Date: 16 Jan 2024
Category: City regeneration and development
2024 is off to a promising start for three Belfast businesses, thanks to funding from Belfast City Council.
They join 15 other successful Vacant to Vibrant applicants, all breathing new life into Belfast city centre and re-energising a number of vacant city centre units. And there are many more bringing their business right into the heart of Belfast – ranging from retail to beauty and food and beverage offerings.
A key project in Belfast City Council’s Future City Centre Programme, the Vacant to Vibrant capital grant scheme is all about creating a vibrant, unique, and thriving place where people spend time, live, work, study, visit and invest.
Councillor Clíodhna Nic Bhranair, Chair of Belfast City Council’s City Growth and Regeneration Committee said: “This is a brilliant start to 2024, seeing our Vacant to Vibrant funding supporting these small independent Belfast businesses to transform vacant spaces and make our city a more attractive, diverse, and inclusive place to visit, socialise, study, work, live, and invest in.
“It’s really encouraging to see these applications coming through – and I look forward to seeing many more before the scheme closes this July. We want to do everything we can help to people get established in the city centre. Our local businesses and organisations provide vital employment, help to deliver an authentic Belfast experience, and foster a greater sense of pride in the city – not to mention improving individual properties, the quality of our streetscapes, and helping to protect heritage buildings.
“So I encourage anyone who is interested in making a Vacant to Vibrant application to come along to our information sessions tomorrow, Wednesday 17 January and next Wednesday 24 January in 2 Royal Avenue.”
Vacant to Vibrant is helping Belfast based independent business Re:lettings Limited (which specialises in residential property lettings, management and maintenance) to relocate in a larger, more prominent unit at Forsythe House.
Owners Richard and Bailey Evans explain: “Vacant to Vibrant is making it possible for us to set up in a much more visible, spacious unit where we can welcome clients. We also own neighbouring brunch restaurant, The Pocket, so we’re going to use the back of the unit as a prep-kitchen. This funding is making it possible for us to complete quite extensive external and internal upgrades, including lighting, flooring, redecoration, and new signage - and it's allowed us to buy both catering and office equipment to make our new space fit for purpose.”
Meanwhile, Absolute Hair and Beauty, another independent business operating in Belfast for over 30 years, is undertaking refurbishment works to the ground floor unit at 84 Castle Street to support long-term occupation following a short-term occupation, creating two additional employment opportunities and long-term security for the business.
Owner Brenda McAloon said: “The Vacant to Vibrant funding will allow us to continue to serve our existing customers, while also attracting new customers by delivering a bespoke interior fit-out and creating new private rooms which will provide a more extensive range of hair and beauty treatments. Belfast City Council’s support has helped us maintain a long-term presence in Castle Street and allowed us to create more employment opportunities.”
And food sales and distribution SME, North South Retail Ltd has been awarded a Vacant to Vibrant grant to support the refurbishment of two vacant units to create a café and bakery in Great Northern Mall on Victoria Street.
‘Bread Street Bakery Café’, is now offering takeaway and sit-in options for up to 40 people. Managing Director John Pell explains: “We're using the Vacant to Vibrant funding to establish our business, 'Bread Street Bakery Café' in the Great Northern Mall, Belfast. We’re offering freshly baked pastry and breads, coffee and flavoursome lunches, to commuters and office workers nearby. We’ve taken over two vacant units to make one great café for sit down and to-go options. We're delighted to have been supported in this opportunity.”
The £1 million pilot capital grant scheme is open to small businesses, independent retailers, social enterprises, and cultural and voluntary organisations until July 2024; aiming to incentivise both property owners and potential occupiers to bring vacant Belfast city centre spaces back into use, while supporting the city centre’s revitalisation and ensuring sustainable rates growth.
Applicants on the scheme also benefit from wrap around support offered by council’s Enterprise and Business Growth team, providing resources to support the start-up or expansion of the business or organisation, including one-to-one mentoring and workshops to help with growth and long-term sustainability.
As part of the council’s wider programme to tackle vacancy, and to support the Vacant to Vibrant scheme, council also provides a matchmaking service through a partnership approach with commercial agent Frazer Kidd, linking businesses with potential units, with the opportunity to access capital funding through the scheme.
Grants of up to £2.5k are available for pop-up ground floor use (minimum four months), up to £15k for active floor usage up to 150m², and up to £25k for active floor usage over 151m².
Two information sessions are scheduled in 2 Royal Avenue:
- tomorrow, Wednesday 17 January 2024 from 9.30am to 4.30pm
- next Wednesday 24 January 2024 from 9.30am to 4.30pm
Drop in for information and guidance on the Vacant to Vibrant application process. There is no need to book a session.