Belfast couple launch local food delivery service during lockdown

By | Business, Food for thought, General, News, Newsroom

When Belfast couple Lydia Hodgins and Justin Thompson dreamt of starting their own food delivery business, they never imagined it would be in the middle of a worldwide pandemic.

The pair had been planning the launch of LocalBoxNI for months when the lockdown hit, creating a surge in demand for food delivery services.

“Here we were living together, working together and trying to start a business together in the midst of this huge crisis. It was such a scary time but we felt that people really wanted and needed good, healthy food and it was increasingly difficult to get out to buy it. So we made the leap and our first deliveries went out on April 25th,” Lydia said.

LocalBoxNI is a home delivery food service bringing the best locally made products to homes in Belfast. The idea started when the foodie pair found they were spending increasing amounts of time going from farm shop to market buying fresh, local products.

“Northern Ireland has such amazing food and we felt it was really important to support local businesses but we didn’t have the time to get around all these wonderful places to get the food we cared about. We wished there was a service that would just deliver it all to our door so we didn’t have to spend all day Saturday going out to buy it. So we decided to start the business bringing the food we love to other people,” she said.

Justin, a full-time software engineer at a tech start up, was able to build the website and the pair personally sourced suppliers across Northern Ireland. Customers can order products like homemade sourdough bread, Abernethy butter, Belfast Coffee Roasters coffee, Fermanagh free range eggs, charcuterie and chorizo from Limavady, bacon from Omagh, locally produced cheeses and Rathlin kelp pesto to name just some of the products.

“Our aim was to reduce the environmental impact of our purchases and to support the local economy. At the moment we take orders all week then deliver across Belfast on a Saturday as soon as the fresh bread arrives with us. Because we only order what we need from our suppliers, there’s no food waste,” Lydia explained.

All the delivery boxes are collected, cleaned and sanitised and reused adding to the company’s sustainable ethos. Their unique take on local food and sustainability helped them to become finalists in the Belfast Business Ideas Awards run by Belfast City Council.

The couple pack and pesonally deliver all the boxes themselves on a Saturday morning to homes in Belfast. “We’ve been overwhelmed by the positive reaction when we arrive with a delivery and we’re just so thankful that we can share our love of local food with others,” she said.

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Youth Forum calls for meeting with First Minister & Deputy First Minister

By | General, News

Northern Ireland’s young people must be involved in decisions affecting their lives as the Covid-19 lockdown eases.

The Northern Ireland Youth Forum (NIYF), which represents their interests, said its research has shown young people suffering from boredom, anxiety and feelings of isolation since measures were introduced to stem the spread of the virus.

NIYF Deputy Director Phil Glennon said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated what was already a mental health crisis among young people. It is vital that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister ensure that their voices are heard as Northern Ireland emerges from lockdown.”

The NIYF conducted two surveys during the Covid-19 pandemic focusing on the feelings of young people as Northern Ireland entered and prepared to come out of lockdown.

Respondents felt that their views have not been considered, with 88% stating the importance of young people being part of the decision-making process.

NIYF Political Champion and North Down MLA, Rachel Woods said it was clear that young people must be consulted in any decisions on their future, post lockdown.

She added: “The NIYF has consistently called for a meaningful Youth Conference with the Executive in which the views of young people are heard. I completely support that and will also be pushing for the establishment of a Youth Assembly that was promised many years ago.  Young people are still waiting, and they should not have to wait any longer.”

The NIYF surveys revealed that the main issues facing young people were mental health, boredom, education and learning, isolation and loneliness and fear and uncertainty. Post lockdown the main things that young people are worried about are socialising with their friends, adjusting to new measures and health and wellbeing.


Free online workshops offer screen career advice for young people

By | Creative Industries, Film, General

Northern Ireland’s leading film, TV and games professionals will provide free online training sessions to young people looking for a career in the screen industry.

Education charity Into Film and Northern Ireland Screen have launched ‘ScreenWorks Online’ a series of 15 video tutorials with feedback from industry professionals aimed at stimulating interest in a range of disciplines from prosthetics to visual effects and storyboarding.

ScreenWorks co-ordinator Sean Boyle said that while the global pandemic has brought a halt to major film and television productions, Into Film and Northern Ireland Screen were continuing to plan for a time when work resumes.

“ScreenWorks Online will enable greater numbers of young people to become aware of the exciting opportunities in the screen industry. After watching the tutorial, they will then be set a task which our industry professionals will critique, giving them individual feedback on their work. We hope that the young people who participate in the virtual tutorials will join the workshops when they restart,” he said.

The first workshop to go online on Documentary Filmmaking has been created by director Brian Henry Martin.

Mr Martin said: “It was an honour to present an online documentary tutorial for ScreenWorks, who are such a vibrant and vital enabler for the next generation of filmmakers across Northern Ireland. And at this most difficult time, I was particularly delighted to offer young people the opportunity to devise their own documentaries at home. This is a fun exercise, designed for participants to reflect the world around them and I look forward to hopefully seeing some of their creative approaches on screens in the future.”

A further 14 videos will be rolled out in the coming weeks. Each video is 10-20 minutes long and will include online exercises for students to work on at home to help build up their portfolios.

Richard Williams, Chief Executive of Northern Ireland Screen, said: “We are delighted that ScreenWorks has been able to move online so that young people can continue to be inspired by our local industry professionals. We are grateful to those who have taken the time to make these workshops possible and we’re confident that participants will come away with an increased awareness and understanding of the variety of screen industry roles available to them.”

Since January 2019, ScreenWorks, co-ordinated by Into Film and funded by Northern Ireland Screen, has provided work experience to more than 500 students in 40 different programmes.

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Vulnerable elderly carers have been forgotten says charity boss

By | Business, Charities, General, News

Hundreds of kinship carers, including many vulnerable elderly people providing full-time care for their grandchildren have been abandoned during the Covid-19 crisis.

That’s the view of Jacqueline Williamson, Chief Executive of Derry-based Kinship Care, which has been providing emergency food parcels and other essential aid to families living in severe poverty.

She said: “Since lockdown we have provided emergency food parcels for 261 kinship carers looking after 311 children. One lady with Stage 3 Cancer, who looks after two grandchildren, has been provided with four food parcels. She can’t leave her home. It is a priority for us to support this carer and other carers with significant health issues.

“Government guidance is that grandparents shouldn’t have any contact with their grandchildren but that isn’t an option for the families we support as many are raising their grandchildren. They have received no guidance or support from the authorities.”

Kinship Care closed its five shops at the beginning of March, with a loss of £2,600 in revenue per week but has since been swamped by families looking for help.

“Many of our older carers have pre-existing health conditions and are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19. We realised they were going to be struggling with the lockdown and targeted those aged over 70 raising grandchildren and younger carers aged 18-25 bringing up younger siblings,” added Jacqueline

The charity received no direct support from social services or the health trusts, who have a statutory duty to provide for these children. But it has been contacted by some social workers asking it to send food parcels or other essentials to families looking after them.

Faced with a collapse in income at a time when there is a huge demand for services, Kinship Care made an application to the Halifax Foundation for NI for £9,900 to provide services for carers in the Derry and Strabane areas, including food parcels and emergency activity packs for children.

Jacqueline added: “We spent the money in eight days. The charity sector is running out of money and organisations such as the Halifax Foundation for NI have jumped in and provided support to meet the immediate needs of very vulnerable families. The National Lottery has also helped, and we have received small amounts of money from other donors.”

Brenda McMullan, Executive Director of the Halifax Foundation for NI said: “We felt it was essential to act quickly and support as many charities as we could. Organisations like Kinship Care are providing essential support for vulnerable families at this difficult time. To date we have awarded more than £500K to 100 charities supporting their communities.”

Many elderly carers are looking after four or five grandchildren without a penny of support because they aren’t aware of any entitlement to financial aid or the parents of the children continue to claim child benefit, which prevents grandparents from making a claim for support. This is at a time when these families urgently need money to feed the children under their care.

“We have at least another three weeks of lockdown and our older grandparents will still be advised to isolate. They are going to be frightened to come out of their homes. In some cases, given the health conditions of some of our carers this time could prove fatal.

“The only outcome for the youngsters is going into the care system. Our ethos is keeping children with their families. It is a pity that the Government hasn’t recognised this, and it is only organisations like the Halifax Foundation and other generous charitable foundations that have taken an interest in their plight,” added Jacqueline.

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