Armagh streams six-day Home of St Patrick Festival to the world


Ireland’s real home of St Patrick, Armagh, has kicked off its packed six-day schedule of events to celebrate the island’s famous patron saint with the world.

Armagh, Ireland’s ecclesiastical capital and the historic, legendary city which St Patrick founded on his mission of change, wants millions of people at home and away to join in on an enthralling showcase of events designed to inspire a new global audience.

Starting today, Friday 12 March and concluding on St Patrick’s Day (Wednesday 17 March), this fully online ‘At Home with St Patrick Festival’ will take you through a thrilling showcase of rousing events themed with snakes, shamrocks, history and culture, traditional music and dance – and plenty of inspiring food and drink ideas.

From the iconic Navan Fort – one of Ireland’s most iconic archaeological sites and steeped in myth and legend – to its famous orchards, cathedrals, theatres and libraries, few will be untouched by the spirit of a city that St Patrick made his home.

“Built, shaped and steeped in St Patrick, Armagh remains the true home of Ireland’s first citizen and we’re proud to celebrate his iconic legacy from a remarkable city that will bring laughter, enjoyment, reflection and hope to the world in this challenging year, Lord Mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough, Cllr Kevin Savage, said.

“Famed for its orchards, its warm hospitality, friendly people, history, culture and outstanding food and drink, Armagh will continue to surprise many for its must-visit destination appeal and we really hope that this local and global celebration will inspire and engage many people of all ages to experience this place for real when all of us can.”

With 19 free-to-attend events planned, the festival line-up includes:

  • Irish dance masterclass from Riverdance’s Jason O’Neill: Irish dance sensation and Riverdance lead, Jason O’Neill takes centre-stage to present a high-energy dance masterclass from Armagh’s Market Place Theatre. Jason is joined by two inspiring local female dancers, twelve-year-old world champion Blaithin Mohan from Armagh City and Ciara McGivern from Markethill who is placed ninth in the world.
  • The Story of St Patrick & Daire: An exciting online dramatisation at Navan Fort which will uncover St Patrick’s early life and his discussions with lord chieftain and legend Daire as he searched for a site in Armagh to establish his first church.
  • The Staff, The Snake and The Shamrock: An illustrated talk of by Dr Rachel Moss of Trinity College Dublin will be providing an illustrated presentation that gives insights into the iconic symbolism and arts linked with St Patrick.
  • Réalta – Live from The Market Place Theatre: Réalta take a lively, exciting and respectful approach to Irish traditional music at this must-visit event. Reared on a staple diet of The Bothy Band, Planxty and other such classics, this big-name band captures the timeless aspects of the tradition and presents it in its raw form – fresh and beautiful.
  • St Patrick’s Day Breakfast Cook-Along with Simon Dougan & May McFettridge: Simon Dougan from Yellow Door cooks up a storm with leading theatre entertainer May McFettridge to share hearty Ulster breakfast using the finest ingredients from across the region’s food heartland.
  • All Folk’d Up – Live from The Market Place Theatre: One of Ireland’s most popular groups who play a mix of classic sounds from folk and country music traditions, while still sprinkling their own unique, modern twist.

Lord Mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough, Cllr Kevin Savage, added:

“From our home to your home, our ‘At home with St Patrick Festival’ will safely delight and excite everyone from near and far. Let us awaken your senses!”

All events are free to attend, however some events require registration in advance. To download the full programme of events, visit

Irwin’s Bakery Proves a £50m Success with Lidl Northern Ireland


Irwin’s Bakery has proven a big success with Lidl Northern Ireland as the region’s fastest growing supermarket today confirmed a new and expanded contract for the full year ahead after a successful 20-year partnership deal worth more than £50 million.

Established in 1912 and employing more than 450 staff, the bakery has been a long-term supplier to Lidl Northern Ireland since it opened its first store in Cookstown in 1999.

Under the new supply deal, worth £2.7 million annually, the family-run bakery will continue to supply customer favourites including Nutty Krust batch bread, Irwin’s Veda malted loaf and Jammy Joeys buns to 202 Lidl stores across the island of Ireland.

With a focus on innovation, Irwin’s has also introduced an expanded new product range to Lidl Northern Ireland this year including traditional buttermilk soda bread and a low-calorie wholemeal sliced bread at only 59 calories per slice.

The supply deal is the latest move by the retailer in its ongoing support and commitment to local food suppliers.

An independent report into the economic impact of Lidl Northern Ireland’s operations revealed that the retailer spends at least £290 million annually with suppliers across the region while also supporting 3,500 jobs.

In 2018, Lidl Northern Ireland struck a deal with Northern Ireland’s Dale Farm, the UK’s largest farmer-owned dairy co-operative, to supply locally made cheddar cheese to 8,000 Lidl stores across 22 countries in the UK, Europe and the United States.

In 2020, Lidl Northern Ireland announced a £24 million contract with Fermanagh-based bakery, Crust & Crumb, to supply an expanded line of pizza products across more than 1,000 UK and Ireland stores whilst top Northern Ireland horticulturalist Greenisland Flowers secured a new supply deal with Lidl Northern Ireland to ship over four million stems of freshly cut tulips, lilies and scented stocks, building on their existing partnership worth more than £7.2 million.

The Irwin’s bakery range at Lidl includes a selection of batch bread, fruit bread, rolls and muffins, pan bread, wheaten bread and Veda malt loaf alongside sweet favourites, Jammy Joeys, Snowy Joeys and Iced Diamonds.

Schools Score £120,000 Sports Investment with Lidl Northern Ireland


Lidl Northern Ireland has gone to top of the class after awarding 40 secondary schools £3,000 worth of vouchers each to secure essential brand-new sports equipment as part of the retailer’s Sport for Good initiative, which aims to encourage and support young people to make the most of the physical and mental benefits of sport participation.

Representing an investment of £120,000, 40 schools – one for every Lidl Northern Ireland store in December 2020 – across all six counties are set to benefit from the boost.

Championed by sporting legends including Commonwealth pommel horse champion Rhys McClenaghan, national record-holding runner Ciara Mageean, Paralympic swimmer Bethany Firth MBE and Irish national hockey team captain Katie Mullan, the programme aims to shine a light on mental health and the positive role sport can play.

Sport for Good Ambassador and Commonwealth and European Champion gymnast Rhys McClenaghan said:

“With 1 in 4 young people in Northern Ireland struggling with their mental health, I am passionate about championing participation in sport as a great way to boost your self-esteem, body confidence and social skills. Not only that, but sport is a great way to build up a life-long support system of friends and mentors.

Sport played a massive part in my life growing up and it’s really important that young people from all backgrounds are given the same opportunities to access sport, particularly those who are disadvantaged. That’s why I’m proud to be an ambassador for Lidl’s Sport for Good initiative, working together to inspire and encourage the next generation of elite athletes, or simply introducing young people to a new hobby that will help develop them physically and mentally and build positive, life-long relationships.

Thanks to Lidl Northern Ireland and the Sport for Good programme, thousands of pupils will have access to the best new sporting equipment, and I look forward to seeing all of the athletes progress in achieving their personal goals.”

Launched in 2019, the Lidl Community Works Sport for Good programme has now delivered funding of almost £300,000 to local sports clubs and schools across Northern Ireland.

Angela Connan, Corporate Social Responsibility Manager at Lidl Northern Ireland commented:

“We’re delighted to announce this year’s Sport for Good winners and provide 40 secondary schools right across the region with a funding boost which is set to benefit thousands of young people. We know that this school year has been a difficult one for many pupils adapting to remote learning and that wider curriculum activities, such as physical education, have been significantly impacted.

The benefits of sports participation on young people’s mental and physical health are well documented and, as a local retailer invested in its community, Lidl Northern Ireland is keen to ensure young people stay engaged and active in sport through our dedicated Sport for Good programme.

Now in its third year, Sport for Good is a cornerstone of our wider Community Works initiative and demonstrates Lidl Northern Ireland’s ongoing commitment to providing local support where it matters most. We’re proud to be contributing to the ongoing development of our young people right here in Northern Ireland and to help the next generation of home-grown, world-class athletes like Rhys, Bethany, Ciara and Katie, on their way to sporting success.”


The Sport for Good programme is just one of Lidl Northern Ireland’s many initiatives to support communities across Northern Ireland. In October 2020, the retailer announced a second extension to its charity partnership with NSPCC Northern Ireland to 2022 and committed to an increased funding target of £600,000 in this time. Initially established in 2017, the partnership has delivered more than £400,000 worth of funding to date in support of the vital services that NSPCC Northern Ireland delivers across the region.

For more information, please visit

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.