Ulster District Council facilities to do so, Council Chair Cathal Mallaghan called the re-opening a ‘significant milestones’ in the Council’s plans for recovery, “These are significant milestones for us as an organisation, for our customers and staff, and for local businesses, particularly as the tourism and hospitality sector begins to emerge from lockdown,” said Mr Mallaghan. “Flagship visitor attractions, like Seamus Heaney HomePlace, have an important role to play in stimulating and supporting the wider tourism economy and so their re-openings represent a hugely positive step for Mid Ulster as a whole.”

During this period, some necessary Covid related changes were implemented to ensure a safe and welcoming environment for both visitors and staff. The entire facility now operates using a one-way system, with numerous sanitising stations positioned throughout the building, as well as increased cleaning regimes in place, all to protect customers and staff alike.

Since mid-July, Seamus Heaney HomePlace has continued to welcome the exceptionally positive reviews it received pre Covid 19. Indeed, in August 2020 HomePlace received the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Award 2020, awarded only to attractions that consistently earn great reviews and rank within the top 10% of properties in TripAdvisor. Everyone at HomePlace is extremely proud to achieve such a prestigious and respectable award, especially in such uncertain and turbulent times.

The next goal for Seamus Heaney HomePlace is once again hosting events in its theatre space ‘The Helicon’. While unsure as to when exactly this will be possible, HomePlace is determined to be at the forefront of reigniting live performances of the highest calibre, when safe to do so.