Vacant to Vibrant
We have opened a pilot capital grant scheme to incentivise both property owners and potential occupiers to bring vacant Belfast city centre spaces back into use and support the city centre’s revitalisation.
We have allocated £700,000 to support start-ups, independent retailers, social enterprises and cultural and voluntary organisations to make our city centre offering more diverse and transform vacant spaces to become vibrant once again.
The Vacant to Vibrant capital grant is also designed to improve individual properties, contribute to higher quality streetscapes, sustain jobs and help create new employment opportunities.
Who can apply?
Property owners, businesses, social enterprises and cultural and voluntary organisations wishing to renovate or repurpose a vacant space can apply.
Applicants will be expected to contribute a minimum of 10 per cent match funding to the grant if successful and must have the ability to deliver the scheme within nine months of receiving the Letter of Offer.
Who is eligible?
A property owner wishing to renovate or repurpose a vacant space within the Belfast City centre boundary. Property owner can apply on behalf of themselves and their proposed tenant, as a way to incentivise occupation of their space. They will need to provide evidence and proposed lease arrangements on foot of the improvement works being undertaken (Grants 1 and 2 require a minimum lease period of two years, while grant 3 requires a minimum lease period of 4 months) and have the occupier complete the relevant viability templates to support the proposal. Property owners are encouraged to identify a suitable tenant before applying (and should contact the City Regeneration and Development Team if having difficulties) however applications may be considered from property owners of vacant premises seeking tenants to occupy their premises subject to improvement work being undertaken. These applications will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis however, to incentivise the uptake of the vacant space, it is anticipated that a conditional offer may be made available. If property owners are unable to secure a tenant within 9 months, then they will only be able to access 60 per cent of the total grant available within the relevant funding bracket. Property owners must make every reasonable effort to secure a tenant within this 9-month period, including serious consideration of any matchmaking efforts made through the scheme and accommodation for lease agreements for two years if seeking Grant 1 or 2 or 4 months if seeking Grant 3.
Business or organisation
A business or organisation wishing to renovate or repurpose a vacant space within the Belfast City centre boundary. This includes start-up retail, independents, Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SME’s), social enterprise, leisure, hospitality and the cultural and third sectors. Businesses will need to provide proof through provision of a company number and three months bank statements relating to the business. A business or constituted organisation that can be either not-for-profit or community based. If an organisation is a constituted not-for-profit organisation it must supply a signed copy of the organisation’s constitution. It must be signed and dated as adopted by the chairperson at the time or by the current Chairperson to confirm it is your group's constitution. A business or organisation must provide evidence of tenure. For the purposes of the application, we will accept written consent from the property owner through the Property Owner Consent Form template provided but if grant is awarded then we will require a copy of the lease agreement prior to any grant being paid, (Grants 1 and 2 require a minimum lease period of two years, while grant 3 requires a minimum lease period of 4 months).
Only property owners, businesses and organisations which meet the criteria are eligible to apply.
- The property must be a vacant premises or vacant space within a premises that is located within the Belfast City centre boundary
- The business/organisation must be an existing registered business/organisation or social enterprise that has been actively operating for at least 3 months as of date of submission of application.
- The property must not have been in occupation for a period of 12 months at the time of application (properties that have been occupied by temporary meanwhile use/pop ups are acceptable).
- The proposed occupier must submit the relevant template within the application pack to demonstrate viability. Grant 1 and 2 will require completion of the two-year business plan and financial forecast, while Grant 3 will be required to complete a Business Plan Proposal template and financial forecast for the duration of the proposed lease period.
- Properties at ground floor vacancies are priority, but we may also consider upper floor improvements if the occupier’s ground floor activities extend into upper floor uses, where they deliver a meaningful and measurable impact on the street character and vibrancy. Projects proposing to target upper floor units only will not be considered unless they can clearly demonstrate that the proposal will have a positive impact on the street character and vibrancy of a street or area.
- Have the ability to deliver the scheme within 9 months of Letter of Offer.
What would a Vacant to Vibrant Capital Grant cover?
Grants from £2,500 to £25,000 are available to support the occupation of vacant city centre premises.
It is anticipated that the following capital costs will be covered:
- smaller financial support to pop-up shops and meanwhile test space
- larger grants to encourage uptake of vacant units for a minimum of two years
- external capital works to façade to improve look and feel of the high street
- internal capital works to make a vacant property fit for purpose and support long-term occupation
- diversification of property’s unoccupied space to help existing businesses survive
The following costs will not be eligible for funding:
- professional fees relating to design guidance or statutory approvals
- work that has already taken place or is underway prior to an offer of funding
- purchase of land or property
You must provide quotes for the capital works and purchases in line with our procurement thresholds. You also need to demonstrate quality assurance and clear commercial viability, evidenced through a robust two-year business and financial plan.
This scheme will only fund proposals for capital works. Capital expenditures are considered to be one-time large purchases of fixed assets, typically used to generate revenue over a long period of time. The grant will not cover any revenue expenditures, which refers to ongoing operating expenses associated with daily operation such as rent, utilities and administrative costs.
What will grants be prioritised for?
These grants will be prioritised for:
- vacant ground floor units in the primary retail core
- properties in areas where vacancy is above average
- properties which are visually prominent
- proposals for significant external improvements, particularly where the property has fallen into disrepair due to an extended period of vacancy
- properties that have been vacant for more than three years
- proposals that intend to carry out high quality of works
- occupier proposals with a unique or distinct offer for the city centre
- occupier proposals that intend to create new jobs and/or volunteering opportunities
- occupier proposals that intend to open more than the minimum required opening hours
- occupier proposals that promote sustainability
- proposals that intend to contribute additional investment to ensure long term success in the space
How do I apply?
Email email@example.com to request an application pack containing the guidance notes, application and relevant templates.
Read the guidance notes, which contain full eligibility criteria and a checklist of all the supporting documentation you need to supply when submitting your completed application form.
Use the template business plan provided to provide information about your business and the financial forecast for occupying the proposed property.
You must complete the Viability templates provided in the application pack commensurate with the grant you’re seeking, including business plan/business proposal, ensuring all relevant areas are populated with information about your business and the financial forecast for occupying the property included within your proposal. This will be assessed by an independent viability assessor to fairly score each application. You must also ensure the property owner has completed the Property Owner Consent Form
Email your application with all supporting documentation to firstname.lastname@example.org
The Vacant to Vibrant pilot capital grant scheme is open until July 2024, or until funding has been exhausted.
Applications will be awarded funding on a first come first served basis.
You may apply until all the available funding has been spent, however, we may close the application process early, depending on the number of applications we receive.
Help with your application
If you need help with the guidance notes or application form, email email@example.com and a member of our team will assist you.
We can support you by email, phone or video call, or, where appropriate, in a face-to-face meeting.
We welcome applications from people of all abilities. If we can help you to apply by making any reasonable adjustments to our process, please let us know.
The application process will include the submission of a business plan/proposal and accompanying financial forecast. Depending on eligibility criteria you may be able to gain assistance with completion of a Business Plan. Find out more information about this application.
Alternatively, you can gain information on how to complete a business plan by visiting NI business info on the Invest NI website and also find included below links to other resources which you may find useful:
Managing business finance during the start-up phase
Business start-up Videos
How to find a property
We encourage all applicants to identify a city centre property that aligns with their needs.
NI Business Info - Commercial Property Finder (link opens in new window) is maintained by Invest NI's Property team and contains detailed information on an extensive range of properties and serviced sites.
There are many other property websites owned by private sector companies. You can find these easily on any search engine.
If you are looking for property in a specific area, it’s also a good idea to have a walk around to spot potentially vacant properties yourself.
Once you find a property that appears vacant, you’ll need to find the landlord or managing agent - try asking people in the neighbouring commercial and residential properties. Otherwise, you will find the property owner’s details on the nidirect land registry (link opens in new window).
Further support for businesses
We also have resources to help you to start or expand your business.
We will be giving successful applicants access to one-to-one mentoring and workshops to help with business growth and sustainability.
Topics may include:
- business planning
- financial planning
- marketing and social media
- sales development
Business support and advice
If you would like to talk to one of our team about the support we can offer your business, register with us or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Department of Finance Back in Business scheme
The Back in Business scheme offers businesses a 50 per cent rates discount for up to two years if they occupy a vacant shop unit.
The concession applies to any business ratepayer who moves into premises which were previously used for retail purposes and have been unoccupied for 12 months or more.
City Centre boundary
Belfast city centre’s geographical boundary limits extend from Belfast Clarendon Dock in the north east of the city, travelling clockwise parallel to the M3 motorway east to the Short Strand, then in a south westerly direction along the Ormeau Embankment to Bradbury Place in the south of the city, then continuing clockwise in a westerly direction to Broadway Road, following the Westlink carriageway in a north by north westerly direction and finishing at Nelson Street.