A new Trust is being set up by the Friends of Exploris in response to the threatened closure of one of Northern Ireland’s leading tourist attractions, the Portaferry Exploris aquarium.
The Trust aims to ensure that Exploris remains open and hopes to develop proposals for its management and operation, and to guide and support it into a secure future.[caption id="attachment_42796" align="alignright" width="400"] Hoping for a long time home….a Red Gurnyard at the Portaferry Exploris aquarium.[/caption]
The Board of the new company will be firmly rooted in the local community with the support of the Collective that represents all the town’s community groups, Portaferry Regeneration Ltd. and individual local residents and businesses. Board members, drawn from the steering group that established the Friends of Exploris, are leading the “Save Exploris” campaign and have extensive experience in aquarium and visitor attraction management, tourism, finance, marine science and environmental education.
Spokesperson for the Friends of Exploris and local resident, Cathie McKimm, said today (Monday 30 September) “The priority now is to get central Government intervention to halt the plans to close Exploris and to provide it with recognition and support for its role in environmental education and communication, tourism and rural development. At the same time we are looking at models for its long-term management and operation and will bring proposals to Ards Borough Council within the next month or so.”
Dr Julia Sigwart, Director of Queen’s University Marine Laboratory, said that she looked forward to the day when Exploris is once more a centre of excellence for marine and coastal education.
Bringing his financial and business acumen to the Board, James Sinton, Finance Director of Beannchor, said: “Exploris plays a vital role for businesses, not only in Portaferry but throughout County Down, in bringing in the region of 100,000 visitors to the area every year .”
Frances McCormick of the Portaferry Community Collective added that government has to recognise “the importance of local people to the future success of the facility and the deep love and affection that so many of them had shown to what is finally becoming ‘our aquarium’.
And Doug Edmondson, Chairman of Portaferry Regeneration Ltd, also commented saying “Exploris brings £3m in to the local economy as estimated by Global Tourism Solutions (UK) Ltd in a report produced for Ards Borough Council in 2011.”
In a letter to the Friends of Exploris this week, the Mayor of the Borough of Ards, Steven McIlveen, said that he would be more than happy to meet up to discuss any viable alternative to shutting the facility. Councillors from all of the parties represented on the council have given a similar response.
The Portaferry-based Trust has a wide range of local talent to draw on in rural development, the legal and financial professions and politicians and community organisations across the board too are supportive. Support for this campaign to provide a future for the Exploris aquarium has galvanised people far and wide, including the vital support from QUB marine research facility located in the town.
There will be a public meeting this evening in the Portaferry Hotel organised by trade union NIPSA to address the jobs threat issue.
Facebook: Save Exploris Aquarium
Facebook: Friends of Exploris