'The most interesting architecture is often something that stuns you because it shouldn't really be there', says poet Roger McGough. 'I was walking along a rather ugly modern shopping street in Milan recently, the Corsa Vittorio Emmanuele, and suddenly at the end is the Duomo with all its magnificent frippery - a skyline of lace.'
So it was the sheer, magical unexpectedness of Hall Black Douglas' newly opened Verbal Arts Centre in Derry (below) that delighted and moved McGough, more used to giving poetry readings in dim and draughty halls or cramped bookshops. 'You'd actually walk past it if you didn't know it was there. It's converted from an old Victorian school, and at first it looks as if it's still boarded up. Right next door is a huge, hideous army barracks - they are commonly sited next to schools in Northern Ireland to minimise the likelihood of attack - with 12m high green steel walls and watchtowers with cameras trained over the Bogside.
'I thought, 'Beauty and the Beast', because once you open the door you are transfixed by this beautiful, light, calm space, with gleaming white walls and warm wooden flooring. Then there's a sweeping angular staircase and upstairs a lovely womb-like childrens' play area for workshops and storytelling.'
The centre is committed to using local artists and illustrators, whose work adorns the walls, and there are elaborately carved tables and lecterns by local designers in the 'incredibly posh meeting room'.