Learning Pool has paid an undisclosed sum for True Office Learning, a firm in the United States which specialises in compliance training.

True Office was at one time owned by the New York Stock Exchange.

Learning Pool’s chief executive Ben Betts said the deal with True Office Learning is “a significant step” for the Derry-based company.

“In the past two years, the way we work and learn has changed dramatically, and our aim is to lead the way in reshaping the new workplace learning landscape,” Mr Betts said.

The addition of True Office should take Learning Pool’s annual turnover to around £50m. The firm is aiming to significantly grow its business in the US where it already has an office in Colorado.

True Office’s major clients include the pharmaceutical firm Pfizer and the agri-food company, Cargill. Learning Pool was founded in 2006 by Paul McElvaney, who is now the firm’s executive chair.

The company provides online training courses for a range of major businesses and public sector organisations.

Last year a US private equity firm, Marlin Equity Partners, bought a majority stake in the business.

Ryan Willams founder of The AMP

Ryan Williams is founder of The AMP, the North West’s first privately funded business incubator and co-working space, which recently opened a new site in Derry’s Ebrington Square. He is also director of Connected Health, a tech-enabled homecare company with around 1,100 staff in the UK and Ireland. Originally from Armagh, Ryan has lived in Derry for 20 years and is also co-founder of the LAB Fund, which has supported more than 40 local businesses and projects.

You moved to Derry 20 years ago. How has it changed since then?

I think the biggest change in the city since I’ve been here was probably the City of Culture in 2013, when people really started to realise they could do great things. It’s not that Derry hadn’t done great things before then, but I think that year, people sat up and went, ‘We can be great’, and ‘Let’s celebrate what’s really good about Derry’.

And I think in the last four to five years that’s been turbocharged. The city looks amazing for a start. We went to Ebrington because we knew that it was the new Cathedral Quarter for Derry, a place where there’s going to be hundreds of people living and working, tourists in and out of the place, it’s really going to come alive and be a new hub for the city. We have 85% of the new AMP building full, with people in tech, digital marketing, digital media, and it isn’t officially opened yet. Entrepreneurs are springing up because they see confidence, and they see other people being successful.

Tell us a bit more about The AMP?

AMP’s not a single building, it’s a theme for how incubators should operate and create that local ecology of entrepreneurs who all think in similar ways and want the same kind of things out of their space or working lives. The Ebrington building has capacity for about 40 to 45 people. We’re already looking at AMP 3, so we’re already looking at where we might go with another building. We’ll hopefully have some news on that in the New Year.

The place is looking brilliant. We’ve a few murals going up shortly, which are all going to be about Derry slang and business motivational quotes. It’s going to be really cool. We’re not interested in celebrating Elon Musk and Warren Buffett, we wanted this to feel like a Derry-owned entrepreneurial tech hub.

Have you had feedback from people who want to move home?

There are people going, ‘the house that I’m looking at is three times the size and half the cost of what I pay in London’. We have one of the best school systems that you’ll see in any part of Europe, with award-winning educators. We’ve got Benone Beach and Donegal on our doorstep. Why would you not want to live and work here!

I think we need to tell our 17 and 18-year-olds that you don’t need to go to Liverpool or London, if fact your quality of life here will be better, your job opportunities will be better in many cases, don’t think that you need to leave. And we’ve got to keep that talent and that wealth locally where we can. Earning £40k a year in London and earning £30k a year in Derry, your lifestyle is completely different.

Where did the idea for the LAB fund come from?

Four and a half or five years ago, we came up with this concept called Your Derry to celebrate global success stories, individuals and businesses. There are now 16,000 people on that Facebook platform, including diaspora around the world. But what we realised really quickly was look, that’s all fine, but how do we help people to get going, create social enterprises, give them a few quid to do something positive in the city, help small entrepreneurs to get started? If you look at Elemental’s success story in Derry, the founders started with £500. Now it’s a multi-million-pound business. So, we thought, we really need a fund. What if we get £20.24 a month off local people and businesses, less than a gym membership, put it into a pot and we give it away every quarter? We’ve supported 42 SMEs, local entrepreneurs, social enterprises, community projects including the likes of Storefront NI streetwear and Devine Scents. It’s not a fortune, it’s between £500 and up to £2000. It’s also quite supportive, we can match people up with mentors. I think it’s a lovely thing. A small amount of money that makes quite a bit of difference.

The pandemic was a challenging time for homecare providers. How did Connected Health cope?

We grew by 30% during Covid. A lot of our competitors pulled the shutters down; we said, we’re actually going to recruit, because homecare is going to be one of the last bastions that older and vulnerable people have. We also came up with things like Covid dedicated teams. The incidence of Covid in homecare was miniscule in comparison with care homes. So if I looked at the peak 12 months of Covid, we had 52 staff infections out of 1,100 staff. We had really good PPE adherence. We got PPE in January 2020 knowing this was coming. We also had dedicated Covid carers who only looked after Covid positive patients. Our two Irish Carers of the Year [Limavady sisters Lauren and Chloe Kelly] moved in with one of our vulnerable clients for two and a half weeks, when she got Covid. That’s the kind of carers we employ and keep. That’s how staff step up.

What do you do in your spare time – if you get any!

I did an Ironman in September in Spain. I’ll certainly do more triathlons, but I wouldn’t be rushing back to do another Ironman. It’s just excruciating! Danny Quigley, who completed 10 Ironmans in 10 days for charity, was my coach, so you can’t get a better coach. Swimming is my favourite part of triathlon, so I swim a lot and do a lot of open water swimming. I call myself a failing triathlete and a marginally successful swimmer.

Find out more about AMP at https://ampincubator.com

City of Derry Airport welcomed Ryanair back to the North West on Wednesday 1st December, for the inaugural service to Manchester Airport. The Mayor of Derry City & Strabane District Council, Alderman Graham Warke, President of Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, Mrs Dawn McLaughlin, Head of Regions at Tourism NI, Mr Ciaran Doherty, and Head of Functions at Ryanair, Mr Frazer McKinstry, joined the celebrations at the airport where the inaugural passengers were treated to a fun-filled afternoon of Manchester themed refreshments, giveaways and live musical entertainment to mark the special occasion!

Mr Steve Frazer, Managing Director at City of Derry Airport, expressed his delight: “We are thrilled to have Ryanair back in the North West and providing such an important service for the local catchment area. A Manchester flight has been in demand for some time and we are proud to now provide this vital connectivity for corporate passengers and students who commute regularly and reuniting family and friends. Not to mention the offering of convenient leisure breaks to this action-packed destination; from football, shopping, nightlife, culture, history to family fun – Manchester has something to offer for everyone!

“Ryanair’s budget-friendly fares for services between City of Derry Airport and Manchester start from just £11.99pp one way and flights are available three days per week – Wednesday, Friday and Sunday – which is ideal for short weekend breaks and corporate travellers and students commuting for the week. Flights are available to book via the City of Derry Airport website: www.cityofderryairport.com.”

Karen Smart, Managing Director of Manchester Airport, said: “It’s great to see Ryanair flights to Derry/Londonderry launch from Manchester Airport.

 “The route will offer our passengers here in the North of England a great opportunity to visit a different part of Northern Ireland. For inbound passengers, as well as exploring what the North of England has to offer, the route will allow people easy access to our long-haul network out of Manchester.”

Mayor of Derry City & Strabane District Council, Alderman Graham Warke, added, “I am delighted that Ryanair aircraft has made a welcome return to the runway of City of Derry Airport to offer affordable and convenient connectivity to Manchester.

The inaugural Ryanair flight from City of Derry Airport to Manchester received a VIP send-off as Derry City and Strabane District Council Mayor, Alderman Graham Warke and Dawn McLaughlin, President of Londonderry Chamber of Commerce with Brenda Morgan MBE, Head of Business Development at City of Derry Airport, Ciaran Doherty, Tourism NI, Chris Morgan, the Manchester Bee, Frazer McKinstry, Regional Manager, Ryanair and Steve Frazer, Managing Director. Picture Martin McKeown. 01.12.21

“It fortifies the link between our region and Manchester where many local people do business and have friends and family living there.

“There is lots to see and do in Manchester if you are planning a city break and we can promise visitors from England the experience of a lifetime if they are travelling to the North West for business or recreation.”

For more information on the new Ryanair service from City of Derry Airport to Manchester, visit www.cityofderryairport.com.

Are you returning to the North West for Christmas? A new campaign is encouraging local diaspora to consider moving home for good.

Job opportunities, career progression, quality of life and the benefits of the £250m City Deal are among the key draws highlighted by the ‘Come Home to Us’ campaign, spearheaded by Derry City and Strabane District Council’s Investment team.

It features testimonials from local people who have returned to live, work and invest in the region after working abroad, plus information about the range and quality of jobs available, from attractive entry level roles to senior executive positions.

A range of ‘Work Life Balanced’ promotional videos, social media and digital advertising will be released over the festive period to support people who want to move home and build a life in the North West – whether it’s setting up their own business, finding a great job, working remotely, or availing of the excellent schools and natural beauty on our doorstep.

The campaign will also showcase the transformative £250m Derry and Strabane City Deal, which will further boost the local economy through cutting edge innovation and research, job creation and regeneration.

Meanwhile, the Invest Derry Strabane website also features a special round-up of companies currently hiring in the North West, including global firms such as Allstate and Seagate, local success stories such as Learning Pool and Elemental, and ground-breaking gaming company Hypixel Studios.

Rosalind Young, investment manager at Derry City and Strabane District Council said: “This is a fantastic time to consider a move home. There are a wide range of opportunities available in the North West, whether you’re a graduate, on your second or third job, or looking for an experienced, senior level role.

“We have a great variety of sectors here who are currently hiring – from financial services and software development, to advanced manufacturing, engineering and life sciences – and a fantastic ecosystem of businesses, both homegrown successes and multinational companies all serving global clients from the North West.

“The recent shift towards remote working has also demonstrated that people don’t have to live in a major metropolis to do business, stay connected and progress their career path. This campaign is a chance to showcase the opportunities available in the Derry and Strabane region, and celebrate what makes it such a great place to live, work, invest and come back to.”

Ryan Williams is director of home care innovator Connected Health, and founder of business incubator and co-working space The AMP, which recently opened a new site at Derry’s Ebrington Square.

“I think there’s an increasing ecology of career progression in Derry, of moving from one company to the next. There are more senior positions, more technical positions here now, and a much better standard of life than somewhere like London or Dublin,” he said.

Jennifer Neff is co-founder of the award-winning social prescribing software company Elemental. She moved home to Derry and founded the company with Leeann Monk after living in Edinburgh and Manchester.

She said: “I am getting everything I need from this city and region and I am giving back too, having created 35 jobs at Elemental with my business partner, Leeann Monk. There is an energy here right now that I haven’t seen before. Lots of people are making great things happen and there is a chance to be part of that by moving to this wonderful place.”

For a round-up of companies currently hiring in the North West, visit https://investderrystrabane.com/worklife/

Software development company AquaQ Analytics is recruiting 40 staff for its new North West branch.

The Belfast-based business, which was founded in 2011 and employs around 250 people globally, is one of Northern Ireland’s fastest growing companies. It provides specialist consulting, software and data services, cloud solutions and more, to clients working in sectors including capital markets and Tier One investment banks. 

It hopes the new roles, which will offer a flexible mix of home and office working, will attract people living in the North West as well as border counties in the Republic of Ireland.

AquaQ recently held an insight event in Derry’s City Hotel to help potential employees and new graduates find out more about the business and speak with staff.

Ronan Pairceir, CEO of AquaQ, said: “We look forward to our expansion into the North West. Since the start of Covid, we have added an additional 100 employees around the world, with plans to reach 400 employees globally over the coming 18 months.”

Patrick Farren, Head of Engineering, added: “We are looking to recruit Java and React developers for our rapidly expanding Software Engineering division. These roles will involve using modern development tools and concepts to deliver high quality, best practice software solutions to our clients. Successful applicants will require a mix of technical and client-facing skills, offering highly rewarding careers for the right people.”

A captivating new sculpture trail designed by the bestselling children’s author and artist Oliver Jeffers is coming to Derry this Spring.

Centred around an epic scale model of the solar system created by Jeffers with support from astrophysicist Professor Stephen Smartt, Our Place in Space combines a three-dimensional sculpture trail, interactive AR (augmented reality) app, and exciting learning and events programmes.

The sculpture trail will stretch over 10 kilometres and will travel from a riverside location in Derry in April/May, to Divis and Black Mountain in Belfast in June/July. It will then head to Cambridge in August before returning to Northern Ireland at the Transport Museum and North Down Coastal Path in September/October.

The team behind Our Place in Space is led by Derry’s Nerve Centre, with location partners including Derry City and Strabane District Council.

David Lewis, executive producer at the Nerve Centre, said: “From creating a star to writing a symphony for the universe, inventing a new form of transport, building a Minecraft planet or connecting with space watchers in Vietnam or Iraq, Our Place in Space invites participants to look at our solar system in a different way – exploring what it means to live on Earth in 2022, and how we might better share and protect our planet in future.”

Our Place in Space is Northern Ireland’s project for UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK, commissioned by Belfast City Council.

To find out more and sign up to the mailing list, visit: www.ourplaceinspace.earth

A two-week illumination festival will be held in Derry in February, with some of the city’s most iconic buildings transformed into pieces of art.

The ‘Illuminating the Walled City’ spectacular will run from February 14 to 27, from 5pm to 10pm daily.

It will consist of three main elements including an Illuminated Trail of Light, with props, performers and lanterns, a music programme embracing the theme of light in unique locations, and live illumination experiences featuring landmark buildings.

The plans follow the major success of the Lumiere light festival as part of the City of Culture 2013 programme, which highlighted the requirement for an out-of-season experience that will attract visitors to the city.

Derry City & Strabane District Council has received a Service Level Agreement (SLA) from Tourism NI for £451k to the two-week long festival. It is 100% funded with no additional budget required by council.

Plans for next year’s Enterprise Week programme have been rubber-stamped by Council’s Business and Culture Committee.

The popular business support event, which is delivered by Council in conjunction with a wide range of partners, will take place from March 7 to 11.

The programme will feature a blended series of online and in-person events, with a focus on opportunities for post-pandemic innovation and economic growth.

Council’s Head of Business, Kevin O’Connor, told the committee that Enterprise Week would provide a valuable forum for local businesses to share expertise and experiences after two years of significant challenge and upheaval.

He added that the changing economic landscape meant that flexibility and willingness to adapt have become key to business success, and said EW2022 would help local companies reimagine business models to make them more resilient for the future.

This year’s EW2022 programme features a series of business focused workshops, webinars, keynote addresses, panel discussions, start-up pitches and networking opportunities. Themes will include Digital Innovation, Funding, Start Up support, Leadership and Empowerment, and Skills.

Full details of the event are set to be confirmed in the New Year.

The festive season is in full swing in Derry City and Strabane, with a series of magical events getting people in the mood for Christmas.

The Uncover the Magic of Christmas programme included a magical procession through the streets of Derry and Strabane for the Christmas lights switch-ons (with Santa as the guest of honour), and the Mayor’s Magical Christmas Experience.

The Walled City Christmas Markets also made a welcome return to Guildhall Square on the first two weekends of December, offering unique, locally produced artisan food and crafts.

Christmas shopping left to do? You can support Council’s support local campaign using the hashtags #ChristmasDS and #GiftLocal on social media.

Derry’s Millennium Forum was the stage for a special cultural showcase for returning expats in October.

The event, sponsored by new diaspora association, Futureproof Northwest, featured snapshots of the region’s music, literature and art.

It included a choral recital, hosted by Maurice Kelly of Allegri and guests, a new exhibition of paintings of Derry street-scenes from the last century, by Bridget Murray, and the launch of the late John Bryson’s historical reference guide to the city, Derry’s Streets: 521-2021.

Futureproof chair Sean Downey said the diaspora group, which was inaugurated at Dublin’s Mansion House in 2019 and is made up of expats from Derry, Donegal and Tyrone, aims to support conversations that will help the region.

He added: “We want to encourage the diaspora of the North West to connect, share ideas and experience, exchange contacts and create opportunities. As part of this, we plan to organise activities and events to promote networking and relationship-building, and strengthen the community of Northwesterners across the islands and further afield.

“We also hope to provide support through the network to people in the North West and the diaspora across these islands and further afield seeking to develop business, promote culture and foster educational opportunities.”

Further information on the group is available at futureproofnorthwest.com