Ulster University’s plans for a new, world class Screen Media Innovation Lab (SMIL) were centre stage at today’s Belfast Region City Deal Council Panel meeting, hosted by Ards and North Down Borough Council.
SMIL is set to play a key role in the Belfast region’s economic recovery post-COVID, by building on the success of Northern Ireland’s creative industries which already contribute over £1billion GVA to the NI economy and employ around 26,000 people.
As one of the City Deal’s innovation projects, SMIL will provide a Centre of Excellence in Research and Development, and Innovation in Virtual Production, where academics, researchers and the creative sectors can collaborate using state of the art facilities, helping to both sustain and grow jobs in one of Northern Ireland’s most successful sectors.
The Mayor of Ards and North Down, Councillor Trevor Cummings, who chaired today’s Belfast Region City Deal Council Panel meeting, said:
“The Belfast Region City Deal partners are focused on driving investment in our most resilient sectors, and in projects which will lead to sustained, long term regional growth and job creation.
“Demand for virtual content production is rapidly growing, but there’s currently a lack of capacity in this field. And because the Belfast region has already established strengths in film, broadcast, animation, games, and virtual, augmented and mixed reality – we’re perfectly positioned to establish this new Screen Media Innovation Lab and meet that demand.”
Facilitating Virtual Innovation
Professor Frank Lyons, Associate Dean of Research and Impact, Co-Director of The Creative Industries Institute and Ulster University’s Academic Lead on the SMIL project, said:
“As well as facilitating the levels of virtual innovation that will make us world leaders, SMIL will provide training and development opportunities to strengthen our talent pipeline, meeting the needs of the sector and boosting our productivity. In conjunction with the Belfast Harbour Film Studio complex, SMIL will drive collaboration in R&D on an unprecedented scale.
“SMIL has the potential to completely transform our creative industries, providing the platform for local companies to compete globally and establishing the Belfast region as a destination of choice for investment.”
Transformative Programme of Investment
Momentum continues to build for the Belfast Region City Deal, with the aim that a deal will be signed this summer to kick off this transformative programme of investment in innovation and digital, tourism and regeneration, infrastructure and employability and skills.
With the NI Executive’s commitment of £350m to match fund the investment of £350m from the UK Government, the overall investment package from both governments and BRCD partners currently stands at £850m for this ambitious 15-year programme. The government and partner investment will leverage critical private sector investment that will ensure delivery of a deal with a value well in excess of £1billion.
Importance of Improved Digital Connectivity Cannot be Overstated
Economy Minister Gordon Lyons has visited Killyleagh as hundreds of homes and businesses in the area go live with access to next generation access broadband speeds under Project Stratum.
Project Stratum represents a £150million investment by the UK government, allocated to the Department for the Economy as part of the Confidence and Supply Agreement, alongside £15million by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs with further investment by the contractor, Fibrus Networks Ltd.
Department for the Economy Minister Gordon Lyons said: “Killyleagh is the latest town to go live as a result of Project Stratum, the £165 million infrastructure project which will bring Next Generation Access broadband to over 76,000 premises across Northern Ireland. This investment in our broadband infrastructure is set to transform the broadband connectivity landscape here. Hyperfast NI, delivered by Fibrus Networks Ltd, have now completed work they began earlier in the year in the Strangford area, including towns such as Killyleagh, Killinchy and Newtownards. This announcement sees over 640 premises in the area, previously identified as being without quality coverage, with access to hyperfast broadband speeds. As a result people and businesses are already seeing the benefits of improved connectivity.
“The importance of improved digital connectivity cannot be overstated. It can mean better access to online services for businesses and members of the public alike. An improved online presence can help businesses to sell their goods, promote their services and in the case of our local tourism providers help them to attract visitors and people to the area.
“This is the latest announcement by Fibrus, with extensive work across South Down and other towns in Mid Ulster and the North Coast already completed and I look forward to tracking progress as more and more premises go live across Northern Ireland.”
Fibrus Networks’ Hyperfast NI Programme and Commercial Director, Shane Haslem added: “Providing rural communities like Killyleagh with proper connectivity opportunities and access to quality broadband is at the heart of what we do. For too long, rural and regional areas have gone without adequate broadband infrastructure, despite being a hub for local businesses, start-ups and support services.
“When the pandemic hit, we were urged to ‘Stay at Home’ and confined to working, learning and entertaining ourselves from home. This unsurprisingly increased the demand for online and digital usage, meaning broadband quickly became like any other utility. To modern homes and businesses, it is now as essential as your electricity and heating.
“We are delighted that Killyleagh and other parts of the Strangford area have now joined the Rural Revolution, as our full fibre network goes live. We will continue to address the imbalance in rural connectivity across Northern Ireland and we look forward to seeing more communities enjoying the benefits of our transformative full fibre network.”
Allstate NI Offers Cyber Safety Training for Older Adults
Allstate NI is offering free cyber safety training sessions to protect older consumers from online scams.
The interactive sessions, which cover everything from fraud and identity protection to email and telephone scams, will help those over 60 navigate the internet with confidence.
The community initiative comes after it was revealed that over £6 million was lost to scams in Northern Ireland in 2020.
The virtual sessions will cover general cybersecurity awareness, fraud, identity theft, and email and telephone scams and will equip attendees with the tools to protect their passwords and privacy settings.
Technologists at Allstate developed the initiative following the success of its Cyber Safety for Kids scheme, a training programme that has reached over 11,000 children globally since launching in Northern Ireland in 2018.
Like the award-winning kids programme, the training for older adults will be delivered across Northern Ireland, the U.S and India to protect as many people as possible.
Senior Vice President and Chief Information Security Officer at Allstate Jeff Wright said:
“Cybercrime is on the rise and hackers are getting smarter. There is no doubt that all of us are at risk, however older members of society are a growing target for cybercriminals. That’s why we are reaching out to local communities and offering free, online training sessions to ensure more people have the knowledge and awareness to stop cybercrime in its tracks.”
Vice President and Deputy Chief Information Security Officer at Allstate NI Keith Lippert said:
“COVID-19 forced everyone online and more people are using the internet for tasks that require sharing sensitive information. In these sessions, Allstate cybersecurity professionals will talk about the most common scams and how to avoid falling victim to them. Individuals are encouraged to ask questions and get tips that will best protect them and their assets.”
Superintendent Gerard Pollock, Police Service of Northern Ireland said:
“I welcome any initiatives which advise and educate people on how they can avoid falling victim to scams and encourage anyone who has been a victim to report it to police on the non-emergency telephone number 101.”
Virtual sessions are available throughout the summer:
- Tuesday, July 27, 10-11 a.m. GMT
- Thursday, August 5, 12-1 p.m. GMT
- Tuesday August 24, 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. GMT
For further advice and information relating to scams, visit www.nidirect.gov.uk/scamwiseni or the ScamwiseNI Facebook page @scamwiseni.