Bangor's City Status: Heart
The creativity of its people, from earliest times to present day musicians and producers, is a key part of Bangor’s DNA and creativity truly flourishes in Bangor. The Borough inspires and supports many key influencers within the music industry including Van Morrison, Snow Patrol, Two Door Cinema Club, Foy Vance, and Hannah Peel. Ards and North Down is also home to several successful companies involved in music production for TV and film for the global market.
Independent charity, Open House, undertook ambitious plans to regenerate Bangor Court House as a permanent home for the Open House Festival, a month long music and arts festival in August including a Seaside Revival Vintage Festival, and a much-needed multi-purpose music and art venue serving the City.
Open House originated in Belfast in 1999 but in 2013 its founders Alison Gordon and Kieran Gilmore chose to relocate it to their hometown of Bangor.
“Formerly known as The Brighton of Ireland, Bangor’s economy from the late Victorian era to the mid-20th century was built around tourism, entertainment, leisure and hospitality. When choosing to set up in Bangor, we firmly believed that it could once again become a thriving seaside town, with arts and cultural activity at the heart of its identity and economy.
Since 2013, the annual Bangor Open House Festival has grown steadily, with more than 60,000 people visiting festival events annually, contributing an economic impact in excess of £2M a year.
In December 2020 Open House took ownership of the former Court House on Bangor seafront - an iconic Victorian listed building - via Northern Ireland’s first ever Community Asset Transfer. The project was funded by Ards and North Down Borough Council, as well as a range of organisations including the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The building has undergone Phase 1 of a restoration and transformation plan, creating a venue for arts and cultural events.
There is no doubt Bangor’s heart beats to the rhythm of the sea and coastline that surrounds it, with the vibrancy of the many creatives and businesses who work in it and is sustained by the pride, resourcefulness and energy of its many residents.
In the words of one of its most famous sons, Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody:
“I’ll always come back to Bangor. It’s my home and it’s my heart…(LA is)…never going to outshine home”
Northern Ireland artist Colin Davidson had the honour of painting a portrait of her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth. It was unveiled in 2016 at the Co-Operation Ireland reception in London attended by both the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.
For over 20 years Bangor has been Colin’s home and he says: “As an artist I find its coastline endlessly inspiring and uplifting. It connects me with my place in the world. When you listen, it has so many ancient stories to tell. I remember clearly, sitting painting the Queen in the yellow drawing room of Buckingham Palace, talking about home. Talking about Bangor”.
The acclaimed Aspects Irish Literature Festival is held in Bangor annually and has done for over 30 years. The Festival showcases superb writing talent from all over the island of Ireland and previous participants include Seamus Heaney, Fergal Keane, Colin Bateman and Van Morrison.
Bangor also has a diverse retail heart. Over 1000 businesses operate in the City, from the centre out to the numerous retail parks that encircle Bangor. As well as familiar High Street names, there are numerous independent retailers offering an eclectic, unique mix of products and services, some of whom have operated in Bangor for decades. Others are new to the City, with half a dozen new business setting up in recent months.
Three of Bangor's independent retailers - David Mawhinney and Sons, McKeown's Fish and Poultry, and Party Treasures - share below their thoughts on the City of Bangor. They explain why they chose Bangor, how they support local residents and their hopes for the future of the city.