New dawn for Galway after dark

Galway appointed its first ever nighttime economy advisor in October. Entertainment & Culture Editor MAXIM KELLY speaks to Kate Howard, the woman charged with reinvigorating the city’s vibe once the sun goes down on Galway Bay.

Kate Howard is Galway's first Nighttime Economy Advisor. Dublin, Drogheda, Cork, Limerick, Kilkenny, Sligo, Buncranna and Longford Town are all earmarked for the pilot project.

Kate Howard is Galway's first Nighttime Economy Advisor. Dublin, Drogheda, Cork, Limerick, Kilkenny, Sligo, Buncranna and Longford Town are all earmarked for the pilot project.

We have to get over the silly nicknames first.

Kate Howard is not the ‘night mayor’, the ‘evening tsarina’, or even Galway’s first ‘lady of the night’. She is a serious public servant with two decades of experience and post-graduate qualifications in arts policy and practice.

“I am the nighttime economy advisor, not a mayor – Galway already has an elected mayor,” she rattles off with a well-practised air. Yet there is warmth too: “But, yes - there is some slagging in the office,” she laughs.

The warmth is important. Howard sees her role – a two-year pilot position established in nine urban areas around the country – as a nexus of communication and collaboration between various stakeholders in the city looking to influence, control, invigorate, make money from, or just live in our city at night.

She has already had some informal meetings with traders groups, student unions, Galway gardaí, volunteers such as Claddagh Watch, public reps, Department of Justice officials and other “heavy hitters” from a government task force established by arts minister Catherine Martin.

Howard is planning a more formal series of meetings, surveys, online consultations and data gathering activities with security officials, retailers and residents’ associations in 2024.

“I live in the city centre so I’ve been wandering about a bit at night just talking and listening to people,” says the Limerick native, resident in Galway for 25 years. With her photo in today’s Advertiser, she might find randomers now approaching her in the street to vent their views on Galway at night.

“I’m happy to be people’s point of contact really,” she responds. “I see my role as a conduit and co-ordinator for Galway at night. Anyone can contact my office and ask questions or flag stuff.”

Informal chats with bar and restaurant staff during the busy Christmas season have already prompted Howard to pencil in some campaign ideas for 2024: she is looking into how to encourage employee bystander training to reduce harassment and discrimination, and refreshing the ‘Ask for Angela’ initiative where pub patrons feeling uncomfortable or in fear can use a codeword to prompt staff to discreetly assist them.

It’s not all security issues though. The city council’s new Nighttime Economy Adviser’s role is not limited to the city’s nightlife, such as pubs, clubs, bars, venues, theatres and restaurants, but also to bring a broader range of voices together to plan successful nighttime zones in designated areas, including the city centre and Salthill.

Howard will set-up broad consultation groups with a range of expertise to assist the local authority shape its public realm policies for the night, but she also anticipates being a source of info herself. Over the last few months she has been collating a range of datasets, from footfall to proposed legislative changes, and is keen to publish “idea maps” where individual or organisations can propose the physical location for ideas in the city at night, including seating, outdoor activities, late-night public transport nodes, or even whackier stuff like vending machines for flat shoes for feet aching from high heels. “I must note that,” she whispers to herself, “some [emergency service] staff have already told me they sometimes take folded-up flats with them in their kit for a night on duty.”

Amsterdam was probably the first city to appoint a full-time night mayor in 2012, and today Howard finds herself a member of a select group of around 150 night commissioners, officials, appointees and mayors from around the world. “Our WhatsApp group is useful for the ideas,” she jokes.

For the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic, Galway City is organising a public New Year’s Eve celebration on William Street and Cross Street this week, with family-friendly music from 6pm to 9pm, including a countdown to ringing the bells at St Nicholas’ Church at 8pm. This kind of event – designed to bring all ages into the city at night – is a taster of what Howard hopes to bring to our urban areas.

As our interview concludes, she insists mentioning the upcoming Disquiet Nights, a series of curated film, spoken word and music after dark across the Galway Arts Centre’s venues on Dominick Street and Nun’s Island from January to September next year. Conversation meanders to Galway’s nocturnal heydays of the 1990s, and Howard is excited about rumours an old nightclub may be reopening.

One gets the impression Galway’s first night time boss is only getting started.

 

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