Donegal based manufacturing firm, Houston Precision Engineering (HPE) has purchased over three acres of land in Strabane Business Park to build a new factory which will lead to the creation of 41 new engineering jobs in Northern Ireland.  

HPE provides high quality engineering services, focusing primarily on metal fabrication and precision machining services, to regional, national and international customers. 

Welcoming HPE to Northern Ireland, Kevin Holland, Invest Northern Ireland’s CEO said: “Northern Ireland has a long and proud history of manufacturing and engineering brilliance which forms the cornerstone of our economy. This investment by HPE will significantly contribute to this already vibrant and sophisticated advanced manufacturing and engineering sector. The increased capacity it creates will enable HPE to grow and thrive in international markets.

Invest NI has offered Houston Precision Engineering £410,000 of support towards 41 jobs. The company is proposing to build a new 30,000 sq. ft. factory in Strabane Business Park, owned by Invest NI.

Kevin added: “The announcement of a new investor is great news for the Derry City & Strabane District Council area and demonstrates HPE’s confidence in Northern Ireland, in the talent here and in local infrastructure. With plans to build a new manufacturing facility in Strabane Business Park, the 41 new jobs will contribute £1million in additional annual salaries to the local economy.”

Only one site is now remaining on Strabane Business Park. Further expressions of interest are currently being explored bringing Strabane Business Park close to capacity in the near future.”

Martin Houston,  Owner of Houston Precision Engineering said: “Invest NI has worked with us throughout the pandemic, helping us to secure the site at Strabane Business Park and offering support to help us kick start our team with over 40 new roles, most of which will be Production Operatives. Our investment will also include a zinc plating processing line, which will offer a significant opportunity to offer this process from the North West as many engineering businesses currently have to transport their products to Belfast or Dublin to avail of this service.

“We have developed a strong reputation across the UK and RoI operating in the aggregates and quarry sectors, data centres, oil industry and waste recycling sector. Our growth plans are ambitious and with a strong manufacturing facility already established in Letterkenny and ambitious plans for Strabane, our strategy is to treble our sales by 2025. To do this we will significantly increase our manufacturing outputs to meet the growing demand for our products at home, across the UK and beyond.

“We are delighted to be expanding and are very much looking forward to growing a strong and competitive business in the Strabane area.”

As part of the visual arts programme, from March 8th ‘Full Hoist Always’, delivered by the Void Gallery, will see roadside billboards transformed by artist Locky Morris, focusing on a positive message around care and support in the current times.As part of the Inside Out programme, UV Arts will deliver ‘The People’s Art Project’ which will take place from March 16th, looking at celebrating our local community and those who make the community what it is through portraits.The North West Carnival Initiative will deliver ‘Imagine That…’ – a combination of artist led creation, online content including tutorials, and neighbourhood focused activity.  Our city centre will be re-imagined with creative installations and pop up displays adorning areas including Shipquay Street and several quiet spaces within the Walls; fairy dwellings in​ Kilfennan, St Columb’s Park, Foyle Road, Brooke Park and the Fountain; a willow hare sculpture at Strabane Allotments, and the pig sculpture at the Alley Theatre being transformed into a seasonal leprechaun, and lots more.There will be a vast range of online content, including many events for Irish Language Week which is currently taking place and will finish on St Patrick’s Day.

. Included with Mayor Brian Tierney are Sha Gillespie and Jim Collins, NWCI, at front, and Margaret Crabtree, Keep her Knit, and Ann Millar, community participant.

In partnership with Donegal County Council, Irish Language Week aims to create opportunities for people to use and enjoy the Irish language, and this year Council have been working with partners in the Irish language community across the city and district to create a unique programme of online events which celebrate the Irish language as part of the shared heritage of the region.On March 16th, Council is working with partners on the virtual Destination Derry – Connecting with Home event which will see our diaspora living in all corners of the world come together to enjoy our shared history and love of this time of year, with conversation, music, culture and lots of entertainment.St Patrick’s Day will be marked by students from North West Regional College’s School of Performing Arts who will put together two celebratory traditional Irish music sessions. There will be range of talented artists and lots of great music for audiences to enjoy.Launching the programme,

Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Cllr Brian Tierney, said it has something for everyone.”I’m delighted to launch our Spring and St Patrick’s Day programme which will be a much-needed boost to everyone locally and will bring some colour to our city and district as we move into a brighter season.”Like everything we have done over the past year, this programme has been put together with public health at the very forefront of our minds. Our Council officers have worked incredibly hard to organise a programme that strikes a balance between giving the public something to look forward to and celebrate, while also keeping everyone safe.”St Patrick’s Day and our Spring Carnival are terrific occasions in our annual calendar and while it is disappointing that we cannot celebrate with the usual gatherings and events, and our St Patrick’s Day parades, we have some very exciting online content as well as visual arts and creative outdoor installations and pop-up displays.”The Inside Out programme looks fantastic and we are once again working with the North West Carnival Initiative who have adapted their delivery of ‘Imagine That…’ festivities. It all comes together as one highly-anticipated programme.”

Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Cllr Brian Tierney, with Sha Gillespie and Jim Collins, North West Carnival Initiative, and Margaret Crabtree, Keep Her Knit, at the launch of the Spring programme.

Jacqueline Whoriskey, Council’s Festival and Events Manager, added: “We have come through perhaps one of the most challenging winters that many of us have ever faced, and as we put together this Spring programme we were very conscious of capturing the spirit of a new season, a new chapter, and a fresh, bright outlook.”We have really adapted how we deliver these programmes in the past year, and in line with that we have continued to put a big focus on online content through the likes of Irish Language Week, the Destination Derry event and the music session being delivered by North West Regional College.”While we will not be holding any public events or gatherings, we have focused in on how we can creatively bring the Spring spirit to our streets with artwork and installations, with fairy dwellings and artistic sculptures that can be enjoyed by everyone when out getting some fresh air and exercise.”We hope that this adapted programme can be enjoyed safely by everyone.”

The Inside Out Programme is organised by Derry City and Strabane District Council with funding through the Department of Communities’ Business Revitalisation and Recovery Programme. For more information, visit www.derrystrabane.com/insideout

The opening of Ulster University’s new School of Medicine at Magee is gathering pace with the hiring of three new team members.

The School, which will welcome its first intake of students this August, recently appointed Dr Lysa Owen as Senior Lecturer in Clinical Skills, Jason Murray as Technical Services Coordinator, and Claire McDaid as School Administrative Officer.

Recruitment is also underway for a Director of Education.

Speaking about the appointments, Professor Louise Dubras, Foundation Dean of the School of Medicine said: “Lysa joins us from the new Graduate Entry Medical School in Scotland at the Universities of St. Andrews and Dundee and will bring a wealth of experience to bear in her role as Senior Lecturer in Clinical Skills.

“I am also delighted to welcome two existing members of the Ulster University network to join our growing team at the School of Medicine. Claire and Jason’s institutional knowledge of Ulster University, the student body and the North West area will serve our new students and staff excellently.”

Ulster University Medical School. (Photo: Nigel McDowell/Ulster University)

Ulster University’s School of Health Sciences undergraduate programmes are set to relocate to Magee from September 2022, bringing more than 800 students to the Derry campus.

Professor Carol Curran, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Life and Health Sciences at Ulster University, said the Magee campus would best support the NHS’s emphasis on the development of multi-disciplinary teams, and provide rich opportunities for interprofessional learning.

She added: “Now, more than ever, in the context of a health service that continues to face sustained challenge in tackling COVID-19, we are acutely aware of the vital contribution of our allied health professionals.”

The programmes will be delivered alongside UU’s new Paramedic teaching provision and Graduate Entry School of Medicine, which are both recruiting students for the start of the 2021 academic year.

UU’s award-winning School of Nursing, ranked 7th in the UK, has operated in the city for 20 years. The Magee campus also runs one of only three Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) competency test centres in the UK, established to increase nursing capacity and help alleviate pressures in the health sector.

In the relocation plans, postgraduate Health Sciences teaching will move to UU’s Belfast campus. The School of Health Sciences will remain at Jordanstown for the 2021/22 academic year.

Students from Ulster University’s Magee campus have been reflecting on how the Derry and Strabane City Deal will benefit their studies and future careers.

Ulster University Magee Campus

The £250m investment package, which reached a key milestone last month with the signing of its Heads of Terms agreement, includes the delivery of the School of Medicine at Magee, the creation of a Health Research Institute (HRI) and the expansion of the C-TRIC research facility at Altnagelvin hospital through a pioneering health innovation project called THRIVE.

THRIVE, a partnership between the Western Health & Social Care Trust, Ulster University and Derry City and Strabane District Council, will see the team of personalised medicine researchers grow at the expanded C-TRIC/THRIVE building, based at Altnagelvin and into the new HRI/THRIVE building, located beside the new School of Medicine.

Ulster University has released a series of videos asking students what the City Deal will mean for them. For second year Personalised Medicine student Sarah McCloskey, the deal will help the region fulfil its highest potential and “see what we can become”. Watch video

Dr Taranjit Singh Rai (Lecturer in Cellular Ageing at Ulster University’s School of Biomedical Sciences at Magee, and Altnagelvin Hospital’s Clinical Translational Research and Innovation Centre (C-TRIC)

Dr Taranjit Singh Rai is a lecturer in Cellular Ageing at Ulster University’s School of Biomedical Sciences at Magee, and Altnagelvin Hospital’s Clinical Translational Research and Innovation Centre (C-TRIC). Born in India’s Punjab state, Dr Rai has more than a decade’s experience researching ageing, cancer and ageing-associated diseases. He received a PhD from the PGIMER institute, Chandigarh, studied entrepreneurship at Babson College Boston, and completed postdoctoral training at Glasgow’s Beatson Institute of Cancer Research before moving to Derry in 2018.

What attracted you to C-TRIC, and to Derry?

The appeal of working directly with patients at Altnagelvin Hospital, and the grant that Professor Tony Bjourson [UU Professor of Genomics and C-TRIC founding member] had secured, provided a good launch pad to do my age-associated diseases research. So it was the independence of doing what I want to do, and the funds that were available. The second thing was that, before I accepted the role, I stayed in the city centre and I really loved the people. I thought they were great, very friendly and helpful. Life in Glasgow is very fast-paced and I thought that overall, the work-life balance would be good here. 

The City Deal reached an important milestone recently with the signing of the Heads of Terms. What does the City Deal mean to C-TRIC?

It will be excellent. We have outgrown ourselves and we really need a new cutting-edge facility. The City Deal with the Thrive [health innovation] project will provide us with much-needed space. It will also provide us with so much capital to get the right equipment, hire the right people, and attract publicity, both locally and nationally. We really need to attract talent to Derry; that’s really, really important to execute the plan. The Medical School will also bring so many students. There will be several elite fields that will thrive because of the City Deal. 

What would you say to people thinking of moving to the North West?

I would say that if you are looking for a balanced life, in 15 minutes you can reach the city centre, all the good schools, facilities like Altnagelvin Hospital, Foyle Arena, your place of work. In half an hour, you can reach golden beaches, mountains, walking trails.

Your wife and three children also relocated to Derry. Do you have any advice for people moving with children?

I really wanted my son to go to a grammar school but I had significant challenges because he hadn’t moved over yet so was not living physically with me. Children who are resident in Northern Ireland get preference, so people who are moving with children, if their child is transitioning to secondary school, do need to understand this and prepare for how to deal with that. Thankfully, I’m a problem solver! Good sense prevailed and he received a conditional offer. I also had to fly back every Thursday to Glasgow to prepare him for the entrance exam then fly back Sunday evening. My kids do miss their old friends in Glasgow but football and sports have been excellent ways to make friends here.

What do you miss about Punjab?

My parents are still there and a lot of relatives and friends. Before the pandemic, we used to visit every year. Of course, this year we haven’t been able to go. People also ask if I mind the cold and wet weather here, but I can walk to Altnagelvin from my home and it’s just a drizzle. Back home in monsoon season streets will be flooded. In the summer it will be 45 degrees Celsius and in winters it will be -8 so Derry’s weather is not bad to be honest.

What tips do you have for ageing well or ageing healthily?

Studies have been done on a population clusters in Japan/Italy and many other countries where many, many people live to 100 years; they drink wine and smoke, no problem, the main thing is their life is centred around community – no issues whatsoever in Derry, everyone knows everyone! – but they also eat very healthily and walk a lot. So minor things can actually have a big impact on ageing. Mental health is very important too – I’ve now started to think in terms of emotional ‘hygiene’.

Can you tell us about what you’re working on at the moment?

I work on a process called cell senescence. Cells, when they encounter damage, stop dividing or they enter into a state we call cell senescence. It’s a stress response in a way. As we grow old, we start to accumulate these cells. These cells aren’t idle and quiet, they secrete proteins and they can cause many age associated diseases. We can detect these proteins several years in advance of development of disease, so one of the projects is predicting the risk of cardiovascular disease based upon the levels of these proteins. We are trying to predict who’s going to get a heart attack, just by looking at a combination of some of the proteins, then combining it with artificial intelligence and machine learning. With 99% accuracy, the algorithm is predicting the correct scenarios.

It’s not a good idea to have these cells accumulating in our body, so we also do high throughput drug screens that selectively kill these cells. We want to keep the healthy cells as they are, and if there are senescent cells, we want to target them, eliminate them, and study them. Studies are showing that senolytics [the branch of medicine that tackles these cells] works, even in the context of Alzheimer’s, motor neurone disease, many associated diseases.

You’re a weekend YouTuber too! Tell us about that.

I’ve started a YouTube channel teaching people about capital, labour, small investments, healthy eating and also responsible drinking. People think entrepreneurship is wealth-given, that is absolutely incorrect, entrepreneurialism can be taught. 88% of the world’s wealth creators are self-made. I’m always a big believer in whenever opportunity presents, you should take it. In 3 weeks since I started it, it has gone crazy with 2K subscribers so must be doing something correct.

A virtual event promoting the North West as a great place to learn, work and visit will be held on the eve of St Patrick’s Day.

The Destination Derry initiative is holding a free evening of celebrations to connect Derry diaspora from all over the world with their hometown on March 16.

The event will include entertainment from Ulster University students, conversations with people who have chosen Derry as the location for their business or place of work, and a photo and video exhibition of previous St Patrick’s Day events in the city.

There will also be the opportunity to network with others worldwide in breakout Zoom rooms, and Foyle Search and Rescue will share how people can help them in their vital work.

Destination Derry was created by homebuilder Taggart Homes and its website (www.destinationderry.com) includes business support information, a blog, and Live, Learn, Work and Visit sections.

Tickets for the free St Patrick’s event can be booked at https://buytickets.at/destinationderry

Private equity investor Tenzing will partner with local cybersecurity firm MetaCompliance to accelerate the organisation’s growth and drive product innovation.

Founded in 2005, MetaCompliance employs more than 100 people, servicing clients in the UK, Europe and internationally with a mission to help customers keep staff safe online, protect their digital assets and avoid reputational damage.

Robert O’Brien CEO Metacompliance

Its award-winning technology and training content is used by over 900 public and private organisations to increase staff vigilance of cybersecurity threats and help customers demonstrate compliance to national regulators.

The business said its decision to partner with Tenzing was fuelled by the fund’s strategic experience in growing similar-sized companies, and a shared belief in MetaCompliance’s ability to become a global cybersecurity force.

Tenzing’s investment will help MetaCompliance continue to develop innovative products and expand its workforce. The existing management team, including founder and CEO Robbie O’Brien, will carry on in their current leadership roles and are investing further as shareholders in the business.

Local company Learning Pool has announced the acquisition of US-based Remote Learner.

Paul McElvaney Learning Pool CEO

Situated in Denver, Colorado, the LMS (Learning Management System) specialist has represented more than a million users for over two decades, with clients including recruitment giant Indeed, Royal Caribbean Group and Ultimate Kronos Group.

Remote Learner is the fourth firm to join the Learning Pool Group in recent years and the news follows strong 2020 annual results for the Derry-based e-learning business, which saw revenues up 32% to £18.1m.

Learning Pool CEO Paul McElvaney said: “This acquisition puts the Group in great shape to accelerate our already ambitious customer satisfaction and growth targets in the North American region and takes the global Learning Pool team to more than 260 dedicated and talented people.”

Allstate NI in the North West has added to its trophy cabinet after winning in three categories at the Contact Centre Network NI awards.

Allstate presentation of state of the art search drone to Strabane Local Community Rescue Service

The company’s largely Derry and Strabane-based Allstate Technology Support Centre (ATSC), which assists Allstate employees globally, received awards for Trainer of the Year and Contact Centre Manager of the Year at the annual celebration of excellence in the region’s contact centre industry.

Allstate, Northern Ireland’s largest IT company, also took home the Silver Award for Home Working Programme of the Year, recognising resilience in adapting to coronavirus challenges.

At the outset of the pandemic, around 30% of ATSC employees had home working capabilities. In just five days, the North West leadership ensured the entire ATSC workforce had the equipment needed to provide technical support remotely.

Allstate NI has also raised funds to provide a state-of-the-art search drone for Strabane’s local Community Rescue Service, via an employee fundraising appeal and Funding for Good application. The device will be used throughout Northern Ireland to assist vital lowland search and rescue operations.

Since 2018, Allstate NI’s Force for Good initiative has provided £173,896 to support community-focused projects across Northern Ireland.