The Duke of Gloucester visits Usel to commemorate 150th anniversary

By | Business, Environment, News, Newsroom

The Duke of Gloucester has visited the headquarters of Ulster Supported Employment Ltd (Usel) in Cambrai Street in Belfast’s Shankill Road to unveil a commemorative plaque celebrating 150 years of providing employment to people with disabilities.

During the visit The Duke heard how his family has a special place in the hearts of the people of Belfast after his father visited the city at the height of the Blitz in 1941.

Usel Chairman, William Leathem, introducing His Royal Highness, said that The Duke of Gloucester’s father, who was also Earl of Ulster, had visited nearby Percy Street, which had been devastated by bombing raids 70 years ago.

“Since then, the Gloucester family have had a close relationship with the people of Belfast,” he added.

The Duke, The Queen’s first cousin, was greeted at the Cambrai Street complex by, the Chairman of Usel, William Leathem; Chief Executive, Bill Atkinson; the Lord Lieutenant of Belfast, Fionnuala Jay O’Boyle and the Deputy Lord Lieutenant, Dr Alan Logan.

His Royal Highness was taken on a tour of the factory floor, chatting informally with staff about the various operations run by the company – bedding manufacturing, recycling, and industrial sewing departments.

During the tour, The Duke heard about the Circular Economy, the process of rescuing old products from landfill sites to create brand new products. He also met the company’s design and product manager, Andrew Bingham who demonstrated how they produce bags and PPE equipment for the emergency services.

The Duke chatted to Usel’s longest serving employee Brian Douglas, who has worked at the company for 44 years and two of its most recent employees, Beth Hagan, a server at one of the company’s Ability Cafes and Jordan Hall, who works in the admin department.

Brian said he joined Usel at its previous premises in Lawnbrook Avenue when he left school at 16. He worked in the sewing department making bags and other products. “I really like working here. I have been here for 44 years which shows it’s a great place to work,” he added

Jordan joined the company in June after completing a course in Digital Media Production at Belfast Met. After working in the recycling department, he moved into the office as a document handler. He also uses his digital design skills to make posters for the company. “It’s fantastic learning new skills and the people are so friendly. I have met some great friends here. It is a very friendly environment,” he said.

William Leathem said the main aim of the day had been to recognise the hard work of Usel staff: “We were delighted that His Royal Highness spent time and met staff in each of the departments. Without our staff and clients Usel wouldn’t exist,” he added.

Costume designer to the stars shares skills with NI students

By | Creative Industries, Film, General

A Northern Ireland film and television costume designer, who has worked with some of the most exciting actors in the world, is sharing her skills with a totally new audience as she joins Into Film’s ScreenWorks training programme for young people.

Susan Scott has spent more than 20 years creating stunning costumes for actors including Daniel Day Lewis, Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt, Anna Friel, Sean Bean, Jessie Buckley, Ben Hardy and Guy Pearce to name a few.

The ScreenWorks programme, delivered by Into Film and funded by Northern Ireland Screen, has brought together screen industry professionals from a range of fields to help young people better understand career options.

Richard Williams, CEO of Northern Ireland Screen, said: “Skills development is key to the growth of the screen industries in Northern Ireland. ScreenWorks is designed to give hands-on experience to young people who want to find their way into the industry. The range of programmes will provide participants with increased awareness and understanding of the variety of roles available and help them choose education pathways that could help fulfil their ambitions.”

As the project returns to in-person workshops in their new training rooms in Belfast, Susan will join the highly experienced professionals delivering career training for 14–19-year-olds who are considering jobs in the fast-growing screen industries. The workshops cover a wide range of topics from film editing to location management to motion graphics and games design.

ScreenWorks Delivery Co-ordinator Sean Boyle explained: “Over the past 18 months we have been delivering training online and have worked with 3,500 young people in Northern Ireland. We are delighted to restart face to face sessions in our new purpose-designed training rooms as this allows a more detailed level of training to support students considering their job prospects in the industry.”

Costume Designer Susan said she wished there had been a programme like this when she was a student in Lisburn. She learned to sew when she was 10 and after finishing school, she studied fashion and textiles at Ulster University before going to work with a clothing company in Limerick. She gained great experience but realised she didn’t really like the factory environment and began researching career options.

“In the late 1990s the screen industry was growing in Dublin and I got my first break with Emmy award winning designer Joan Bergin. I worked as assistant designer on films like The Devil’s Own, Dancing at Lughnasa, Some Mother’s Son, The Boxer and Sweeney Todd. It gave me the opportunity to work with the best Irish and international actors, directors and cameramen,” she said.

She moved home to Northern Ireland 18 years ago where her reputation in the industry continued to grow. She’s designed for Paloma Faith and David Walliams in period drama Blandings, Anna Friel on Marcella series three and recently Paddy Kielty on Ballywalter and Dougray Scott on Crime.

For the Costume Design workshop for ScreenWorks she will be telling the young people about costume research and storyboarding, breaking down scripts, budgeting, and breaking down a costume – the process of purposely ageing a piece of clothing so it looks older. She will give practical insight to a typical day setting up and giving them a project to design a costume based on a film script as well as exhibiting costumes from different projects that she has designed.

“I will be advising them to really hone their skills and find something that they’re good at because there’s such a huge range of talent needed on a film set,” she said.

The job has another important perk – Susan is lucky to bring her little sausage dog- cross Ripley on set with her.

She said: “When she was just a pup, I was asked to quickly help on Game of Thrones when someone was ill. But I’d only just got Ripley and couldn’t leave her at home, so she came with me to work, she’d often get walked by Richard Madden or get cuddles with Charles Dance. She’s named after Sigourney Weaver’s character in Alien and it was amazing when she met John Hurt on the set of ‘The Journey.”

ScreenWorks starts in October. To find out more about all programmes being offered go to

NI Women urged to prioritise their health in fight against breast cancer

By | General, Health, News, Newsroom

Women in some of the most deprived areas of Northern Ireland are being urged to prioritise their own health to ensure faster diagnosis of, and treatment for, breast cancer.

Figures show that while eight out of ten women from more advantaged backgrounds accept their invitations to attend breast screening, the figure falls to as low as four in ten among certain disadvantaged groups.

To address this, the Women’s Resource and Development Agency (WRDA) is delivering a comprehensive face to face, and online, breast screening awareness programme encouraging women to be more cancer aware and to attend vital screening appointments.

The WRDA’s awareness programme, funded by the Public Health Agency, was developed to help tackle inequalities in the uptake of breast cancer screening.

One in 10 women in Northern Ireland will get breast cancer during their lifetime. There are around 1,450 cases diagnosed every year with more than 300 women dying of the disease.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Deirdre Quinn, the WRDA’s Training Development Co-ordinator appealed to women in Northern Ireland to access its free services, which are available online and through community workshops.

Ms Quinn said: “Women in more disadvantaged communities often feel they don’t have time to look after themselves. They are too busy struggling to make ends meet or looking after their families. Our message to them is – prioritise yourself. Don’t ignore your screening invitation. Also remember to do a regular breast check.”

The WRDA has restarted face to face breast cancer awareness sessions, due to huge demand from community groups, amid fears there are a lot of undiagnosed cases. A total of one million women across the UK have missed vital breast screening because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ms Quinn added: “Our community workshops are free and tailored to reach all communities. We now have signing for the deaf community and translators available for those who don’t speak English. There is also a webinar available for individuals.”

A short online video produced by the WRDA could also help save the lives of women across Northern Ireland. The WRDA video, entitled ‘In the Zone’ gives a simple, step-by-step guide to women on how to examine their breasts and look for any changes.

It advises carrying out monthly checks and to make sure to check the entire area including under the arm, collarbone, nipple, and the breast itself and to immediately contact their GP if there are any irregularities.

The WRDA is currently taking bookings for group sessions delivered in the community and on Zoom. The In the Zone video and three webinars are also available on the WRDA website:

Raise Your Voice

Political campaigners join forces with theatre to share stories of sexual abuse

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

A campaign group raising awareness of the horrors of sexual harassment in Northern Ireland has collaborated with an all-women theatre company to produce a series of powerful videos based on the words of women who have suffered sexual abuse.

Raise Your Voice asked Three’s Theatre Company to give voice to its online ‘Share Your Story’ Initiative that encouraged women in Northern Ireland to speak out against the daily anguish of sexual violence.

The result was the creation of six powerful new videos voiced by actresses, charting harrowing details of coercive, controlling behaviour and unwanted sexual attention routinely faced by women.

Helen Crickard from Raise Your Voice said: “To mark our two years, we decided we wanted the words of these brave women to be accessible to a wider audience. Three’s Theatre Company was the perfect fit as they had already produced a fantastic piece called I Believe Her.”

The videos were produced by Anna Leckey, the artistic director of Three’s Theatre Company.

She said: ““We we’re delighted to work with Raise Your Voice and find actors to give voice to these important stories. The stories are not a comfortable listen and range a spectrum of experiences, the actors and director handled them with care, and we hope they give a true and heartfelt representation of what women go through all the time.

These conversations are uncomfortable but so necessary, and only by speaking up and raising our voices will we get closer to women feeling safe. I’d encourage everyone to watch the videos and use them as a conversation starter. Have the difficult conversations, we can all do better”

In just two years, Raise Your Voice has become recognised as an expert in the areas of sexual harassment, consent, and sexual violence. It has secured support for its anti-misogyny campaign from most councils in Northern Ireland and has lobbied hard for changes to the law.

To date it has delivered both in-person and online workshops to more than 1,000 people and responded to consultations on the Justice Bill, the Hate Crime Review, IPSO Press Standards and Stalking legislation.

Karen Sweeney who represents the Women’s Support Network on the Raise Your Voice project said that the aim of the Share Your Story project was to bring into sharp focus the ongoing nightmare faced by many women in Northern Ireland.

She said: “Our aim is to give women a voice to tell their stories and help end the pandemic of sexual and physical violence. We would like to thank those brave women who have come forward to share their experiences for showing others that they are not alone.”

To access the Share Your Stories videos, go to: