How To Alleviate Anxiety In Children With ASD

In fact, anxiety is estimated to affect at least 40% of autistic individuals and is a prevalent problem for autistic children and young people.

According to Meta Auden, founder of Spectra Sensory Clothing there’s no doubt the world can be a confusing place for children with ASD. 

She said: “Whether it’s dealing with social situations or unfamiliar surroundings, children with ASD can often have difficulty working out what others are thinking or trying to anticipate how others will react to certain situations. 

“As a result, they can feel anxious and stressed. To make matters worse, they may often find it difficult to tell parents or others that they’re feeling anxious and instead begin to display challenging behaviour.”

Challenging behaviour

According to Meta, circumstances that can lead to challenging behaviour can include:

  • Changes in environment – from the most simple changes such as furniture in the home being moved, to new equipment in the local park – all are capable of leaving a child with ASD feelings of being unable to cope
  • Changes in routine – this can often be one of the biggest challenges for a child with ASD. If, for example, a piano teacher is unwell and unable to hold the weekly lesson, the child can become extremely upset and anxious
  • Unfamiliar social situations. Even something as simple as a friend’s birthday party, while generally enjoyable, can create anxiety as a result of the new noises, bright lights, unfamiliar foods etc
  • Worry created by familiar situations such as going to the toilet, vacuum cleaners etc

Separation anxiety is another source of extreme anxiety. While typically developing children can often express anxiety or nervousness in such circumstances, children with ASD can be particularly affected by social anxiety. From fear of being separated from parents and caregivers to worries over homework or health issues, children with ASD can be affected by a range of issues.

Anxiety UK suggests imagining anxiety as a bucket of water: an accumulation of small, everyday stresses will eventually fill the bucket and, on occasion, make it overflow. It’s essential therefore to spend time on trying to work out your child’s personal causes of anxiety and identify strategies to relieve – or even avoid – the ‘overflow’ of anxiety.

Fortunately there are things that you can do to help alleviate or ease your child’s anxiety and encourage them to manage their anxiety levels on a daily basis.

Symptoms of anxiety

While children are affected by anxiety in different ways, there are a number of symptoms that are common in anxious children. These include: 

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Meltdowns or temper tantrums
  • Withdrawal from or avoidance of social situations
  • Increasing insistence on routine and ‘sameness’
  • Actions designed to hurt themselves, such as head banging, scratching skin or hand biting
  • Increased ‘stimming’ behaviour such as drumming fingers and rocking back and forth

Meta explained: “Many children with ASD also experience internal sensations of tension, including a racing heart or palpitations, sweating, nausea and stomach pains. There may also be feelings of fear, dread or irritability and hypervigilance.”

How to help your child

“One of the first ways in which you can help your child is by reading your child’s signals and working out what makes them feel stressed” said Meta, adding: “It can also be very helpful if you explain to your child what anxiety is, how it feels and what they can do to help themselves.”

Visual techniques

Visual aids can be a great help to your child. If, for example, your child becomes anxious when you’re dropping them off at school, you could provide them with photos of what you’ll be doing while you’re not with them – such as driving home, going shopping and reading along with photos of what they’ll be doing – sitting in class and playing sport.

Similarly, if your child tends to become anxious if there’s a change in their routine, then visual schedules can help to prepare them for the change. School holidays, for example, can be a source of anxiety, so providing a schedule that shows in advance that there will be a change in the daily schedule can help to alleviate the anxiety.

Bear in mind, however, that while some children find it helpful to be warned about a change a day or two in advance, others can find too much advance warning another source of anxiety.

Rehearse stressful situations

“For many children with ASD, preparation is the key to alleviating anxiety” said Meta. “The simple act of rehearsing or practising situations that your child finds stressful can help them to not only understand the situation in a visual way, but can give them the added bonus of physical preparation.

“If, for example, your child finds going to the dentist or hairdresser worrying, then go for a practice run. Make the hairdresser or dentist aware of your child’s anxiety so that they’re fully prepared to make your child feel as comfortable and as relaxed as possible. 

“Make sure too that when you’re practising different scenarios with your child you give them constant praise so that they become comfortable and at ease with the situation.” 

Use relaxation and calming strategies

Of course, you can’t always be with your child when they become tense and anxious, so it’s a good idea to give them strategies that can help them to calm themselves down when they feel themselves becoming tense. Among the most successful strategies are:

  • counting slowly up to ten
  • taking five deep breaths
  • running around the garden or playground five times
  • reading a favourite book
  • closing their eyes for a few moments

Provide forms of diversion

Diverting your child’s attention can often be a perfect solution for alleviating your child’s anxiety. In the same way that writing your worries down in letter format can reduce your anxiety, allowing your child to write their troubles down on a piece of paper can prove a very positive move.

“Products such as Worry Eaters, which we sell at Spectra Sensory, allow your child to rid themselves of their woes. Recommended by psychologists and teachers, these comforting bedtime toys act as a ‘waste bin’ for all your child’s worries from the day” said Meta.

“By using a Worry Eater, your child can simply write or draw their troubles on a piece of paper and feed them into the zipped mouth of their Worry Eater. You can then retrieve the note or drawing in the Worry Eater’s tummy, and talk to your child about it. This not only helps them to come up with solutions, but is particularly good for non-verbal children. And, when the problem is resolved, your child can simply cuddle up to their Worry Eater for bedtime snuggles.

“Worry Eaters – the perfect solution for alleviating your child’s anxiety.”

Find out more about Spectra Sensory’s range of sensory clothing and autism aids at

To purchase a Worry Eater go to 

Six Hours Of Arts & Culture To Be Broadcast Online Tomorrow For Culture Night Belfast Online [Sept 18]

The normal Belfast Culture Night extravaganza may not be packing the city’s streets this year but six hours of the best of the arts will be broadcast across multiple channels tomorrow (Friday 18).

Rising to the challenges of these unprecedented times Culture Night Belfast is determined to keep the show on the road.

Streaming across a number of virtual platforms, Culture Night Online 2020 aims to be accessible to those who would attend in-person each year as well as those who have yet to experience the best of Northern Ireland’s arts and culture scene.

Susan Picken, Director of Cathedral Quarter Trust (the charity behind Culture Night Belfast) said that the 2020 programme will be a spectacular online display of talent.

Susan urged those going online on Friday to remember the difficult times the arts are going through.

She said: “Culture Night Belfast was originally started over twelve years ago to support and promote arts and culture in the Cathedral Quarter. Without the talent and dedication of our local arts community, Culture Night Belfast wouldn’t exist and we want to do everything we can to support them at this difficult time.

“Each year tens of thousands of us go out and enjoy, for free, the unique experience that Culture Night Belfast offers. All we are asking is that you enjoy our online programme this year in the comfort of your own home and donate the price of a pint (or maybe two!) to support the amazing artists, performers and venues who have made Culture Night Belfast into one of the best-loved nights of the year.

“A number of cultural and creative charities have been chosen who will be the beneficiaries of all donations made. These include charities who work to support those in the arts, culture and creative sectors as well as key local institutions including St Anne’s Cathedral and The MAC. 

“The charities selected are Help Musicians NI and Theatre and Dance NI – Membership Assistance Programme, Music Venues Trust and theTheatre Artists’ Fund.”

This year’s core programme of commissioned pieces will see venues such as Belfast Cathedral, the Black Box, the Oh Yeah Centre and The MAC act as the backdrop to what is set to be an exciting evening of entertainment.

This will also include a specially commissioned piece by filmmaker Will McConnell called We’re Still Here.

The six hours of arts programming will be on: YouTube live; Facebook Live; Twitch; Twitter via Periscope; Instagram Live; and, on NVTV (Freeview 7 (greater Belfast) and Virgin Media 159 (across Northern Ireland), programming also available for download at

Simon Wood, NVTV Chairperson said the station was committed to supporting the arts in any way it can.

He added: “Northern Visions is delighted to support the many artists, musicians and creators who have come together to ensure that Culture Night 2020 can be celebrated in these challenging times. There will be a dedicated broadcast on NVTV throughout the day and night”.

“Community arts has been at the core of Northern Visions work since it was established in 1986. 

“Northern Ireland’s community artists are amazingly resilient, we’ve seen it all, the recession and inflation of the 80s, boom and bust in the 1990s, the financial crisis of 2008 and years of austerity. As we look to recover from the ravages of Covid-19 and how we might build back better, let’s ensure that this time, the most vulnerable in our society, those in our poorer neighbourhoods, are truly able to access the arts and participate in enhancing the innovation and creativity which will drive the recovery”. 

This year’s Culture Night Belfast Online programme has been supported by the Arts Council NI, Belfast City Council, Department for Communities and Belfast Harbour.

For more information on this year’s programme or to donate go to or follow #CNB20 #CNBonline on social media.

11 Acts You Don’t Want To Miss at this Year’s Culture Night Belfast Online

Streaming across a number of virtual platforms on Friday September 18th, Culture Night Online 2020 aims to be accessible to those who would attend in-person each year as well as those who have yet to experience the best of Northern Ireland’s arts and culture scene. 

Following the release of a packed seven hour programme, here are 11 acts you don’t want to miss: 

1. CNB 2020: Film – We’re Still Here

The times are far, far from normal and the future is very uncertain but, despite this, our art goes on. This year’s CNB Film is both a love letter to the strength and endurance of all who are part of our brilliant arts and culture community and a message of hope – We’re Still Here and together we will get through this.

Featuring Cherrie on Top.  Written and directed by Will McConnell. Will McConnell is a filmmaker and visual artist from Belfast. He works as an independent self-shooter and his clients have included, amongst others, the British Council, Culture Night Belfast, the British Museum, Universal Music Group and Diageo.

2. Trocaire Documentaries

Two short documentaries from Trocaire, followed by an interview with their creator, Emmet Sheerin.

Sumud: Everyday Resistance a film about life under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank through the stories of Palestinian women. It takes its title from the Palestinian concept sumud (‘steadfastness’).

Women in their Place: A short documentary about women in Honduras struggling to defend land and environment from exploitation by big business and facing criminalisation, assault and murder.

3. NIHRC: Film + Discussion – It Seems 

Join the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission for the debut screening of its short film, It Seems – featuring Belfast-based poet, Niamh McNally. 

The film’s focus is on the issue of climate change, and it raises important questions about its impact on our human rights. 

Following the screening, these issues will be discussed by a panel of experts and will be chaired by NIHRC Chief Commissioner, Les Allamby. 

The screening will include an introduction by poet Niamh McNally. It Seems was developed by the NIHRC, in partnership with Amnesty International, Sustainable NI and Climate Northern Ireland.

Chair: Les Allamby, Chief Commissioner, Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission

Panel: John Barry, Professor of Green Political Economy, Queen’s University Belfast, Patrick Corrigan, Head of Nations & Regions, Amnesty International, Grainia Long, Commissioner for Resilience, Belfast City Council, Géraldine Noé, Head of Environmental Sustainability, Business in the Community

4. Oh Yeah Presents

From the rooftop of the Oh Yeah centre live music blasts out across Belfast city centre.

Music from local band Charles Hurts and Becha.

5. Black Box Presents

Coming to you from Hill Street, Belfast the Black Box presents a night of performance.

Music from Susie Blue and performances from Sinead O’Donnell and tenx9.

6. Ulster University Graduate Show at The Mac

A guided virtual tour around the Mac’s new exhibition featuring work from this year’s MFA Fine Art Graduates from Ulster University’s School of Art.

This show highlights the work of a selection of recent MFA and BA Graduates from Ulster University, curated by Deirdre Robb. 

The BA Fine Art course reflects and supports the diversity of contemporary art practice including Painting, Video, Photography, Sculpture, Drawing, Performance, Printmaking, Time-based work, and studies in History and Theory. 

7. Ulster University Graduate Show at Belfast Exposed

A guided virtual tour of Belfast Exposed’s new exhibition ‘Anthropology and Human Condition’ highlighting the work of a selection of recent MFA and BA Graduates from Ulster University, curated by Deirdre Robb.  

Anthropology highlights the work of a selection of recent MFA Graduates from Ulster University. The works presented are universally human and deeply personal navigations of current climates and a response to exactly this moment in time. The exhibition sits with the process of grief and walks along the borders of small towns and fallen cities.

Human Condition highlights recent graduates from the BA in Photography and Video at Ulster University. The works presented are a broad exploration of human existence plunging into topics from water quality to fluid gender expression and roles. Further observations on mental health spanning youth to retirement, isolation, healing, and recreational space. 

8. The All New Family Friendly Fun Time Video Hour!

Join your host, Stephen Beggs, for 60 marvellous minutes of storytelling, magic, mischief, mayhem and silly songs.

Featuring top local performers Paul Currie, Rachael McCabe, George Firehouse and Mary McGurk.

9. Essential Journeys Live from Bounce Culture at Belfast Cathedral

Bounce Culture brings together some of the most talented musicians they know, to have fun with loops and sounds in Belfast Cathedral.

Playing for the first time together this event features: Úna Monaghan (Harp, Composer/Researcher/Sound Artist), Kaidi Tatham (Keys/Flute/Percussion/Composer/Music Producer), Rick Swann (Trumpet Player/Music Producer), Dena Anuksa (Singer/Songwriter/Vocalist/Music Producer) and Kwame Daniels (DJ/Host)

10. Swing Survival with The Swing Gals

Swing out sisters! 

Long-time Culture Night favourites, the Swing Gals, perform an uplifting mash-up of songs of survival and hope from the plush surroundings of the Bullitt Hotel’s new Rattlebag Bar.

11. Ronnie Greer’s Blues Band at the Grand Central Observatory

Northern Ireland’s blues legend Ronnie Greer will perform some of his best known hits at the Grand Central Hotel in Linen Quarter, exclusively for culture night.

Ronnie is one of the country’s best known blues and jazz guitarists who has shared the stage with some of the biggest names in the business including Dr John, Luwll Fulson, Phil Guy, Johnny Mars and many more.

Ronnie’s Chicago Blues with a twist is sure to delight all music aficionados.

For more information on this year’s programme go to or follow #CNB20 #CNBonline on social media.

If you’re a creator and want to submit your event to Culture Night Belfast this year simply fill out the submissions form at 

County Down Producer Set To Drop The Bomb On New Release

Dj and Producer Synyx. Photo by Francine Montgomery / Excalibur Press.

County Down-based music producer James Mountstephens has released the stunning track Drop The Bomb under the performance name of Synyx.

Fans of EDM, and progressive melodic techno pop, will want to be ready for this release, which was produced in James’ Dromore studio.

Using the song as a mirror of how relationships can turn sour James captured the mood of the times.

“I feel it is quite an original track,” he explained. “It has a melodic progressive vibe, aggressive bass synths, a lot of feeling around the issue of negative relationships.”

Inspired by his friend and fellow producer Alex Holmes James developed the track from an initial concept by toplining melody to create a drive in the release.

Drop The Bomb is the latest creation under the name of Synyx.

Originally from Birmingham, the married father of two has been living in Northern Ireland for 12 years, after establishing his reputation in the Midlands.

“After learning how to mix vinyl a I was fortunate enough to establish DJ gigs at prestigious clubs such as Miss Moneypennys and Fuel as well as establishing residences at top Midlands clubs,” explained James.

The Synyx moniker, and associated Monkey branding, was developed by James to better reflect on the direction of his music.

“I wanted to create a strong brand character to coincide with my music that fans can engage with, something a bit more than just me as a producer,” he said. “A fictional character that can maybe bring good change to the world through music and my own beliefs and learnings, my own perception of truth.

“Synyx was really a twist on the word cynical at a time I found myself questioning more and more of the mainstream narrative.

“To further merge all this I needed a lead character so I had the idea of a chimp that was lost in space and then intercepted by an advanced god like alien race. He was genetically enhanced with the ability to travel the galaxy. His cause, to bring truth, peace and unity to the universe.”For more information go to Drop The Bomb is out now.

Cahoots NI Brings The Magic Of Theatre Into Your Home With The University Of Wonder & Imagination

Cahoots Artistic Director Paul McEneaney with actor Hugh W Brown launching the new Cahoots show University of Wonder & Imagination. Photo by Francine Montgomery / Excalibur Press For more information contact Tina Calder, Excalibur Press, 07305354209,

Northern Ireland-based children’s theatre company Cahoots NI has launched an immersive digital theatre experience with the aim of bringing the magic and joy of theatre to young audiences at home.

The University of Wonder and Imagination is an hour-long interactive digital theatre production that allows audiences to effectively direct the performance, based on their interaction with the performers. In this ambitious and innovative undertaking, Cahoots NI will broadcast from an extensive, purpose-built set in Belfast, where magic and illusion have no boundaries.

The show will have it’s Northern Ireland premiere as part of this year’s Belfast International Arts Festival running from October 22nd – 25th and 29th – November 1.

Limited to pre-booked audience numbers per performance, guests will assemble with their fellow University students and, led by the mysterious Professor Bamberg, will embark on a journey where nothing is quite what it seems. 

Audiences will interact with lively lecturers, experience themed rooms filled with illusion and encounter problems and puzzles in an attempt to unlock magical powers and graduate with flying colours.

Speaking about the new production, Paul Bosco Mc Eneaney, Creator/Director of The University of Wonder and Imagination, and Artistic Director of Cahoots NI, said: “We are thrilled to be opening the doors of the University of Wonder and Imagination for enrolment.

“Now, more than ever, we want to capture the sheer joy and wonder that theatre and live performance brings young audiences, something we so desperately miss being able to provide at this time. We have worked hard to create an experience that would act as a first step to bridge the gap between young people and live theatre that can be enjoyed at home.

“Developing this production has allowed us to explore a completely new channel through which to bring magic and illusion to children and their families via digital technology. The choices our audiences make live, during the event, will shape their unique theatre experience – and that’s hugely exciting for us.

“The technology we are using for the production is intricate, but it will be seamlessly blended with physical sets and magical illusions. Our audiences haven’t seen anything like this from Cahoots NI before, and we believe it will be a fun-filled, thrilling experience for children, for their families and for our cast and crew to be a part of.” 

The University of Wonder and Imagination is supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

Caoileann Curry-Thompson, Arts Development Officer for Drama and Dance, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said: “Despite the enormous challenges presented to the Arts as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, Cahoots NI continues to offer audiences world-class children’s theatre with their latest show, The University of Wonder and Imagination, this Autumn.  

“With their trademark ingenuity and wizardry the Cahoots team are managing to bring the essence of stage magic and theatrical spectacle to life through new technologies. Cahoots’ work is not only multi award-winning and internationally acclaimed, but also a firm favourite with family audiences at home and abroad. 

“This latest show promises to be a wonder to behold! The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is hugely proud to support this terrific production which will be enjoyed by many online, helping to bring great art to everyone.” 

Cahoots NI is at the forefront of Northern Irish theatre and is the leading professional theatre company producing work for children. Since beginning operations in 2001, Cahoots NI has produced original, critically acclaimed work for children including Under the Hawthorn Tree, Secrets of Space, Shh! We have a Plan and has toured its work internationally including in China and the USA.For more information go to or follow Cahoots NI on social media #UniversityofWonder #CahootsNI

Culture Night Online 2020 Launches Packed Core Programme

Lord Mayor of Belfast Alderman Frank McCoubrey and Susan Picken, director of Cathedral Quarter Trust and Culture Night Belfast. Photo by: Francine Montgomery / Excalibur Press For more information contact Tina Calder, Excalibur Press, 07305354209,

Culture Night’s 2020 core programme has been unveiled with a packed line-up of music, debates, art and thought-provoking films that will all happen online on Friday 18 September.

Like everyone else in Northern Ireland, artists and arts organisations are facing enormous challenges due to Covid-19 and so this year Culture Night Belfast is going totally online. The team at Culture Night Belfast is determined to keep the show on the road in some shape or form.

Streaming across a number of virtual platforms, Culture Night Online 2020 aims to be accessible to those who would attend in-person each year as well as those who have yet to experience the best of Northern Ireland’s arts and culture scene.

Susan Picken, Director of Cathedral Quarter Trust (the charity behind Culture Night Belfast) said that the 2020 programme will be a spectacular online display of talent. Susan urged those logging on on Friday 18 September.

“Please take the opportunity to donate some of what you would have spent on a normal Culture Night,” she said. “You can either donate here and we will send what we raise on to one of our nominated charities, or you can follow the links on individual submissions and donate to the artist, organisation or venue of your choice.

“Please help our arts & culture community to survive this difficult time and ensure a vibrant cultural future for all of us.”

This year’s core programme of commissioned pieces will see venues such as Belfast Cathedral, the Black Box, the Oh Yeah Centre and The MAC act as the backdrop to what is set to be an exciting evening of entertainment.

Susan said: “This year’s programme is very different from what you may be used to but we hope it captures the varied and eclectic mix of arts and culture you have come to know and love in the real-world event,” she said. “There are three main strands for you to log on to, dip in to and enjoy.

“Our three strands are Core, Showcase, and Gallery. Core has a special programme of performances from iconic venues across the Cathedral Quarter which have been carefully chosen and commissioned by the team here at CNB.

Showcase is an opportunity for our other artists and creators to get involved as it features online submissions from local artists, performers, creatives, venues, cultural organisations, businesses and more and demonstrates the wealth of homegrown talent at work across the city.

Gallery is a special open submission visual arts strand introducing the work of a wide variety of artists encompassing painting, photography and much more.”

The Lord Mayor of Belfast, Alderman Frank McCoubrey said: “We are delighted to be supporting Culture Night again this year – a year which has been enormously challenging for our cultural sector.

“I have been so encouraged to see how many of our culture and arts organisations have adapted their activities and programmes to continue to develop and showcase the city’s creative talent during the last few months. Culture Night will bring a spotlight to this and promises a wide range of virtual events to immerse yourself in on Friday 18 September.

“Belfast City Hall will also be lit up in pink and blue on the evening of 18 September to symbolise citywide support for cultural organisations and individual artists across the city.”

Among the performers taking part this year in the CNB Online Core Programme are Cherrie On Top, Susie Blue, Sinead O’Donnell, tenx9, Charles Hurts, Becha, Stephen Beggs, Paul Currie, George Quinn, Rachael McCabe, Bounce Culture, The Swing Gals and many more.

Anne McReynolds, Chair of the Cathedral Quarter Trust, said: “2020 has been incredibly challenging for the arts and culture sector and for all our audience and participants.  

“The future of the arts in Northern Ireland remains very uncertain. Nevertheless, artists have never given up without a fight and so our programme for Culture Night Online demonstrates how talented and innovative our arts community here is.  

“Hopefully on Friday 18 September everyone will be reminded just how vital arts and culture is to our city and our wellbeing. Please support our local arts and culture by logging on during Culture Night on 18 September.”

The core programme, which is supported this year by Belfast City Council and Arts Council NI, will also include a specially commissioned piece by filmmaker Will McConnell called We’re Still Here, two documentaries from Trocaire and the premiere of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s film It Seems along with a discussion chaired by NIHRC Chief Commissioner, Les Allamby.

Roisin McDonough, Chief Executive, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said: “Despite the enormous challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, Culture Night Belfast is back with an impressive digital programme thoughtfully designed against a backdrop of iconic locations in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter and featuring a wealth of Northern Irish talent from across the artistic spectrum.  

“The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is hugely proud to support Culture Night through the Organisations Emergency Fund, supported by the Department for Communities, and I would encourage everyone to get online on 18th September and show your support for our tremendous arts community.”

For more information on this year’s programme go to or follow #CNB20 #CNBonline on social media.

If you’re a creator and want to submit your event to Culture Night Belfast this year simply fill out the submissions form at 

A New Era Of Theatre For Northern Ireland

Cahoots Artistic Director Paul McEneaney launching the new Cahoots show University of Wonder & Imagination.Photo by Francine Montgomery / Excalibur PressFor more information contact Tina Calder, Excalibur Press, 07305354209,

Theatre lovers in Northern Ireland will be treated to a new era in theatre thanks to innovative and forward thinking company Cahoots NI.

Following the closure of theatres across the UK, Ireland and abroad as a result of the Covid-19 global pandemic, creators at Cahoots NI knew the only way to survive was to bring the magic of their shows to life online.

However, for a theatre company who specialise in magical shows that excite young audiences, translating their unique style online wasn’t going to be easy.

Artistic Director, Paul Bosco Mc Eneaney, said pivoting their offering and being creative with their thinking was more important than ever before.

He added that adapting quickly to the new market was vital to maintain survival of the 19 year old organisation.

“When the pandemic hit we were in the middle of a few different projects. Penguins, our co production with Birmingham Rep, was mid-run in America and still had six weeks left to go but we made the decision in the second week of March that we would have to bring the full company home. 

“We were also in the middle of development of new work and were about to start a tour in Northern Ireland of production Secrets of Space to local primary schools, which didn’t happen.

“Like the rest of the arts sector we were forced to close up shop, in terms of our revenue, we have lost in excess of £420,000 this year, which is a serious amount of money, and our business plan, whilst at the start of March was being applauded as being something unique and different within the arts sector has gone from being what an incredibly productive and forward-thinking model to ‘Oh my goodness, where does that fit in now?’.”

But rather than let the pandemic get the better of him Paul was determined not only to keep the magic of Cahoots NI alive but to ensure he created a business model that could help the organisation survive and thrive.

He explained: “Obviously there was that initial month of just firefighting projects that were no longer happening, dealing with venues, cleaning up a tour that got cancelled halfway through and cancelling a tour that was about to start. It took us about a month, maybe six weeks to really sort the logistics of that through. 

“It was after this that I started to think less like a producer and more as an artist. I remember thinking ‘I’m looking at this too much from a business perspective’. I needed to go back and think as an artist. 

“The amazing thing about artists is their adaptability – so often artists create their best work when they are out of their comfort zones and sometimes when the chips are down, actually that’s when nuggets of gold start appearing. 

“It was really clear that we needed to be involved in projects during lockdown – we needed the creative output to continue because that’s our business model.”

As a result Paul and his team have created a new show which will see families be able to interact online with actors who will be situated in full theatrical settings.

“The University of Wonder and Imagination will be a full theatrical production, that will see six  families enter different themed rooms and interact with actors,” said Paul, adding: “This isn’t performed at home in front of a computer screen, we’ve constructed a socially distanced theatre set, full of all the tricks, wonder and illusions.”

The University of Wonder and Imagination opening dates will be revealed soon but already the company have confirmation that it will show across Ireland and Northern Ireland and they’ve had interest globally from their international agent.

For Paul it’s important for people to understand whilst it’s an experimental production it will have all the professionalism and creative input of any Cahoots NI show.

“It’s somewhere in between a journey through Hogwarts and the Crystal Maze,” he said “It’s quest led. It’s magical. It’s full of theatrical adventure and it’s live.”

Working online, the challenge, and I think we’ve cracked it, is to still have that element of surprise and wonder that makes theatre special and memorable.

Another project that Cahoots NI has been developing is a book.

“One of our business models was to take a popular children’s book, turn it into a stage adaptation and produce that as a show.

“We have a huge production we’d planned for next year, it’s a show called ‘The Vanishing Elephant”, which doesn’t come from a book. It came from an idea that I had a few years back and that show was actually planned to start in January 2021 including a run on Broadway at the New Victory Theater from May 2021.

“We realised we had a brilliant story but it never came from a children’s book.”

Working with the original writer Charles Way and costume designer Sabine Dargent as the illustrator, the book is in its final stages.

And, as Cahoots is developing new ways to entertain and enthral young people, Paul said keeping the arts sector alive is more important than ever before.

He said: “The arts are there to respond, offering alternative ways to look at the world”.

“My job is to respond to what’s happening in society and to place people from society into uncomfortable, comfortable, interesting, remarkable, fascinating, different worlds so that they can compare their world to that.”

Derry YouTuber Adam Beales Confirmed As New Blue Peter Presenter

The world’s longest-running children’s TV show has today unveiled Derry-born Adam Beales as its newest Blue Peter presenter. 

Adam is the 40th Blue Peter presenter and will co-host alongside Lindsey Russell, Richie Driss, Mwaka Mudenda and Henry the dog, in his first show this Thursday (September 3rd) on CBBC and BBC iPlayer at 5.30pm. 

YouTuber Adam, 20, is already familiar with the CBBC audience as he is a regular face on The Dog Ate My Homework. He left school as Head Boy with 11 GSCE’s at A* and was considering Oxford or Cambridge before his YouTube channel took off, which now has nearly 3 million subscribers and often features his mum and dad and younger brother, 11-year-old Callum.  He’s best known  for posting pranks, challenges, DIY crafts and life hacks so should slot right in with the ‘here’s one I made earlier’ creations on the show as well as the formidable challenges the presenters have to undertake. 

In his spare time he loves to spend time with his family while eating pizza and watching TV, as well as driving his beloved car. Despite his claim of leading a ‘boring life’ Adam loves pranking people (especially his younger brother), travelling, meeting new people around the world and living and experiencing their culture. He’s travelled from as far as the USA to Thailand. 

Adam follows in the footsteps of fellow Northern Ireland presenters, the late Caron Keating and, more recently, presenter number 30, Zoe Salmon.

Adam says: “I’m super excited to become Blue Peter Presenter number 40. I am humbled and ecstatic to be part of such a legendary production. It’s kind of weird – in a super exciting way – that the show I once watched when I was younger, is now the show I will be presenting along with the talented Lindsey, Richie, Mwaksy and of course, Henry. I can’t wait to get stuck in, even with the challenges they throw at me, though I am hoping none of them involve cheese – I hate cheese!”

It might not involve cheese but Adam’s first challenge is a biggie. He has been thrown straight in with a mountain rescue challenge. He will be winched down a cliff face to complete a training exercise with the Buxton Mountain Rescue team and will share the results of his challenge live in the studio in the coming weeks. 

Blue Peter Editor, Ellen Evans, said: “Adam really impressed us during his auditions, he’s a natural in front of the camera but he’s also very funny, incredibly warm, brilliant with kids and also perhaps a little bit mischievous which the Blue Peter audience will absolutely love.”   

Head of BBC Children’s In House Productions, Helen Bullough, adds: “Throughout lockdown Blue Peter fans have been telling us how much they’ve enjoyed and appreciated the show’s unstinting commitment to engaging, inspiring and entertaining them and we can’t wait for Presenter Number 40 to join us and get stuck in!  Adam is playful, thoughtful and already popular with our audience, who I’m sure will give him the biggest ever Blue Peter welcome.”                 

Blue Peter is live on CBBC every Thursday at 5.30pm and is available on BBC iPlayer.

Culture Night Belfast Call For Submissions From Local Arts & Culture Sector

With Culture Night Belfast going ahead for 2020 with a core online programme that includes a rich mix of music, film, performance and more on September 18, organisers are calling for submissions for events to be added to their online calendar. 

While the popular celebration of arts and culture normally attracts tens of thousands into the streets of the Cathedral Quarter in Belfast and beyond this year’s offering is going online and the team behind Culture Night have made a commitment to do all they can to help support the local arts and culture scene.

Susan Picken, Director of Cathedral Quarter Trust, the charity behind Culture Night Belfast, said the arts sector across Northern Ireland has shown “great resilience in a time of adversity” and whilst the organisation doesn’t have the funding or ability to facilitate a large scale event on the streets this year she hopes this year’s online core and accompanying showcase programme will give creators from across the country the chance to showcase their work to a larger audience.

She added: “When we were putting the core programme together we wanted to ensure that we supported as many organisations and artists as we could within our means and I’m delighted that we’ll be supporting a diverse range of arts and culture across the sector in the main Culture Night TV broadcast.

“However, one thing we realise is that we have the ability to help further support the arts by opening up the programme to other events which we will help promote and highlight through our social media, press activity, website listings and more.

“Therefore, we’re calling on creators, artists, organisations and venues to submit something to be included in our supporting programme online.

“Of course the stipulation is that the event must have an online element to it. We’re happy to promote work that has already been created – so, for example, you may have a film available on YouTube or another platform that you wish to share with us. Or perhaps, you want to highlight some of the amazing work you did during lockdown.

“Regardless whether you are sharing a new piece of work, going live or sending us links to pre-recorded material we want to hear from you.”

Susan said this is a time for the arts sector to pull together in order to survive the challenges of 2020.

She added: “The arts sector has been really badly impacted by this pandemic, but I think on the whole it has shown how determined people are to keep going. Resilience is a bit of the theme this year, almost like defiance when we are up against it.

“People have plugged away for years, and they’re not going to let something they’ve built be destroyed. People are creative and will always find a way to make things happen.”

This year’s funding has been dramatically cut so Susan says the backing of Belfast City Council and the Arts Council NI has been vital to make sure that they can take Culture Night Belfast online.

The full programme is set to be announced shortly, but it promises to be a packed series of events pre-recorded at locations such as Belfast Cathedral, Oh Yeah Centre, Black Box and The Mac.

If you’re a creator and want to submit your event to Culture Night Belfast this year simply fill out the submissions form at and follow #CNB20 #CNBonline.

7 Cool Cocktail & Burger Combos You NEED To Try This Season

After reopening its doors following lockdown a Belfast gourmet burger bar has created an innovative menu.

Burger Burger Stranmillis have redesigned their menu to offer diners a larger menu with new takes on their classic favourites.

Here are 7 burger and cocktail combos to whet your appetite:

1. For the Spice Lovers

Too Hot to Handle + Dark and Stormy

If you are a lover of spice the ‘Too Hot To Handle’ burger is definitely the one for you, a sumptuous beef patty covered in a spicy cheese melt and crispy jalapenos is certain to curb your spice craving. Pair this with a Dark and Stormy cocktail of rum and ginger beer for the ultimate spice combo. 

2. For the Instagram Queens 

Apple Fennel + Purple Haze 

If you love to get that perfect food selfie shot for the gram this is the combo for you. The apple fennell burger is the perfect photo worthy dish with heaps of apple fennel slaw added on top to give that drama. The purple haze cocktail is adorned with pretty petals sure to get you that great gram pic. 

3. For the Thrill Seekers 

Flaming Zombie + Roquito Pepper Burger 

If you like to live life on the edge, how about trying the Flaming Zombie cocktail, with four different types of rum and a flame, this cocktail is sure to make sparks fly. Pair it with the fiery roquito pepper burger for a tasty combo. 

4. For the Retro Lovers 

Bacon and Cheese Tower Burger + Dirty Starburst

If you like a modern twist on classic favourites then you should try the Bacon and Cheese Tower Burger. A gourmet take on your classic Bacon and Cheese with extra helpings of streaky bacon, american cheese and special house sauce. This is perfect paired with the dirty starburst cocktail which will take you back to the fruity flavours of your childhood. 

5. For the DareDevils 

Beef and Octopus + Popcorn Espresso Martini

If you are a sucker for all things new and exciting, then the Beef and Octopus is the burger for you, an exclusive and innovative creation the burger takes surf and turf to a whole new level. Pair this with a Popcorn Espresso Martini for a new twist on a classic cocktail.

6. For the Avid Foodies 

The Ram + Peach and Elderflower Sours

If you have a taste for the refined things in life, why not try the Ram burger? A beef burger topped with goats cheese, sun dried tomatoes and rocket and fig mayo. Perfectly paired with the peach and elderflower sours cocktail, an on trend and chic cocktail perfect for the avid restaurant goer. 

7. For the ‘Can’t Deciders’

The Triple + Long Island

If you are the type of person who can’t decide and just wants a bit of everything the triple is the perfect burger for you. A beef burger, chicken fillet and brisket topper all packed into one bun is sure to solve your menu dilemmas. Not sure whether to have gin or vodka? The long island has it all with the perfect combination of spirits so you don’t have to decide. 

To make a booking with Burger Burger Stranmillis visit: or call 028 9543 3131