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It’s not just show biz – creative media gets active support in NI


Fiona McElroy

By Emily McDaid

When we met with Ulster University lecturer Conann Fitzpatrick, detailed here, he discussed several projects in NI that have developed the creative industries. For example, the 140 Second Club, produced in conjunction with Belfast City Council and Fiona McElroy, creative enterprise manager at Ulster University. Conann said: “The concept behind 140 seconds is that it’s the ideal time to pitch a business idea – in just over two minutes.”

The programme ran in 2016. It shortlisted 30 promising startups from across the creative industries. The candidates were whittled down to 10. The finalists received extensive mentorship in bringing their creative ideas to commercial reality. One such company is owned by Carrie Davenport, a photographer, who said that the programme gave her new ways of thinking about her product.

Carrie said: “I thought the programme was very inspiring - it showed us new ways of tackling problems and addressing challenges in work using creative processes. It was great to meet other people working on their own, as being self employed does mean a lot of working solo. I really enjoyed the chance to hear about other creators’ work.”


The Honeycomb Creative Works Programme, which was delivered from 2013 - 2015, has focused on developing the digital content sector in Northern Ireland, the 6 border counties of the Republic of Ireland and the west coast of Scotland. I spoke to Fiona McElroy, who told me that the project produced 19 research reports – all of which are available here – about what was coming next in the creative industries.

“The research told us what was coming next and influenced the content of the business development and skills courses. Everything that was delivered addressed an issue that the sector encountered,”,said Fiona. She continued: “The Honeycomb research found that the majority of creative companies in the border counties of NI and Western Scotland were young companies targeting mainly domestic markets. This signalled potential for export development and expansion into international markets.”

The Honeycomb/Creative Works reports, compiled by Ulster University in partnership with Dundalk Institute of Technology and Creative Skillset, made a series of recommendations on how the digital content sector could be better supported and developed:

  • A strategic development plan focusing on particular genres would help make companies in these regions collaborate more and be more competitive
  • The establishment of a film and television studio in the border counties and in the NW could help make the industry become more competitive and grow
  • Industry-led programmes should develop both business and technical skills at all levels
  • There should be a more even distribution of the BBC licence and public service remit of Channel 4 and ITV to ensure that more production takes place outside of Belfast


Nerve Belfast has three creative learning centres (in Belfast, Derry and Armagh) to provide training for teachers and youth leaders in coding, software and creative media that work alongside school curriculums.

We spoke to creative media trainer Jennifer McAlorum about their creative media programmes. She said, “We’re moving from STEM to STEAM, where arts is integrated in traditional science and technology areas. We want to bring arts into the classroom, to make learning about science much more creative and innovative.”

She continued, “We run a BFI film programme for most of the year. We accept 24 film students, who create short films as well as doing their NCSE qualification to work in the film industry. This is open to 16-19 year olds. The final films will be showcased at the QFT.”

Nerve Belfast also supports primary schools’ use of iPads for moving image arts. Trainers focus on film, music, science, animation, and photography to complement other areas of learning. “Teachers benefit from being shown how best to implement the technology,” said Jennifer.

FabLab at the Nerve Centre in Derry has a drop-in session where any member of the public can spend a Saturday afternoon creating things. Anything that can be created with a laser cutter, vinyl cutter or 3D printer can be made. “Whatever you can print or cut out, you can make, including keyrings, jigsaws. We use a package like Illustrator to make the design and then input it into the printer,” said Jennifer.

I can think of far worse ways to spend a Saturday.

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