My Special Aflac DuckTM arrives in Northern Ireland


My Special Aflac DuckTM arrives in Northern Ireland

Aflac brings its award-winning robotic duck to the Children’s Cancer Unit Charity Northern Ireland

In a ground-breaking initiative for Northern Ireland, Aflac NI, which currently has 130 employees and is growing, has collaborated with The Children’s Cancer Unit Charity to make available its My Special Aflac Duck for cancer patients three years of age and older, free of charge.

This initiative broadens Aflac’s commitment to make My Special Aflac Duck more accessible to children in cancer treatment. Since 2018 and in partnership with more than 350 participating hospitals and cancer-related organisations, Aflac has distributed more than 12,000 robotic ducks to patients across the U.S. and Japan.

.The Bluetooth-enabled duck boasts a range of ground-breaking features, including feeling emoji cards, which can be pressed against its chest, generating a reaction that imitates how the child is feeling. It has a corresponding app that further enables medical play to help children cope with often scary and uncomfortable cancer treatments. Its removable plush exterior is machine washable, enabling easy care for parents. In 2018, Time Magazine named My Special Aflac Duck one of the top 50 inventions of the year.


Par Equity seeks to double Northern Ireland funding to £20m after string of successful deals


Par Equity seeks to double Northern Ireland funding to £20m after string of successful deals

Edinburgh-based venture capital firm has already invested £10m in the region

Par Equity, an Edinburgh-based specialist in high-growth early-stage tech businesses, is increasing its support for cutting-edge companies in Northern Ireland to £20 million after a string of successful transactions.

Established in 2008, Par Equity has built a strong reputation for backing young, innovative companies in Northern Ireland, Scotland and England’s northeast and supporting them with its growing team of expert advisors.

The company, which has already invested £10 million in a range of successful early-stage companies including Datactics, Cumulus, Plotbox and TriVirum, said the additional funds would help ambitious local firms to develop new technologies and expand into new markets, unlock other forms of funding along the way.

Harnessing business expertise for good policy gains


Harnessing business expertise for good policy gains

 The stopwatch for next year’s election to the Northern Ireland Assembly has started. Whether that time runs out next May, as initially planned, or before that, remains to be seen. However, one thing is clear – the Stormont to-do list is long and getting longer.

The recent labour market stats suggest an encouraging economic outlook in Northern Ireland though the eagle-eyed reader will already have also noticed the increasing inflationary pressure of late.

Whilst economists disagree on what the full impact of the furlough scheme coming to end will be and the size of the pandemic bill, most agree that the economic effects will be felt for a long time yet amid tightening public finances.

In the context of Northern Ireland, each of the parties will begin the election period fully aware of the challenges and the list of priorities that face an incoming Executive who will be acting on our behalf.

Importantly, there is a key role to be played by business, the third sector and wider civic society which is often mischaracterised or overlooked altogether. By their very nature, political representatives are not always fully knowledgeable of the issues at hand.

They are required to create and scrutinise policy across a wide range of areas on our behalf – they are generalists by necessity. Similarly, the civil service is a government administration. Whilst some civil servants will develop significant expertise in their own areas of policy, it is that extra real “on the ground” industry experience that can make the difference in terms of efficacy and stakeholder buy-in to new policy ideas.

As experts in their fields, businesses, charities and other civic organisations play a vital role in our democracy by providing information, ideas, challenge and scrutiny and this input is regularly used to help elected representatives and civil servants make good policy.

The absolute key thing is in how this engagement takes place. The overwhelming majority of political relations between organisations and elected representatives is completely legitimate, transparent, positive, and ethical in nature. However, the public affairs industry has been working hard over the years, through initiatives like PRCA’s Public Affairs Register and the Public Affairs Code, to take the lead on rooting out the limited number of instances of unacceptable practice.

For businesses and the third sector, thinking ahead to the Northern Ireland Assembly election is vital for ensuring their voices are clearly heard on important matters that will impact them and their ideas, experience and expertise are desperately needed to collectively address the challenges that lie ahead.

Some of the issues that we be facing an incoming Executive are obvious and have already received significant media attention, such as the need to tackle our growing waiting lists and stimulate our economic recovery in a post-pandemic context. But there are opportunities as well as challenges.

With a new Energy Strategy due to be published later this year, which the industry has already been working closely with the policymakers to shape, there is an unprecedented moment looming now to work together to meet our climate change and net-zero ambitions.

The commitments under the New Decade, New Approach Agreement for a new Economic/Industrial Strategy and Investment Strategy present further opportunities for public-private collaboration to enhance this region’s position as a global hub for tech and the creative industries.

As we approach the Assembly Election in a post-pandemic context, now is the time for businesses and civic organisations to harness their experience and expertise and demonstrate their ideas and constructive challenge. This can only help our economy and society progress and prosper and ensure we get it right.

Lookers launches major drive to recruit 100 technicians in UK and Ireland


Lookers launches major drive to recruit 100 technicians in UK and Ireland

Top three UK car retailer and aftersales group Lookers plc has launched a new campaign to recruit 100 technicians across its UK & Ireland network of 152 dealerships and is urging skilled and graduate technicians to see what is on offer.

With over 100 years’ experience in the automotive industry, Lookers employs almost 7,000 staff and is one of the most successful and progressive car retailers in the UK and Ireland. The company continues to invest millions of pounds in new state-of-the-art facilities across the group and in its staff.

The fresh recruitment drive to fill 100 new, permanent technician roles will offer tech-savvy and innovatively minded applicants a rewarding career at the forefront of the motor industry with industry-leading pay, benefits and training for applicants who make the cut.

With a basic salary ranging from £26,000 to £40,000 and uncapped bonus opportunities for recruits keen to excel, successful candidates can expect to further benefit from ongoing, best-in-class skills development, training and flexible working in a collaborative, team-focused environment.

Lidl Northern Ireland crunches new £11 million supply deal with fresh food producer Willowbrook Foods


Lidl Northern Ireland crunches new £11 million supply deal with fresh food producer Willowbrook Foods

Lidl Northern Ireland has awarded Newtownards-based fresh food producer Willowbrook Foods an expanded supply deal worth £11 million – almost double its previous contract – to supply 25 new lines of fresh convenience foods across its network of 210 stores throughout the island of Ireland.  The new contract with Lidl Northern Ireland represents an 83% boost on last year  – and will see 25 new product lines introduced across its premium range of ready meals, stir fry and deli salads. Since the beginning of its relationship with Willowbrook Foods in 2011, Lidl Northern Ireland’s supply deal has helped to create 100 new full-time roles, in addition to providing access to sales in the UK and Republic of Ireland markets.

The Old Inn unlocks its doors to reveal £1 million refurbishment


The Old Inn unlocks its doors to reveal £1 million refurbishment

Historic luxury hotel in Crawfordsburn reopens on 3 September under new ownership by premier hospitality group Galgorm Collection

Galgorm Collection today revealed plans to throw open the doors of its newest venture and welcome guests and visitors back to The Old Inn, Crawfordsburn from Friday 3 September.

Galgorm Collection confirmed the purchase of the luxury hotel in the picturesque village of Crawfordsburn in a multi-million-pound deal earlier this year. The highly anticipated opening follows an ambitious £1 million investment to revitalise and upgrade the historic destination, in line with other Collection properties.

Guests and visitors can enjoy the new-look 1614 Bar whilst the refurbished 120-seater Old Inn restaurant offers diners a brand new menu that marries homely classics with modern dining, featuring French-inspired dishes, seafood and salads. Exuding a relaxed yet elegant vibe, the restaurant also incorporates a large outdoor patio providing a front row view of Crawfordsburn Country Park.

Plans are currently under way to upgrade each of the hotel’s 32 individually-styled bedrooms, with junior suites incorporating bespoke finishing touches including a free-standing copper bath whilst the larger suite boasts its own private balcony complete with hot tub.

The announcement comes as the hotel revealed its new brand assets which includes a fresh new logo and website – – which is now open for bookings.

Lidl Northern Ireland tackles period poverty with launch of major new initiative offering free period products to shoppers


Lidl Northern Ireland tackles period poverty with launch of major new initiative offering free period products to shoppers

Lidl Northern Ireland becomes first supermarket in the region to support those affected by period poverty in major new initiative backed by Homeless Period Belfast

Lidl Northern Ireland is set to become the first supermarket retailer in Northern Ireland to provide free period products to customers in need as part of a major new initiative aimed at tackling period poverty.

The new initiative, which is being backed by Homeless Period Belfast, will see the retailer offer a dedicated coupon for a free box of sanitary pads or tampons per customer each month, redeemed through the Lidl Plus app.

Since April, Lidl Northern Ireland has also been making regular donations of sanitary wear to the Simon Community Northern Ireland to ensure people experiencing homelessness – who may not have access to a smartphone – can access these essential products.

The announcement comes after Lidl Ireland successfully rolled out the scheme in the Republic of Ireland earlier this year which has seen more than 20,000 sign ups to avail of the coupon and follows the launch of the Lidl Plus app in Northern Ireland in May.

Sensational City of Derry International Choir Festival launches on 20 October


Sensational City of Derry International Choir Festival launches on 20 October

 Ireland’s Maiden City confirms world class, big-name programme of live and digital choral events for 2021

 Derry City is warming up for the sensational return of the City of Derry International Choir Festival (CoDICF) in October when an unrivalled programme of events – including Grammy award-winners and exclusive global premier performances – will fill halls, churches and homes with world class, choral entertainment.

This special festival runs live and virtually from Wednesday 20 October until Sunday 24 October. Headline acts include the internationally acclaimed all-male chorus Chanticleer and award-winning vocal ensemble Tenebrae.

Celebrating its ninth successful year, the Festival has been carefully planned to include a synchronised mix of in-person and virtual events throughout the city as part of an immersive programme of live and digital concerts, performances, workshops, podcasts, and other events. Over five full days, audiences will experience the elation of live music once again with a variety of exciting performances in various venues across the city.

Armagh’s award-winning Food & Cider Weekend returns in September


Armagh’s award-winning Food & Cider Weekend returns in September

Ireland’s Orchard County cooks up a decadent feast of food and scrumptious artisan ciders and plenty of cheer next month

Scrumptious food, bubbling cider and a huge serving of top-end gastronomic experiences are all back on the menu next month when Armagh’s award-winning Food and Cider Weekend gets under way on Thursday 9 September.

Celebrating a heritage of more than 3,000 years of apple-growing in this treasured location, Ireland’s Orchard County is promising the finest recipe of outstanding culinary events including a range of sumptuous undercover and outdoor dining experiences, food masterclasses and demos, food trails and foraging, cider tastings and tours and much more across a range of stunning locations.

Armagh’s Bramley apple orchards stretch across more than 4,000 acres from Armagh city to Portadown with the greatest concentration on the gentle slopes around Loughgall. In an industry worth millions of pounds every year to the local and regional economy, it directly employs more than 1,000 people and supports many more.

An annual favourite since 2015, Armagh Food and Cider Weekend has grown to become one of the most successful foodie events in the UK and Ireland which is supported by fabulous Food Heartland chefs and local food and drink producers, restaurants, cafes, pubs and shops.