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Belfast City

Destination CQ BID Celebrates SOS BUS Success Following Cash Injection

A vital mobile service working with vulnerable people is celebrating its success working with local businesses to create a safer city centre.

Destination Cathedral Quarter, the private sector-led business improvement district group operating in Belfast’s rapidly growing cultural and social heart, invested £8,500 last year to the SOS NI whose volunteers, in partnership with the emergency services, other community groups, bars and clubs, offer a ‘safe space’ on the streets of Belfast in the evenings and  provide non-judgemental support.

Joanne McQuillan, Director for SOS NI, said Destination CQ’s “incredible” support had given them the opportunity to further invest in volunteers and resources and to increase the quality and efficiency of their services.

“Last year (2018) trained SOS volunteers worked over 18,000 volunteer hours over 164 shifts during the night-time economy period, festivals and events across Belfast.

“Throughout the year SOS Volunteer supported over 30,000 and provided crisis interventions for almost 1,500 people – aged from 13 to 84 – were treated on board the SOS buses and 220 volunteers tackled serious issues such as alcohol abuse, homelessness and poor mental health whilst acting as a safe space for anyone out in the city centre at night, whether they needed directions, provisions or were just in need of a friendly chat over a cup of tea or coffee,” she said.

Mrs McQuillan said that as Belfast continued to grow as a centre for retail, tourism and culture there was an increasing need to develop strategies to maintain a safe and welcoming city centre during the evenings.

“We hope that this network will continue to grow and are aiming to achieve our Purple Flag status, which would be a welcome further recognition of the services we provide,” she added.

Gareth Neill, Destination Cathedral Quarter BID (Business Improvement District) manager, said the BID were committed to working with businesses in the area, along with a variety of services, to ensure the safety of people in the area.

“The work SOS NI do through their buses in the city is invaluable, most commendable and very welcome.

“Unfortunately, there are people out at night who, for whatever reason, can find themselves in difficulties – so having the SOS NI volunteers in the area is absolutely vital.

“This service has most probably saved lives in some of the more extreme cases so we are delighted to be able to provide this investment to help them continue with their fantastic work,” he said.

Overall, since SOS NI started in 2007, volunteers have interacted with 342,000 people, providing tea, coffee and a listening ear.

The charity has also supported over 12,800 clients with in-depth medical and welfare support.

The 60-ft SOS Buses are usually based at the City Hall and Shaftesbury Square each Friday and Saturday evening.

Last year ….

  • 235 people were transported to Accident and Emergency or the Bradbury ARC by SOS NI minibus response teams;
  • 151 clients received ‘listening ear support’, of which 12 had been experiencing suicidal thoughts;
  • 407 were transported home or to a place of safety by SOS minibus response teams;
  • 114 vulnerable people were treated for a medical problem;
  • 1,065 vulnerable people came to the buses with injuries or illness as a result of substance abuse;
  • 250 people were referred to the buses by the PSNI or bar/club security staff.

Ms McQuillan explained: “Our presence on the streets eases pressure on the PSNI, emergency departments, the NI Ambulance Service and Belfast City Council, allowing them to focus their time and effort on more serious and pressing issues.

“Last year our volunteers also provided crisis intervention and welfare support on an additional 19 shifts across Belfast, such as A level results night, the Belsonic and T-Vital music festivals and at events in Bangor and Portrush.

“The sponsorship from Destination Cathedral Quarter is enabling us to further develop our an annual Volunteer Development Programme, provide in-depth training, new uniforms and practical resources.

“We have also been able to purchase eight radios and a radio licence for use on shift to improve communication between volunteers and minbus response teams to ensure we can react immediately to calls to the SOS emergency number.

“SOS NI has also been building relationships with the University of Ulster, Queen’s University and Belfast Metropolitan College to create ‘safe spaces’ at events such as Halloween, Freshers’ Week and St Patrick’s Day.

“It is important that students, many of whom are living away from home for the first time, feel safe when they are out and know they can receive non-judgemental welfare care if they are become vulnerable.

“We also believe in early intervention, so we have volunteers working in schools to help educate young people about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse, especially when they are out socialising in the evenings and attending music events, etc.”

SOS NI has also supported the Vulnerable Refugee Consortium over the past four years by providing transport and other logistical support.

Working with Bryson House, Extern, Red Cross and Barnardos, the scheme resettles displaced refugees who are currently living in countries neighbouring Syria.

For more information about SOS NI go to or call 028 9066 4505.

Belfast City

Cathedral Quarter BID Celebrates Success Of Street Beat Police Presence In Area

An initiative that saw additional dedicated police officers patrolling Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter has been welcomed as a proven success story by Destination CQ’s manager Damien Corr.

The Ballot for the continuation of the Cathedral Quarter Business Improvement District (BID) is currently open until September 22. In an independent survey carried out in advance of the ballot, the Street Beat (#streetbeat) programme was seen as one of the key projects that adds value for businesses and organisations in the area, over 90% of respondents prioritised it for inclusion in the Business Plan for the next 5 years.

The StreetBeat officers are paid for by the BID and are additional to the normal policing provided by PSNI. The initiative was a direct response to local business owners’ concerns regarding antisocial activity within the areas. 

BID manager Damien Corr said: “As the businesses are paying for the service, it was essential that they felt in ‘control’, accordingly the officers have a designated phone which our Cathedral Quarter businesses can call direct 07787432635. This ability to bypass the general PSNI Switchboard is key to a more effective localised response.”

The officers patrol the area on foot and in their distinctive CQ street beat branded vehicle, dealing with anti-social behaviour and criminal activity. They also visit premises offering practical security and personnel safety advice and equipment.

StreetBeat PSNI officer Michael Gillies added: “Being given the time and support both by the BID and PSNI management, I have been allowed to focus my work specifically within the Cathedral Quarter and its needs. 

“This has helped to strengthen relationships already made with businesses and also to forge new ones. It’s back to basics Neighbourhood policing, only this time the neighbourhood is my local business community”.

However, the future of the scheme in the Cathedral Quarter relies on a ‘yes’ vote for a new five-year term for the Business Improvement District organisation Destination CQ.

With ballot papers already issued and voting by post closing on September 22, Mr Corr is keen to remind voters of what could be lost without their votes.

“The BID levy payers have told us that they really appreciate the work done by our Street Beat officers who, between them, have provided 2080 extra policing hours targeted patrolling,” he said. 

“They were particularly effective over lockdown when lots of properties were left unattended. Our officers continued to patrol, checking on closed business premises and providing assurance and practical assistance to those who continued to work.

“It is a simple reality, that unless we get a yes vote in the ballot, aloof this additional targeted policing will be lost to Cathedral Quarter.”

Sorcha Woolsy, Operations Director of Beannchor with a number of businesses in the BID area said the BID has carried out a number of projects that have impacted the Beannchor suite of businesses.

“The one that really stands out to me is the provision of the City Centre Beat Officers,” she added.

“It’s a really good example of an initiative that a BID can provide that an individual business could not on their own. 

“For me, it is imperative to vote yes on the re-ballot of the BID. The collective energy and brainpower and money of a group of businesses all pulling in the same direction for the betterment of this area will inevitably gain better results than individual businesses doing little bits and pieces on their own.”

For more information on the work of Destination CQ and Street Beat go to or contact Damien Corr on 02890 314 011.

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Belfast City

CQ BID Celebrates Five Years Of Being Voice For All In Cathedral Quarter

Cathedral Quarter Business Improvement District, Destination CQ, has for five years been the collective voice for every business in the area, lobbying and consulting with local and regional government and government agencies.

Destination CQ Manager, Damien Corr said the ability to go to these organisations and speak for everyone in the Cathedral Quarter, Smithfield and Union, is one that can’t go unnoticed.

“We are involved in most stakeholder groups in the city and that’s something that our levy payers don’t see a lot of,” he explained. 

“It takes up a lot of our time but it’s very worthwhile.

“The ability to lobby for individual businesses, or for the entire area, direct to departments is important, and we work away on issues until we are successful or reach an acceptable compromise.”

The pressures of the pandemic, shop closures and the complete halt to tourism have affected the economy as a whole but it also had a significant effect on the Cathedral Quarter. This inner-city neighbourhood, characterised by arts, culture, restaurants, entertainment and independent shops relies on tourists and visitors to survive.  

Over the past five years, Destination CQ has represented business interests at City Reopening Stakeholder Group, City Centre Anti-Social Behaviour Action Group and the Small Business Forum.

At present there is a ballot to continue the BID’s work for a further five years and voting Yes to the BID means local businesses can present a unified front and have a collective voice when engaging with the various stakeholders, either local government or assembly level.

When asked about the importance of banding together to present a collective voice, Sorcha Wolsey, Operations Director for the Beannchor Group and Destination CQ BID Board member said it was important that businesses come together.

“The collective energy, brainpower and money of a group of businesses all pulling in the same direction for the betterment of this area will inevitably gain better results than individual businesses doing little bits and pieces on their own,” she said.

The business improvement district has been actively championing the area, partnering with promotional activities such as the government’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme to help restaurants in the area recover from the effects of the pandemic. 

There have been numerous BID led initiatives that greatly benefited businesses in the neighbourhood. Culture Night and Restaurant Week are just some examples of the projects that make CQ a vibrant place to do business. 

Board member and Director of Quigg Golden, Gavin Hendrie said Cathedral Quarter needed a body to explain the issues and promote the area.

“We need a champion for the area,” he explained. “We need the BID to help advertise the CQ as a place to come, to maintain the sense of vibrancy that we’ve known in the past and perhaps lost in the last 18 months.”

Supporting local businesses remains one of the three pillars the Business Improvement District plans to focus on in term two. Collective advocacy is still a priority with creating a strong alliance among stakeholders and ensuring BID members’ voice is heard in key city-wide discussions.

Les Hume, Vice-Chair of CQ BID explained why it is crucial to be represented as a collective:

“By being part of a collective we can present a reasoned, well thought through debate, we can actually bring our concerns and our troubles to the people who make the key decisions,” he said. 

“I think that in the next five years we’re going to have even greater challenges as we try to build Belfast back better.

“To vote yes for this BID process means that your voice can be heard, along with mine hopefully. Together we’ll make Belfast better.

“Individually we will struggle. That’s what I think is good about a Business Improvement District, so please do consider voting yes.”

For more information on how the work of Destination CQ BID can benefit your business go to or contact Damien Corr on 02890 314 011.

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