Schoolchildren witness the legacy of the Troubles through the lens of film

By | Creative Industries, Film, News, Newsroom

Seventy schoolchildren have been given a unique insight into life inside prison at the height of the Troubles, thanks to the power of film.

The screening of selected footage from the Prisons Memory Archive (PMA) took place at the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) in Titanic Quarter in association with education charity, Into Film.

The event included talks from two former prisoners from both sides of the conflict, Progressive Unionist Party leader Billy Hutchinson a former UVF prisoner who served 16 years between 1974-90 in Long Kesh and Maze Prison and Angela Nelson, a former Republican prisoner who was on remand at Armagh Gaol between 1973 and 1975 and 1976-77.

Both spoke about their experiences of life inside and how they became involved in the conflict. The school children also heard from Joanna McMinn, an Open University teacher, who taught Women’s Studies on the H Blocks.

Sean Kelly from Into Film said the event illustrated the power of film to educate young people about their history and culture, a chance to learn from the past.

“These young people have no direct experience of growing up during the Troubles so this screening and talk is a powerful living memory of what it was like during those difficult times and a warning that they should never be repeated. Archive events such as this further illustrate the power of film as an educational tool and the importance of storytelling within our culture,” he said.

Cahal McLaughlin, director of PMA said: “The legacy of the past is still with us. The stories in the Prisons Memory Archive from those who experienced the Troubles are important in our understanding of where we have come from and in helping us to move forward.”

The PMA is a collection of 175 filmed walk-and-talk recordings with those who had a connection with Armagh Gaol and the Maze and Long Kesh Prison during the conflict. Recordings took place in 2006 and 2007 within the empty prison sites, and the archive includes stories from a wide range of people connected with the prisons, including former prisoners, prison staff and teachers. The archive also contains video footage and photos from both sites.

With the backing of the National Lottery Heritage Fund a new partnership between the PMA, PRONI and QUB is making the recordings, footage and photographs accessible at PRONI and through a new interactive website.

An active outreach programme also aims to engage people, including schoolchildren, through events, to help them learn about their shared heritage.

For more information about the PMA and to watch a selection of recordings visit:

ProfileTree branches out into Chinese market

By | Business, General, News, Newsroom

A Belfast digital marketing agency has created a new global online training programme that is attracting strong sales across the vast Chinese market.

ProfileTree is on a growth fast track with its training courses providing strategic planning and hands on skills in digital, Youtube and Amazon marketing. It has already sold 20,000 courses in China with additional sales in Europe and plans for future development.

“There’s a huge appetite for these skills around the world but particularly in Asia where the digital economy has expanded rapidly in recent years. We are able to offer courses on a web platform that can be customised for students and professionals depending on their needs and the needs of their organisations,” explained CEO Ciaran Connolly.

Ciaran and his wife Michelle started the company in 2010 but growth accelerated in 2017 when the business moved into Innovation Factory on the Springfield Road with its six staff. In the two years that the company was at Innovation Factory it trebled its staff and greatly expanded its work portfolio. In addition to the training portal it also offers content marketing, search engine optimisation, web design, digital strategy and video production. Its own Youtube channels have accrued more than six million views with its mix of one to one interviews offering invaluable business advice.

Ciaran explained that Innovation Factory was an important factor in the development of the business.

“One of the things that makes Innovation Factory so special is its unique environment, which really facilitates networking opportunities. The range of businesses and the chance to bounce ideas around over a cup of tea was a great catalyst for us. We worked in collaboration with other tenants and these casual conversations were also a great sounding board,” he added.

“The events and the support from all of the staff at Innovation Factory was a huge benefit. They all genuinely wanted to help and to see us succeed,” he said.

ProfileTree has recently set up in its own new offices and plans to continue to bring its online content to a global audience.

Innovation Factory Centre Director Majella Barkley said: “ProfileTree is such a positive success story for Belfast. It’s been fantastic to see how quickly the company were able to accelerate its growth in just two years by taking strategic decisions and seizing new opportunities.”

For more information on Profile Tree go to and for Innovation Factory see

Halifax Foundation for Northern Ireland’s £1.2m boost to charities

By | Business, Corporate, News, Newsroom

Northern Ireland’s leading charity foundation, which contributed more than £1.2m to the most vulnerable in society this year, has pledged to increase its funding even further to local charities.

Halifax Foundation for Northern Ireland, during a special ceremony in Parliament Buildings, released details of its most recent spending round, handing out 568 grants totalling £1,238,340 to 353 charities.

This is £150,000 more than the previous year’s support with the figure set to be increased next year as it announced a major overhaul to its grants procedures.

Brenda McMullan, Executive Director of Halifax Foundation for Northern Ireland, said that the new grants strategy would simplify the process and make it more flexible so that more community organisations can directly help those in the most need.

“We will be offering short term grants of up to £2,500 with a simplified application process. We will also offer medium term grants of up to £10,000 and three year, long term grants which will total £50,000 for larger projects,” she said.

The celebration event at Stormont recognised the dedication of hundreds of grassroots voluntary organisations working every day to improve the lives of deprived communities. Areas supported include early years, health, education and training, services for the elderly and disability support.

Jim McCooe, a Foundation Trustee and Lloyds Banking Group Ambassador for Northern Ireland, said that the Voluntary and Community sector was continuing to experience budget cuts and difficult challenges.

“Halifax Foundation has a track record of supporting charities in Northern Ireland that stretches back 34 years.  In that time they have supported over 10,500 grants to the tune of £37.5m.  At a time when the sector is finding challenges in sourcing funding, it is critical that organisations such as the Halifax Foundation continue to play a leading role in this field.

Tracy Meharg, Permanent Secretary of the Department for Communities said: “The range of activities the Halifax Foundation has supported is truly making a difference to people’s lives and our communities.  This support complements the programmes and funding streams offered by the Department for Communities and a number of other government departments.”

Dozens of representatives from charities receiving grant aid were present at the event in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings, along with political representatives.

Halifax Foundation for Northern Ireland is a grant making Foundation, whose income is derived from Lloyds Banking Group. It supports registered charities, helping people who are disadvantaged and disabled play a fuller role in their communities.  For the past 34 years the Foundation has distributed £37.5m to an estimated 10,500 different projects improving the lives of disadvantaged people.

Applications for funding can be made online at



Young talent given chance to star in new musical at Theatre at the Mill

By | Creative Industries, Newsroom, Theatre

Three of the leading lights of Northern Ireland musical theatre have united to give up-and-coming talent a chance to star in a newly commissioned show.

Mark Dougherty, Pamela Cassells-Totton and Michael Poynor have come together to create STRIVE the musical – Northern Ireland’s answer to FAME, which takes to the stage from February 18-23 to celebrate the tenth birthday of Theatre at the Mill.

The cast includes 17 young people aged 7-18 and six adult performers in an original musical penned by Pamela Cassells-Totton, directed by Michael Poynor with a musical score from Mark Dougherty.

STRIVE has all the drama of 1980’s legwarmer classic FAME, with family disputes and inter-student rivalries as the young people attempt to climb the greasy pole to West End success.

Pamela devised the musical based on her experiences running her own performing arts school based in Craigavon.

She said: “STRIVE Academy is bursting with talented young people all desperate to prove they’ve got what it takes to make it big. This is a story of loss, love and sheer determination, of never giving up on your dream, no matter how impossible it seems.”

Composer Mark Dougherty, the former musical director of Riverdance, describes STRIVE as ‘FAME meets Hollyoaks meets Grease’. His score includes the opening song ‘London’, an anthem for all the fledgling performers trying to make it over in the illusively gold-paved streets of Theatreland.

It is directed by Michael Poynor, a renowned theatre educator who has seen the likes of his students Rachel Tucker, James Nesbitt; Michael Sheen; Conleth Hill, Michelle Fairley and Jonjo O’Neill achieve West End success.

The new show is the latest original production commissioned by Theatre at the Mill, which over the past ten years has delivered a host of top-class youth shows under its Homespun programme, offering young people the opportunity to work with distinguished professional directors, musical directors and choreographers. The 400-seat theatre opened its doors in 2010.

Theatre manager Bernard Clarkson said the decision to commission a piece from some of Northern Ireland’s top musical theatre talent showed how supportive Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council is in promoting the Arts.

“The council has always been a proud advocate of the Arts and this is a great example of how it is continuing to give opportunities to young people while commissioning new work that gives our local talent the space to create original productions,” he added.

The show runs from February 18-23. To book contact the Box Office on 028 9034 0202 or go to