Take me to the river
If you want to test the mettle of a city, ask to meet its search and rescue volunteers for they represent the very best of any society.
They are the selfless heroes who will risk their lives — at a moment’s notice — to save others.
That’s why I felt deeply privileged today to join the courageous band of brothers and sisters who make up the indominitable Lagan Search and Rescue team serving the great city of Belfast.
In the company of my East Belfast Assembly colleague — and, as it turned out, champion swimmer — Sammy Douglas, I took part in a simulated rescue of a stranded canoeist on the river Lagan.
Mainly, I got in the way of the crew as they went through their paces but they showed great generosity and boundless patience to allow me to muck in — my reward was an opportunity to slalom down the ‘rapids’ at Shaws Bridge and enjoy my first-ever swim in the Lagan.
Lagan Search and Rescue have ambitious plans to locate their lifeboat on the Lagan in Belfast city centre to improve their response times and they have their eyes on a new base at the Lagan Lookout weir. Both Sammy and I have pledged to support those moves and to continue to urge for adequate funding for their mission.
On Thursday evening, a great friend of Belfast will be in the frame when I open an exhibition by famed artist Margaret Harrison in the Golden Thread Gallery. Winner of the 2013 prestigious British Northern Prize, Margaret has her thought-provoking, take-no-prisoners works exhibited in major galleries around the world, including at The Tate which made this short video about her five decades as activist artist. Margaret has always felt at home in Belfast. Her first London exhibition in 1971 was closed down by the police which meant she was well-prepared for having her work banned by the Ulster Museum seven years later (because it showed a nipple!). In between times, Margaret has made art inspired by the Greenham Common women’s movement and the world of work. I hope many of our friends can join us for the opening this Thursday evening and for a talk she will give at the same venue at lunchtime on Friday.
Finally, comhghairdeas to all those who completed the inaugural SPAR Craic 10K on St Patrick’s Day through the streets of Belfast. Starting from City Hall and heading west before finishing in the east, the run brought the city together on a special day. The idea and impetus for the St Patrick’s fun run came from St Louis where the St Patrick’s Day parade is preceded by a fun run featuring 13,000 participants. Belfast had over 1200 on the run this year but I have no doubt those numbers will get closer to the numbers in Missouri in years ahead.