Growing games industry gives young people chance of dream job

By | Charities, Creative Industries, Gaming, General, News

Turning a passion for drawing comic books into a successful career in Northern Ireland’s growing game development industry is a dream for many young people.

Now through the free ScreenWorks programme, students are being given a unique insight and training to help them get a foot on the career ladder by Stephen Downey, director of creative at Belfast company Outsider Games.

His company, which employs seven people from its University Road studio, is wrapping up production on its latest game, Jennifer Wilde: Unlikely Revolutionaries. They have now moved on to creating a new game called Tax Force, where players track down billionaire tax avoiders in space.

“You hunt them down and make them pay! I got the idea a few years ago when I was doing my tax return and then I saw someone on TV saying their company made billions but didn’t pay taxes. The two things just came together and I thought this could be a lot of fun,” Stephen said.

The ScreenWorks programme, delivered by Into Film and funded by NI Screen, has brought together 15 screen industry professionals from a range of fields to help young people better understand career options. As well as online group sessions, each of the professionals will mentor a small number of young people on a one-to-one basis.

“The gaming industry is really starting to take off here. When I started Outsider Games 10 years ago, there were few studios in Northern Ireland and no university courses offering training. There’s so much more opportunity now,” he said.

Stephen began his career as a freelance comic artist 15 years ago, creating his own work and showing it at comic conventions. His networking paid off and he got hired to draw for comics Torchwood, How to Train Your Dragon and Flash Gordon.

He continued to network and got work drawing storyboards for Halo: Nightfall and Krypton as well as working with movie studios to create apps used to promote their films.

“People can be quite fearful of freelance work because they feel it isn’t a guaranteed income. While that’s true, there are so many opportunities out there if you’re flexible and keep connected to people. It opened up a lot of doors for me,” he added.

Through ScreenWorks online he talks to young people about their drawing and storytelling skills and explains the roles of all the others who put the game together including animators, 3D modellers, music composers/sound designers and programmers.

Sean Boyle of Into Film said: “Game development is a serious business with huge potential. Stephen’s online workshops have shown young people the opportunities that are out there and has given them first-hand knowledge of this exciting new industry.”

ScreenWorks Online is aimed at young people aged 14-19. For more information go to Into Film’s new learning platform at www.intofilm.org/screenworksonline.

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Halifax Foundation commits £678,439 to NI projects

By | Business, Charities, News, Newsroom

Halifax Foundation for Northern Ireland is committing £678,439 funding to 38 charities providing vital services for some of the most disadvantaged people in the community.

The Foundation has released two special grant streams to target groups most affected by the pandemic at a time when charities are under unprecedented pressure.

The Large Grants Scheme will provide funding up to £50,000 over the next three years for ten charities working in areas such as mental health and domestic abuse while the Special Initiatives Scheme gives up to £20,000 to seven major organisations supporting the sector over two years.

In addition, through its Community Grants programme, another £76,446 will go to 21 charities.

Brenda McMullan, Executive Director of the Halifax Foundation for NI, said: “The community in Northern Ireland has suffered greatly over the past year. This money will go to supporting key projects that will make a major impact on people’s lives by targeting the areas of most need.”

Charities supported by the Large Grants Scheme include:

  • Mental Health projects for Eating Disorders Association NI, Mid-Ulster Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, Tackling Awareness for Mental Health Issues (TAMHI)
  • Domestic Abuse projects for Omagh Women’s Aid and the Cithrah Foundation.
  • Other charity projects include Hands that Talk, East Belfast Independent Advice Centre, Invisible Traffick, Creggan Country Park and Armagh Traveller Support Group.

Foundation Chair Paula Leathem said: “We felt it was imperative to provide additional tailored support to local charities as we start to rebuild after the pandemic. Not only will these projects receive funding but they will also have mentoring support from key staff at Lloyds Banking Group.”

The Special Initiatives Scheme is designed for organisations that support the community and voluntary sector, helping it to grow and develop.

These include projects for: C03, NICVA, Northern Ireland Sports Forum, Rural Community Network NI, Volunteer Now, Will to Give and Sported Foundation.

The Halifax Foundation has just marked its 35th anniversary of grant funding in Northern Ireland.  Over that time, it has given £39 million to local charities.

The organisation receives an annual donation from Lloyds Banking Group to fund all its Grant Programmes, including its Matched Giving Scheme, which supports the fundraising and volunteering efforts of staff from Halifax and Lloyds Bank in Northern Ireland.

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International Women’s Day NI celebrates ‘The New Phenomenal’

By | General, News, Newsroom

This year’s International Women’s Day in Northern Ireland will focus on the ‘phenomenal women’ who have made an impact on society during the pandemic and beyond.

Covid-19 restrictions mean that all activity will take place online but Reclaim the Agenda will be hosting a programme of free events from 1-14th March.

Danielle Roberts, co-chair of Reclaim the Agenda, said: “There has been a lot of talk about ‘the new normal’ recently, but why should we settle for going back to normal? We’ve a chance to reshape society into one that is more equal for everyone.”

The rally, which normally includes a march from Writer’s Square to City Hall, will move online on Saturday, March 6 from 11am to 12.30pm with an interactive programme including speeches by some phenomenal women.

“We want to encourage women to wear their feminist swag, make placards and join in the fun and entertainment from their living rooms. We are celebrating all the phenomenal women who have rallied during the pandemic, from healthcare and other essential workers, to those home-schooling, caring and volunteering, and all the activists driving change,” Danielle added.

The speakers on the day will include: New Yorker Nancy Wallach from the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, Sonya McMullan from Women’s Aid Federation NI, Naomi Sloan from Youth Action, Coumilah Manjoo Belfast Multi-Cultural Association, Hasna Elsifyofi of the Sudanese Community Association of NI, Susan Campbell of the British Deaf Association and Deborah Yapicioz of the Unison Women’s Committee as well as Belfast Lord Mayor Frank McCoubrey who will give a welcome on the day.

Over the fortnight there are more than 20 events celebrating the role of women and the fight for equality in Northern Ireland and across the world.

Highlights include:

  • March 2 – NI Centenary event discussion how women made their voices heard in 1921 and how things have changed in 100 years
  • March 8 –International Women’s Day solidarity greetings from near and far
  • March 9 – Am I On Mute? Can You Hear Me? A discussion on the difficulty for women creating change
  • March 11th – Betty Sinclair – Celebrating life of Betty Sinclair with her great great niece Jenny Nelson

The Northern Ireland International Women’s Day programme will be officially launched online on February 24 at 12.30pm with stories from phenomenal women who carried us through the pandemic and a vision for a more positive future.

For more information about this year’s International Women’s Day “The New Phenomenal” go to www.reclaimtheagenda.com. #IWDNI21

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Belfast company Tosbourn secures contract with Camden Council

By | Business, General, News, Newsroom

Belfast web development company Tosbourn Limited has won a new contract with London’s Camden Council to deliver its digital strategy to deal with the challenges caused by the pandemic.

The company is working with Camden’s digital services team to review its online output to help cut costs and improve efficiency. This includes redesigning web applications brought in quickly during the early stages of the pandemic and assessing the council’s requirements to improve its services.

Managing Director Toby Osbourn said: “The pandemic has been a huge driver for digital transformation and many businesses and government agencies developed applications very quickly to support people in their communities. Now they need to adapt those applications to suit the current needs.  For example, a web application to educate on Covid-19 symptoms may need amended to support the vaccine drive.”

Camden, with more than 260,000 residents, is seeking to have the best digital services to meet the needs of its citizens by offering flexible online services that represent value for money.

Louise Brown, Lead Delivery Manager at Camden Council said: “The work that the team at Tosbourn is doing is essential to developing and delivering our digital strategy. Digital has been key to how Camden has addressed the challenges of the past year and with their expert guidance we hope to build on that experience to address many more of our resident and local business needs.”

Tosbourn, run by husband and wife team Toby and Elaine Osbourn, has represented a range of high profile organisations including Barnardo’s, Hackney Council, Kainos and Lisson Gallery.

“We see ourselves as a ‘technical best friend’. Our strength is that we talk to both developers and lay people in a language they understand. We advise businesses and organisations of every size to help them get value for money from their development teams. Not every business or agency has the technical knowledge to make sure they get what they require for the best possible cost,” Toby said.

Toby and Elaine had been working from London but decided to bring the business home to Northern Ireland in the summer of 2020 after the first lockdown was lifted. They quickly accessed Belfast City Council’s business development support and have been mentored by Full Circle Management Solutions.

Toby added: “The support we’ve got has been excellent. All of our contacts were in London, we didn’t have a network here and they are helping us build that. Now we’re growing the business and bringing our expertise and knowledge to organisations in Northern Ireland seeking to improve their digital capabilities to survive in this new climate.”

For further information, go to www.tosbourn.com.

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