Not just showbiz: Creative media gets active support in Northern Ireland

2 Feb 2017

Fiona McElroy, creative enterprise manager at Ulster University. Image: TechWatch

From students to start-ups, TechWatch’s Emily McDaid checks out the creative media scene in Northern Ireland.

When we met with Ulster University lecturer Conánn FitzPatrick, he discussed several projects in Northern Ireland that have developed the creative industries. One example is the 140 Second Club, produced in conjunction with Belfast City Council and Fiona McElroy, creative enterprise manager at Ulster University.

FitzPatrick said: “The concept behind 140 seconds is that it’s the ideal time to pitch a business idea – in just over two minutes.”

The programme ran in 2016, shortlisting 30 promising start-ups from across the creative industries. The candidates were whittled down to 10, and the finalists received extensive mentorship in bringing their creative ideas to commercial reality.

A hive of creativity

One such company is owned by Carrie Davenport, a photographer, who said that the programme gave her new ways of thinking about her product.

Davenport said: “I thought the programme was very inspiring – it showed us new ways of tackling problems and addressing challenges in work using creative processes. It was great to meet other people working on their own, as being self-employed does mean a lot of working solo. I really enjoyed the chance to hear about other creators’ work.”

The Honeycomb Creative Works programme, which was delivered from 2013-2015, has focused on developing the digital content sector in Northern Ireland, the six border counties of the Republic of Ireland and the west coast of Scotland. I spoke to Fiona McElroy, who told me that the project produced 19 research reports on the creative industries.

“The research told us what was coming next and influenced the content of the business development and skills courses. Everything that was delivered addressed an issue that the sector encountered,”said McElroy.

“The Honeycomb research found that the majority of creative companies in the border counties of NI and western Scotland were young companies targeting mainly domestic markets. This signalled potential for export development and expansion into international markets.”

The Honeycomb Creative Works reports, compiled by Ulster University in partnership with Dundalk Institute of Technology and Creative Skillset, made a series of recommendations on how the digital content sector could be better supported and developed:

  • A strategic development plan focusing on particular genres would help make companies in these regions collaborate more and be more competitive
  • The establishment of a film and television studio in the border counties and in the north-west could help the industry grow
  • Industry-led programmes should develop both business and technical skills at all levels
  • There should be a more even distribution of the BBC licence and public service remit of Channel 4 and ITV to ensure that more production takes place outside of Belfast

Hitting the creative nerve

Nerve Belfast has three creative learning centres (in Belfast, Derry and Armagh) to provide training for teachers and youth leaders in coding, software and creative media, working alongside school curriculums.

We spoke to creative media trainer Jennifer McAlorum about their creative media programmes. “We’re moving from STEM to STEAM, where arts is integrated in traditional science and technology areas. We want to bring arts into the classroom; to make learning about science much more creative and innovative.

“We run a BFI film programme for most of the year. We accept 24 film students, who create short films as well as doing their NCSE qualification to work in the film industry. This is open to 16-19 year olds. The final films will be showcased at the QFT [Queen’s Film Theatre].”

Nerve Belfast also supports primary schools’ use of iPads for moving image arts. Trainers focus on film, music, science, animation and photography to complement other areas of learning. “Teachers benefit from being shown how best to implement the technology,” said McAlorum.

FabLab at the Nerve Centre in Derry has a drop-in session where any member of the public can spend a Saturday afternoon creating things. Anything that can be created with a laser cutter, vinyl cutter or 3D printer can be made. “Whatever you can print or cut out, you can make, including keyrings, jigsaws … We use a package like Illustrator to make the design and then input it into the printer,” explained McAlorum.

I can think of far worse ways to spend a Saturday.

By Emily McDaid, editor, TechWatch

A version of this article originally appeared on TechWatch

TechWatch by Catalyst covered tech developments in Northern Ireland