When Derry and Strabane District Council decided to rejuvenate the town centre, concentrating on the Library and Art Centre and the well-known Alley Theatre, few people could have guessed they would start with a pig.
Ambrose the Pig is an eight-foot bronze statue, standing outside the Alley, gazing up at the sky.
The site of the Alley Theatre was once the cattle and pig market, which used it during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and various travelling circuses pitched their Big Tops there as well.
Ambrose, or, to give him his more formal name, “Where Dreams Go”, was sculpted by Martin Heron, who added to the historical ambience of his piece by shaping him out of Celtic swirls. He is the highlight of a site that now houses, not only the theatre auditorium, but also an art gallery, a tourist information centre, and the library. The theatre hosts drama and music festivals, and the Strabane Drama Festival is now one of the biggest drama festivals in the North West of Ireland.
They Alley won the Green Apple Award for environmental regeneration, as well as Building of the Year from the Royal Society of Ulster Architects.
It is, in short, a modern success story.
The idea behind the planning of the new Art Centre was to develop a link between the “edge of town” supermarkets and the town centre. Much work was involved, including repaving the streets, installing a puffin crossing, rerouting cables underground, as well as landscaping the area, and installing street lights. The town centre was to be made more attractive for visitors, shoppers and pedestrians alike, and in this the planners and designers have succeeded, probably well beyond their own expectations.
Today, town planning has to take environmental considerations into account, and the carbon footprint of any development stands high on the planning agenda. In its use of Irish Blue Limestone for the paving and the steps in Strabane’s Main Street, the architects could not have made a better choice. Natural stone has been proved time and again to be more environmentally friendly than manufactured alternatives, and the Flamed finish adds the aspect of safety, minimising the risks posed by smooth surfaces when conditions are wet or icy.
The District Council has done this town proud, not only in the regeneration of the town centre, but in its choice of architects, designers – and materials.