A special event on June 15 has remembered Belfast’s engineering and manufacturing past and looked forward to a bright future of creativity and entrepreneurship.
The Innovation Factory on the Springfield Road is the former site of James Mackie and Sons, one of the city’s biggest employers in its heyday.
Former Mackie’s employees were welcomed to a special open day and historical exhibition by the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Nuala McAllister, who said like Mackie’s before it, the new Innovation Factory would be a centre for excellence and boost employment in the city.
As visitors viewed the new £9.1m state of the art business centre, which fosters new and growing digital businesses the Lord Mayor said that tenants have already began employing more people since locating there.
“We have also developed a new buy local and buy social with 56per cent of spend to date going to local suppliers, more than double our original target of 25 per cent for local suppliers,” she said
“The Innovation Factory team has engaged with over 90 businesses through its Business Growth and Innovation Services, a 178 per cent increase on its annual target and I know it intends to build on this momentum to continue outstripping its targets.
“It is great to know that the team at the Innovation Factory are putting Belfast at the heart of this new digital innovation,” added the Lord Mayor.
Shane Smith, Innovation Factory Community Engagement Officer said: “Thousands of local people spent their working lives at this location. We wanted to let them see how this site has been transformed into a hub of innovation and entrepreneurship.”
The former Mackie workers viewed an exhibition of photos and memorabilia before touring the Innovation Factory, which aims to become a vital part of the city’s digital economy by creating 100 hi-tech businesses with 400 new jobs.
Former Mackie employee and local historian Bobby Foster said: “There’s always been a great camaraderie among the Mackie crew and this has been a really unique chance for us to come together and see how the site where we worked for so many years has been changed into this hi-tech building. Manufacturing had been the cornerstone of industry in Northern Ireland for so long and it’s exciting to see this new generation of digital entrepreneurs coming along.”
At its height the Mackie’s factory on the Springfield Road employed 7,000 people but the company was originally located at Albert Street by James Scrimgeour, where it manufactured spinning frames. It was taken over in 1858 by James Mackie who developed the business manufacturing flax cutters, bundling presses and twisting frames. He also made wet spinning frames and in the 1890s the business had grown so much that it was moved to the much larger premises on the Springfield Road.
During both world wars it employed even more when it switched to making munitions to support the armed forces. One of its most famous visitors was President Bill Clinton, who visited the factory to support the Northern Ireland peace process. The business closed in 1999 though many of the machines created by the company are still in use today. The site of the factory on the Springfield Road was unused for many years until the Innovation Factory was built and officially opened in 2016.
The building is the result of a partnership between Belfast City Council and Invest NI. This project is part financed by Invest Northern Ireland and the European Regional Development Fund under the Sustainable Competitiveness Programme for Northern Ireland.