Michelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)
Council turns down funding offer from Tourism NI for Enchanted Winter Garden event
Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council has turned down an offer of funding from Tourism NI.
An offer of £7,200 towards the council’s Enchanted Winter Garden event which is to be held at Antrim Castle Gardens in the run-up to Christmas has been refused.
A report presented to councillors at a meeting of the local authority on Monday evening explained that the council has been offered £7,200 in funding from the Tourism NI Events Sponsorship Scheme 2022/23.
The borough council had submitted an application for £30k.
Tourism NI has reportedly advised officers of “financial constraints facing the organisation and over-subscription to this specific funding programme”, councillors have been told.
A report to members stated:
“Given the commitment required if the offer of funding is accepted, it is proposed to decline this offer and instead work with Tourism NI on a range of cross-promotional initiatives for the borough without the constraints and commitments of a funding agreement which would place significant obligations upon the council for a limited return.”
However, the local authority has agreed to accept a proposal from Food NI to deliver the “Food to Go” element at the attraction to include a payment of £3,000 to the council. Food NI provided this service at this year’s Garden Show Ireland event which took place at the same venue in the spring.
Meanwhile, the council has agreed to an admission price freeze for Antrim and Newtownabbey residents to this year’s Enchanted Winter Garden event which will take place from November 26 until December 20.
Residents will be able to avail of the 2021 ticket price of £6 per adult, £4 per child and £18 per family of four by using their postcode when booking tickets.
Otherwise, ticket prices will rise to £7.50 per adult and £5 per child for visitors who live outside the borough.
Last year, the event attracted 118,748 visitors with almost 87 per cent travelling from outside the borough.
Selected residents will be invited to attend a “soft opening” event free of charge on November 25 in association with the community and voluntary sector across the borough that the council has been working with, particularly during the Covid pandemic.
Speaking at Monday evening’s meeting, Antrim Ulster Unionist Councillor Jim Montgomery said:
“It is good to see the price freeze for locals. It will be picked up by postcode when booking.”
He noted that Food NI has “played a constructive part” in the recent Garden Show Ireland event and would “add value and experience” to the Enchanted Winter Gardens.
Antrim DUP Councillor Paul Dunlop said that he is looking forward to this year’s event when there will be “new additional attractions within the gardens”.
Antrim SDLP Councillor Rosisin Lynch commented: “It will be an opportunity for local families to enjoy one of our flagship events. Local families will benefit from a fee freeze.
“A soft opening will help to meet the needs of more vulnerable children and families. I am delighted that the report includes the criteria that all additional attractions are able to be free of charge.”
This will apply during the “soft opening” event.
She continued: “It will be even more inclusive to reach out to families across the borough who may find it out of reach and unaffordable.
“I welcome this engagement with community and voluntary groups. It will afford some of those hard to reach folks who may not be attending an opportunity to join the fun.”
Threemilewater DUP Councillor Mark Cooper asked if sign interpreters would be available during the evenings of the event.
He was told by a council officer that the event is at an early planning stage and this is something that could be explored further.
Chief Executive Jacqui Dixon said that a meeting has taken place with Tourism NI and the council is “looking forward to some exciting engagement with them in terms of all our premier events”.