Artists call on Belfast City Council to take 'genuine action' after arson attack

Belfast artists who lost their studio space after an arson attack have thanked the hundreds who donated money but say Belfast City Council should do more.

Elly Makem, Ellen Blair and Jennifer Mehigan are three of six artists who share a creative space in Cathedral Buildings.

Shortly after they realised the fire had destroyed their life's work, the artists set up a Go Fund Me page with a target of £3,000 to help get them back on their feet.

In just over 24 hours, the creative team smashed that target, with donations currently sitting at more than £15,000.

Ellen told UTV: "It will go a long way in helping us to rebuild our practices and helping us start again. Right now it's very hard for us to think about starting again but we'll get there and the money is really helpful."

Elly said: "It's been incredible because one of the biggest saving graces of being an artist in Belfast, what makes it so fantastic being an artist here, is that we have a fantastic thriving community.

"Everybody knows each other, everyone we saw on that fundraiser we knew everyone who did that and these aren't people with loads of money, they're all struggling, they're all on minimum wage as well and they're giving their money to us."

However, Elly, who is a digital illustrator, told UTV that she believes that Belfast City Council should be doing more to help local artists.

"They need to look at this seriously and actually open their pockets, open their minds and their hearts to look at what's happened here and take responsibility and take genuine action to offer the artists that have been displaced, not just by this fire but in general," said Elly.

In a statement, Belfast City Council said: "Council officers are working with Destination CQ to help identify any vacant buildings within the city centre which could be used as temporary spaces for the businesses affected by the fire.

"We are also exploring how we can support the businesses and artists with practical help around insurance and legal issues."

18-year-old Patrick Gough from Victoria Street in Belfast appeared in court on Tuesday charged with arson in connection to the fire.

Belfast Magistrates Court heard that the accused was charged with burglary on the same date, after a nearby restaurant was allegedly broken into.

His defence solicitor said that Gough denied the offences, before he was remanded in custody.