Visit Belfast maps out city tourism recovery in new three-year approach


At a virtual event attended by Visit Belfast’s tourism industry partners and key city stakeholders, the outline strategy highlighted the importance of tourism to the local economy and the opportunity for regrowth inside of three years. In 2019, Belfast accounted for £417m of tourism spend, representing more than 40 percent of the region’s visitor economy and supporting almost 22,000 jobs.

The official destination marketing organisation for the Belfast city region said that while the Covid-19 pandemic had dealt “a hammer blow” to Belfast’s visitor economy, the city is “well placed” to meet the challenges ahead in its new targeted yet flexible approach to marketing the destination.

Speaking at the event, the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Alderman Frank McCoubrey said:


“Belfast’s tourism industry has played – and will continue to play – a leading role in attracting high value, high spending visitors to the city and beyond, which are so essential for growth. Belfast City Council is committed to working in partnership with Visit Belfast and the tourism industry to ensure that this happens and that we build back better as we transition out of the current health crisis.”

The strategic marketing blueprint is part of a partnership-led approach designed to sustainably reengage with Belfast’s key tourism markets as part of a drive to rebuild the visitor economy in the city in a more sustainable and resilient way.

In a new tourism landscape, Visit Belfast said there would be a priority focus on delivering inclusive growth and protecting and enhancing the local environment by increasing collaboration and partnership across communities and neighbourhoods.

Raindrop targets self-employed with new all-in-one online pension solution


A new fully digital, flexible and smart pension platform, designed specifically for self-employed workers, has officially launched today.

In a major first for nearly five million self-employed UK workers, Raindrop is a brand new, standalone, unique solution, bringing together all the crucial aspects of a pension into one platform designed for the specific needs of the self-employed. The fully digital, fully flexible, and secure solution ensures that even more of the workforce can avail of the government’s 25% tax top-up.

Operating as an appointed representative of an FCA regulated principal and supported by access to funds of global investment manager BlackRock, the Raindrop platform was developed by seasoned city professionals and tech entrepreneurs Marco Ross, Phil Fortio, Raul Tudor and Vivan Shridharani.

Sweeping the competition aside, the founders pinpointed a major gap in the market for a bespoke digital and flexible pension solution which brings all the crucial elements needed by self-employed workers into one easy-to-use platform – and raised significant investment capital to ensure it gets to market.

The Raindrop leadership team is also advised by renowned UK pensions industry expert, Raj Mody, and financial technology adviser, Nic Lenz.

A major tech and financial development for 2021, Raindrop offers investment options which empower users to choose a pension plan carefully designed to be invested in a way that meets their desired retirement date.

In addition, Raindrop provides a unique pension AI bot service which can assist with finding old pensions, even for customers with minimal information on their old plans. Through the pension bot service customers can find the old plans and consolidate them into one pot, although they are under no obligation to do so.

Raindrop Chief Executive, Marco Ross, said:

“Self-employed workers have long been forgotten when it comes to the current and complex pensions landscape. We know that there are many barriers for people in saving for their future and few solutions that solve them, until now. We also know from recent research that the pandemic has had a big impact on the ability of self-employed people to save and they want to do so flexibly.”

“Raindrop goes much further than what is currently available in that it has been developed specifically for the millions of self-employed workers across the country, but also provides one easy-to-use platform to empower them to plan and save for their retirement in a way that suits their circumstances. Future financial planning has never been more important, but it has also never been easier with Raindrop.”

The new platform can be set up in less than ten minutes and allows millions of savers who are self-employed, but who have been left out of benefits of auto-enrolment, to directly invest in a pension in a way that suits them.

A recent report published by the UK government-backed pension scheme, Nest, revealed that more than 80% of self-employed workers had no pension – yet three quarters of those polled still wanted to set aside money for their future. Further research shows that 57% of self-employed people like the idea of being able to automatically, but flexibly, divert a proportion of their income into a pension.

While the mandatory introduction of auto-enrolment from 2012 helped to gradually boost pension savings for payroll workers, self-employed workers were left out, with many unclear about where to start.

Chief Product Officer, Philip Fortio, said the new platform would transform pension provision for a new generation.

“Raindrop is flexible, secure and smart and works for every freelance or self-employed worker, from accountants and plumbers to architects and vets. As well as bringing together all the important aspects of pensions for self-employed people into one, easy solution, Raindrop empowers people to pick a pension plan based on the date they want to retire.”

Savers also have the option to flexibly adapt their pension payments whenever they want, opting for regular or one-off payments, or even pausing contributions.

“I was self-employed for almost a decade and know first-hand how complicated and difficult to navigate the pensions landscape can be, which is why accessibility is such an important aspect for us at Raindrop. With Raindrop, setting up a pension can be much quicker and even easier than tackling your online shopping, giving you all the flexibility and choice you need at your fingertips, and has the potential to transform the financial futures of millions of people across the country.” the company’s Chief Technology Officer Raul Tudor said.

The technology also uses a range of already well-established investment options from investment manager BlackRock to ensure consumers can be confident that their money is appropriately protected.

Vivan Shridharani, Raindrop’s Chief Commercial Officer, spoke about the company’s ambitions:

“We’ve had excellent feedback from customers who have already used Raindrop as part of our testing and development. As well as appreciating the flexibility and automated features, they know that their investment is secure. We’re also in the process of developing a series of educational resources and building new partnerships with other organisations so our customers have access to an even wider range of expertise and support.”

Lidl Northern Ireland Creates 170 New Roles in Local Jobs Boost and Invests £300,000 in COVID Employee Bonus


Lidl Northern Ireland will recruit more than 170 new employees this year across a variety of operational and office-based roles to support its 40-strong network of stores and regional distribution centre in Nutt’s Corner, Co. Antrim.

The new roles are being created to support Lidl’s growth across the region and will expand the retailer’s workforce to over 1,200 staff. The new roles come with a market-leading benefits package including award-winning learning, development and progression opportunities within in the business.

As an essential business, Lidl Northern Ireland has continued to serve the communities it operates in throughout the pandemic by keeping its doors open, shelves stocked and also by helping to support the livelihood of many local suppliers with dedicated promotions. It has also continued to facilitate the export of local Northern Irish produce to its network of more than 10,500 stores in Europe, including a £24 million deal with Fermanagh’s Crust & Crumb who supply Lidl’s premium pizza range.

The commitment and dedication of Lidl Northern Ireland employees has also not gone unnoticed and the retailer has announced a new COVID Employee Bonus worth £300,000 which will be shared with all employees this year. This bonus is the third COVID bonus offered by the retailer to recognise the efforts of its staff during this period.

The announcement comes after the Top Employers Institute recognised Lidl Northern Ireland as a Top Employer for 2021 this week. The esteemed international, sought-after certification, held by global brands such as PepsiCo, Adidas and Heineken, showcases an organisation’s dedication to a better world of work, exhibited through excellent HR policies and people practices.

The Top Employers Institute programme certifies organisations based on the participation and results of their HR Best Practices Survey. This survey covers 6 HR domains consisting of 20 topics such as People Strategy, Work Environment, Talent Acquisition, Learning, Well-being and Diversity & Inclusion and more.

Commenting on the announcement, Maeve McCleane, Director of Human Resources at Lidl Ireland and Northern Ireland said:

Since the onset of the pandemic our teams have demonstrated inspirational dedication and bravery in serving our local communities when they needed it most. I am delighted to confirm this significant investment in the form of a third bonus to acknowledge their selflessness and hard work in this challenging time.

“Our most important asset has always been our people, and 2020 has reinforced that they are in fact the bedrock of our business, which is why we have prioritised building not only an exceptional place to work, but also an inclusive, rewarding and fulfilling culture at Lidl for our employees. It is with great pride that we accept this year’s Top Employers certification and I look forward to welcoming many new colleagues to Team Lidl in the coming months.”

New figures indicate strong online business uplift for dealerships in 2020


Vehicle Vision, the UK’s leading provider of video systems for the automotive sector, has said the impact of the pandemic restrictions is driving a new force of digital transformation across the industry, powered by customer demand.

The company reported that almost 90% of customers across dealership networks are choosing to use its digital aftersales platform when given the opportunity to do so.

The company also reported a 20% increase in conversions from 2019 to 2020 with customers choosing to proceed with aftersales services after having been provided with a quote through the online platform.

Vehicle Vision Managing Director Steve Dean said that customers and dealerships are demanding significantly more digital services and access from their suppliers and the industry must urgently act to meet these trends.

Since March 2020, the impact of Covid-19 has precipitated a major shift in consumer behavior as millions of motorists seek more advice, interaction, and service online.

With the pace of change accelerated by the pandemic, Vehicle Vision’s latest business development announcements will drive further innovation in the motoring industry by providing new digital customer experience pathways for motorists and dealerships alike.

In an industry-first, Vehicle Vision has launched the new ‘Assist’ platform. The smart communications platform will transform customer-dealership interactions by enabling a seamless virtual chain of communication from start to finish to meet demand from motorists for more online access.

The new ‘Assist’ platform means customers can send video footage of their vehicle to dealerships for diagnosis, repair quotations or exchange valuations. Dealerships can in turn confidently and accurately assess the condition and part-exchange price of a vehicle without having to view it in person. Available without download or training and operating on a mobile-friendly browser and interface, the platform provides an easy way to access dealership services without attending a dealership in person.

Lidl Northern Ireland on the Hunt for Kids with Bags of Style to Design New Recycled Shopping Bags


Lidl Northern Ireland is calling budding young artists across the region to unleash their inner Picasso and create an eye-catching design to feature on the retailer’s brand new heavy-duty plastic shopping bags, due to hit stores later this year.

Lidl is set to introduce durable, reusable shopping bags, made from 100% recycled plastic, and is calling on young creatives to give the bags a stylish makeover

Drawing inspiration from the world around them, and their own imagination, children are encouraged to get creative and submit a drawing, sketch or painting of what one of the R’s of Sustainability means to them – choosing from the themes ‘reduce’, ‘reuse’ or ‘recycle’.

To be in with a chance to win, pick up a colouring competition entry form in any Lidl Northern Ireland store from Monday 25th January, or download the form at and print it off at home. To submit your masterpiece, entrants can take a picture of their creation and upload it to the competition’s webpage. Entries close at 11.59pm on Sunday 28th February.

One lucky winner will be chosen to have their submission brought to life on Lidl Northern Ireland’s new recycled shopping bag range, available in all 40 stores across the region from September 2021. The winner will also receive a £500 Lidl Northern Ireland gift card.

The introduction of the new 100% recycled plastic bags is the retailer’s latest move in tackling waste to protect the planet as part of Lidl’s ‘A Better Tomorrow’ sustainability strategy set in 2018 and complements a range of other in-store initiatives introduced over the last number of years. This includes the removal of plastic packaging on fruit, providing reusable fruit and veg bags and offering in-store recycling bins.

Wirefox fires up Belfast plans to deliver £70m Grade A office scheme in 2022


Construction already under way and funding firmly secured to deliver landmark 200,000 sq. ft in Belfast city centre

Plans to create a transformative 200,000 sq. ft Grade A professional office development in Belfast city centre that will accommodate up to 2,000 employees are firmly on track for delivery towards the end of 2022, it was confirmed today.

In a major confidence boost for Belfast and for local jobs, Wirefox, the urban investment company spearheading the scheme, said the project remained on target following commitment of a £20m loan facility by the Northern Ireland Investment Fund to fully ensure its completion and market delivery.

With an anticipated market value of more than £70m, construction work on The Paper Exchange, which is located at 43-63 Chichester Street – just steps from Belfast City Hall – got under way earlier this year and will continue until the scheme is ready for occupation in just two years’ time.

Leading local construction firm Heron Bros Ltd was awarded the contract to complete the landmark 11-storey development, securing jobs for 100 employees during the entire build phase.

Designed by TODD Architects, The Paper Exchange will pioneer and deliver a suite of new technical, environmental and sustainable standards for professional office developments in Belfast, guaranteeing best-in-class spacious and flexible accommodation for a new generation. Prioritising safety and wellbeing, it promises a significant city centre asset that will help shape the city’s positive international profile and future economic performance.

Southern Regional College stages Northern Ireland’s biggest Christmas Panto


Southern Regional College broadcast the spirit of Christmas into schools and homes across the country on Thursday as thousands of school pupils from hundreds of schools across Northern Ireland took part in and virtually attended what could be the region’s biggest ever Christmas pantomime this year.

With many traditional school Christmas plays paused this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a boldly creative team in performing arts, music, media, art, hair and beauty from Southern Regional College in Armagh have come together to present the College’s first ever online pantomime with an exciting new take on Beauty and the Beast. In a digital feat for the ages, the pantomime was live streamed into homes and classrooms across Northern Ireland to provide a safe, festive celebration for students across the country.

The original cast is made up of more than 27 local students from Southern Regional College but video contributions from primary, secondary and special schools right across Northern Ireland were also included in this special one-off production.

Up to 500 primary, secondary and special schools and more than 20,000 students and staff safely viewed the livestreamed production on Thursday 10 December from classrooms and homes across Northern Ireland.

Rehearsals for the main elements of the show were carried out observing full safety guidelines at the new and spacious £35 million state-of-the-art Armagh campus which is home to theory and practical-based learning in a range of creative subjects including dance, music, performing arts and photography which are delivered in industry-leading facilities.

Facilitating the production was also a major technical feat which required comprehensive planning and logistics including the extensive use of separate rooms, spaces and timelines for filming to ensure everyone’s safety and full compliance with public health guidelines.

The full cast is made up of Level 3 Performing Arts students and all music used throughout the performance has been originally written and was performed by Level 3 Music students, with live sound production and filming undertaken by students from the Level 5 HND Music course.

Vehicle Vision Marks Industry-first in Smart Communications Platform Launch


Vehicle Vision has launched the new “Assist” application which will enable convenient, smart and safe interaction between motorists and dealerships in all areas of automotive services. The founders of the new smart communications platform, the first of its kind for the automotive industry, have said it will have a transformative impact on the customer-dealership relationship.

Since 2010, Vehicle Vision has specialised in delivering industry-leading video systems for the aftersales and sales automotive retail environments. Its ongoing product development, training and support is centred on empowering dealerships and customers to get the best possible experience and interaction through use of video.

The new platform will allow customers to send video footage of their vehicle to dealerships for the purposes of diagnosis, repair quotations or exchange valuations, reducing the time customers have to physically spend in the showroom or workshop. In addition, Assist means that dealerships can confidently and accurately assess the condition and part-exchange price of a vehicle before it even enters the premises.

The technology requires no downloads or training by the customer and the mobile-friendly browser and interface will ensure an intuitive and easy-to-use experience. Customers are sent a link by their dealership which allows them to automatically access the platform from the comfort of their own home.

Shoppers Bag a Festive Feast for Free with Lidl Northern Ireland’s Trolley Dash


Festive fever swept the country on Saturday 12th December as Lidl Northern Ireland shoppers went wild in the aisles for the supermarket’s annual Trolley Dash fundraiser, bagging their Christmas shop and a host of festive treats for free, all to raise vital funds for NSPCC Northern Ireland.

40 lucky shoppers (one for every Lidl store in Northern Ireland) were selected to take part in the dash following a two week period of in-store ticket sales and raced against the clock to bag as much of their Christmas food shop for free as they could in just two minutes.

From cheese to chutney, panettone to profiteroles and mince pies to meringues, trollies were brimming with festive delights for shoppers to feast on this Christmas.

Now in its sixth year, the Trolley Dash initiative raised a staggering £100,000 for charity partner, NSPCC Northern Ireland, whose mission is to fight for every childhood. Operating three Service Centres in Belfast, Foyle and Craigavon and two Childline bases in Belfast and Foyle, NSPCC Northern Ireland supports children right across the region.

Portadown’s High Street Mall set for new Lidl Northern Ireland early next year


Portadown is on track for a major new retail investment after Lidl Northern Ireland confirmed its brand new £6 million store will open at High Street Mall in Spring 2021, creating 20 permanent new jobs and supporting up to 100 more through the planning and construction phases.

The new Lidl Northern Ireland store is in addition to a £4 million transformational investment and re-development of the popular town centre shopping destination which will also include a new layout, enhanced parking, greater town centre access and a new central plaza.

Northern Ireland’s fastest-growing supermarket said its plans for Portadown were part of a continued investment in the Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon area and right across the region. It already has stores in Armagh, Craigavon, Banbridge and Lurgan (and Portadown).

Planning was granted for the new development by Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council last year.

Lidl Northern Ireland is already a major direct and indirect local investor. In 2018, as part of an independent economic assessment, it confirmed that it sourced more than £100 million of local food produce for export from the borough – twice that of any other borough in Northern Ireland – while also being among one of its largest employers.