West Belfast company set to expand into US

By | Corporate, General, News, Newsroom

A West Belfast company that is transforming the fortunes of sports clubs across Ireland and the UK plans to open a base in the US early next year, creating an additional 20 jobs in Belfast.

Concept Apps, based at the Innovation Factory on the Springfield Road, developed Team Fee Pay a new web based application that makes it easier and more efficient for sports clubs to collect payments from members.

The partners in the company are all involved in sports development and volunteer as team coaches; together they have over 150 years of experience. They noticed one big universal problem that affects clubs everywhere, which they felt they could solve.

“The biggest issue facing sports clubs is that they are operating at 50-70% of the revenue that they should because people fail to pay their subs, or don’t turn up from week to week. In addition there can be long queues on practice days to pay fees and they may have two or three means to pay which creates an accounting nightmare,” explained Darren McArdle, Operations Director for Team Fee Pay.

“Everyone wants their club to be the best – to have the top facilities, the greatest coaches and the best equipment. You can’t do that unless everyone pays their subs. Once you increase that level, it frees up capital for investment,” he added.

The partners connected with a former friend and Technology expert, who is now a partner in the business, who developed an application that allows them to build a bespoke payment system for each club offering a safe and secure payment service for users. It also means the club can easily monitor payments.

They now have over 100 clubs with 16,000 users. Examples of success have been Glenavon FC and Carnmoney Ladies FC, which quickly achieved 100% payment collection, providing a budget boost for new equipment for the season.

Currently employing four people, Concept Apps was identified as a business that would reach a multi-million dollar valuation in USA during the Mass Challenge in Boston in the summer. During that visit to Boston the company has created many links, distribution channels and is all set for the big move stateside.

“All of our customer service and back end support will continue to be based in Belfast at the Innovation Factory. The location really suits us and the flexibility to take on more space really works for us – we’ve already been able to expand into additional offices as the business has grown.  We will need to offer round the clock support as we will be working in multiple time zones so that fact that Innovation Factory is open 24 hours a day with on-site parking and security is essential for us,” he said.

“We’ve had great support from Innovation Factory, especially in providing on-going strategy discussions with our leadership team around funding and commercialisation,” he added.

Majella Barkley, Innovation Director at the Innovation Factory said: “Concept Apps is exactly the type of forward looking company that this facility was set up to help develop. It is very exciting that they are attracting such interest in the United States which has a multi-billion dollar sports sector.”

Innovation Factory is owned by Belfast City Council and operated on their behalf by Oxford Innovation. The £9.1m business hub was funded by Belfast City Council and Invest NI with support from the European Regional Development Fund.

Customers include a range of start-ups and growing businesses in a variety of sectors including digital services, creative industries, business services, financial services and research and development.

For more information on the Innovation Factory visit: www.innovationfactoryni.com

Young people demand end to ‘culture of silence’ on mental health

By | General, News, Newsroom

For the first time, young people in Northern Ireland have come together to demand a voice in shaping the future of mental health education and support services.

A culture of silence is preventing thousands of teenagers in Northern Ireland from accessing vital mental health services, according to a report carried out by young people for young people.

Now they are urging decision makers to listen to their demands for better information and for an awareness raising campaign to challenge the stigma of mental health.

The ‘Elephant in the Room: Exploring young people’s awareness of mental health in Northern Ireland’ was created by the Youth Mental Health Committee which conducted an online attitude survey of more than 1200 young people aged 14-17.

Ninety per cent of those surveyed believed that there needs to be an awareness raising campaign focusing on mental health and young people to challenge the stigma and culture of silence.

The committee represents the Northern Ireland Youth Forum, Belfast Youth Forum and the youth@clc (youth advisory panel to the Children’s Law Centre). The campaign to date has been funded by the National Lottery and Belfast City Council.

Niamh Mallaghan (17) from the Youth Mental Health Committee said:

“Our campaign means so much to every single person involved for different reasons and now that we have had the chance to work so hard to achieve our aims, it has really shown us what we are capable of doing. Our report is only been launched and I feel as though we’re already changing attitudes and destroying stigma and it’s such a rewarding feeling. We hope that this campaign will be long running and have the ability to make the change that young people in Northern Ireland need.”

Amanda Stewart, from the Northern Ireland Youth Forum, added: “This report shows clearly that young people need to have a voice when it comes to the future planning of Mental health information and services. The young people have exposed the ‘Elephant in the Room’ – the Government’s failure to provide adequate strategies and services to combat the growing number of young people affected by mental ill health. More than 20% of them will have experienced mental health problems by the time they are 18.”

The authors of the report are calling on decision makers to:

  • Support the creation of a youth-led, government backed mental health campaign, challenging the culture of silence and negative stigma
  • Work with young people to develop a new and positive language around mental health by creating a ‘mental health dictionary’ which could be used as part of a mental health curriculum programme.
  • Create a compulsory curriculum programme for all schools and colleges on mental health and wellbeing that helps to raise awareness and challenge stigma and allows young people to access consistent mental health information.
  • Create a website for young people designed by young people to provide mental health information, support and raise awareness and challenge stigma.

With the help of experts from Ulster University the project team developed an online survey and held a series of focus groups across Northern Ireland. A total of 1268 young people completed the survey and 151 took part in the focus groups in Belfast, Newry, Ballymena and Derry.

The survey found that more than 90% believed mental health was a huge issue for young people in Northern Ireland. It identified three broad areas of concern: Stigma, Safe Spaces and Schools and Information.

It found that the stigma surrounding mental health prevented young people talking about it. Large numbers of those taking part in the survey said there was a lack of safe spaces to talk about mental health. They talked about the negative impact of social media on mental health, leading to online bullying or a backlash from friends.

But participants said that the internet was the best place to reach young people and to get them access to mental health information. The challenge was to separate fact from fiction and keep young people safe online.

The research showed that young people felt the schools could do more in providing mental health education and support. 87% of those surveyed felt that mental health education should be part of the school curriculum.

World’s biggest youth film festival returns to NI – bookings now open

By | Creative Industries, Festivals, Film, News, Newsroom

The world’s biggest youth film festival returns to Northern Ireland on November 7-23, with 21,677 free places available for film screenings and events for 5-19 year-olds.

Bookings opened today (September 5) for the sixth Into Film Festival 2018, which is open to schools, colleges, youth leaders and home educators.

The Festival uses the magic of film to engage young minds in a broad range of topics.  This year it will host 98 events in 34 different venues all over Northern Ireland; for programme details and to book free tickets visitwww.intofilm.org/festival

Held right across the UK, the festival will welcome an estimated audience of almost half a million young people and their educators offering a packed and varied programme, many linked to subjects in the curriculum.

The annual celebration of film and education is made possible through a wide collaboration with the UK cinema industry and funding from Northern Ireland Screen, Cinemagic, Nerve Centre and support from the BFI through Lottery funding and Cinema First. The Festival takes place throughout the UK as part of an on-going initiative to place film at the heart of young people’s learning and personal development.  With support from all the major UK cinema chains and a variety of other venues the Festival provides access to the big screen at its best.

The Festival opens on November 7 with simultaneous pupil premieres of Illumination’s The Grinch, starring Benedict Cumberbatch in Edinburgh, Belfast, Cardiff, London and Manchester. Additional pupil premieres in Northern Ireland include Cannes Palme D’Or winner Shoplifters and lovable, Christmas caper, Nativity Rocks.  The programme ranges from indie titles to popular classics to engage young minds in a broad range of topicsfrom foreign language films, documentaries, animation, classics and hidden gems from the archive.

Screenings will be held across Northern Ireland including: Belfast, Antrim, Armagh, Derry, Bangor, Lisburn, Banbridge, Coleraine, Carrickfergus, Glengormley, Larne, Maghera, Dungannon and Portstewart.

Highlights from this year’s programme in Northern Ireland include:

  • The Ark Farm will show The Zoo
  • Cartoon Saloon’s award-winning The Breadwinner with a talk from director Nora Twomey
  • The Greatest Showman with jugglers and stilt walkers performing
  • Tying in with Digital Cities Festival (BBC) there will be a VR event with Ready Player One in Queen’s University Sonic Arts Lab with a talk about virtual reality
  • Talks by a journalist from Empire Magazine on film reviewing
  • Love Movies will give a piracy talk
  • A Prosthetics workshop
  • A screening of Wonder with a talk about bullying and mental health

The programme supports educator and student needs and interests and has been curated in six strands:

Mental Wellbeing: Moving Minds

This is our wellbeing strand that aims to open-up discussion around young people’s mental health.

Year of the Woman: Empowered Voices

Titles in this strand are ‘F’ rated – this standard refers only to films that have either been directed or written by a woman, or in some cases both. If the films feature strong female characters at the centre, they are considered to represent the gold standard of the F-rating.

Visions of Europe

Celebrating our relationship with continental Europe, their respective film industries and film culture, with key titles from the past and present.

Saving the World: Eco Warriors, Superheroes and Revolutionaries

From environmental issues to superheroes, international politics and dystopian futures, saving the world is never straightforward.

Anim 18 Connections: An Animated World

In support of the BFI’s FAN-led (Film Audience Network) year-long celebration of British animation

– Anim18. This strand will feature new and archive animated content from across the globe.

Comedy Genius: Slapstick to Subversive

Complimenting the BFI’s blockbuster Autumn season, ‘Comedy Genius’ will give a platform to the stand-out comedians from film history. The strand is compiled with the help of young programmers from Into Film’s Youth Advisory Council and the BFI’s Film Audience Network (FAN), programming groups who have provided their view on what constitutes comic genius.

The Into Film Festival is supported by Into Film’s various educational resources and hosts an annual review writing competition providing an added opportunity for using the Into Film Festival to support literacy and critical thinking.

Accessibility and inclusivity are key aims of the Festival with over half of the programme offered as audio-described, subtitled or autism-friendly.

For programme information, to book tickets and download resources visit www.intofilm.org/festival

The tale of the record producer and the storyteller

By | Creative Industries, General, Music, News, Newsroom

A successful record producer from Belfast has launched a new storytelling bursary to support people hoping to train in this ancient tradition and to increase opportunities for people young and old to hear stories right across Northern Ireland.

Roger Armstrong helped found Ace Records in London in the 1970s, which has released more than 5,000 records.

Now he is launching the Armstrong Storytelling Bursary in honour of his parents Peg and Jim Armstrong. The story all began in the 1980’s when Roger’s mum and dad met Liz Weir, who was running a Yarnspinners storytelling group, prompting them to form their own group at Tullycarnet Library.

In honour of his late parents, Roger set up the initial storytelling residency with Libraries NI. After two years of programming with Libraries NI he feels it’s time to expand its scope and having invested his own money he hopes to involve interested members of the business community.

Storytelling has huge benefits:  it can improve children’s literacy and communication, engage with people with dementia and help companies improve their management skills. Roger hopes that other business leaders will join him now and he has set up a community interest company (CIC) that will fund the development of new storytellers and reach thousands of people in Northern Ireland.

He said: “We have the personnel and project in place but need further finance to roll it out on a bigger scale.

“Storytelling is a vivid and immediate way to entertain, engage and inform people but it’s much more than that. It teaches core life skills, communication, confidence, critical thinking and empathy.

“It can actually be life-changing. We have seen young people who were desperately shy, end up telling new stories to their peers and develop confidence to speak out. We’ve worked with elderly people with dementia who were almost non-communicative and these stories brought out memories and their own stories”

The bursary is cross community and is also dedicated to bringing stories from around the world to Northern Ireland, introducing people from different cultures and experiences to entertain the public. In the pilot project run over the last two and a half years, the funding provided by Roger meant that 15,251 people listened to stories told by 32 different people and a further 437 people received storytelling training.

Liz Weir, Northern Ireland’s leading storyteller, has a long and colourful career in which she’s told stories to literally thousands of people of all ages, trained up and coming storytellers and even worked with leading stage actors and a raft of big businesses to improve their communications skills.

She said: “In this digital age where everyone is staring at screens all day, it’s important to keep alive the tradition of speaking and telling your story. Everyone has a story to tell, it’s just a question of providing the skills and opportunity to tell it.”

Fellow storyteller Pat Ryan, an educator originally from the US, has been teaching storytelling to everyone from schoolchildren to premiership footballers and coaches. He believes it is essential for this tradition to continue.

“Teachers had been required to teach half an hour of storytelling. This is something that is no longer on the curriculum but we are helping to bridge that gap. We go into schools and tell stories but we also teach the young people to tell their own stories. Many of them have never spoken before a group and this can be the first step in developing an essential life skill,” Pat said.

Roger is convinced of the benefits of storytelling and wants to use his bursary to spread the word: “There is a rich supply of local talent in Northern Ireland. We have some people who have gone from being unemployed to being full time professional storytellers, going to schools, nursing homes spreading the traditional art for which Northern Ireland is famous. So we don’t just help educate, we also help create employment and produce students that are fit and ready for the workplace.”

For more information go to www.armstory.org.uk