The Derry and Strabane area has been ranked as the best place to work from home in Northern Ireland, and the fourth best in the UK.That is according to the Remote Working Index put together by uSwitch.com after research carried out ranking 106 of the UK’s biggest towns and cities on metrics including broadband speed, green spaces, air quality, crime rates, quality of schools, and GPs per 100,000 people.

The Derry and Strabane area ranked second overall for green spaces and low crime rates, and third for low air pollution.The result comes after Northern Ireland was voted as the happiest place in the UK to live earlier this month, according to the Lloyd’s Bank Happiness Index. Derry City and Strabane District Council’s business team have also been working to promote the area as a remote working destination for employees and businesses.When it comes to working remotely, connectivity is a hugely important factor, and Derry and Strabane has been found to have broadband which is fast and reliable. And for those who still have to travel, City of Derry Airport provides a centralised hub.With a unique combination of access to coastline and beaches, woodland, rivers and greenways Derry and Strabane provides a platform for the perfect work/life balance bringing such a positive impact on well-being.

Remote working in Derry and Strabane is also extremely attractive due to the cost of general living here making salaries go that bit further.Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Cllr Brian Tierney, said that the research showed that the district is attractive for remote working on many levels.”Working from home has become a much more significant factor in most people’s lives this year, and it’s fantastic to see that Derry and Strabane ranks as the number one spot in Northern Ireland, and within the top four throughout the whole of the UK.”Derry and Strabane ticks all the right boxes when it comes to working from home and working remotely, and that’s why we have ranked much higher than some of the largest cities in the UK, such as London (88th) and Manchester (100th).”Not only is there accessibility through strong broadband speeds, but the high scores on green spaces, low crime and air quality show that Derry and Strabane is a fantastic overall location for working and living.”

David Fleming works as a Future Trader for a large independent commodities trading firm and has recently returned from London to work remotely.”The main difference I find is the commute. In London, like many others, I cycled which would cost me an hour one way,” explained David. “Not having to take an hour out in the morning for the commute I found very beneficial as I deal a lot with markets in the Far East and the extra hour in the evening became an add on to family time.”David also explained that he was surprised at the infrastructure in place which has made connecting all over the world from his home base easy and convenient. “Broadband was the first thing I looked at and was surprised that actually the broadband speed I am getting is actually slightly better than what I was getting in London.”Phone signal hasn’t been an issue either and given that EU roaming has become significantly cheaper, crossing the border on a regular basis is not the same bank-breaking process it used to be.He continued: “Everything that I need is available, and when you factor in rent/mortgage costs at a much-reduced rate overall it has been really beneficial.”Looking forward to the future, David said remote working in Derry and Strabane could become much more of a factor.”In general, I think there has to be a balance as people need to learn, develop and share ideas which is more difficult to do remotely, and it is in the junior ranks that this would be felt most.”But losing the strict 9-5 attitude and moving towards a results-based approach which, in turn, would promote better time efficiency and a better work/life balance can only be a good thing.”

Kathryn Nicell, a commercial lead in a wound care company, and her husband Andy, who works in Talent Acquisition for a financial consultancy firm, have returned to live in Derry for the first time since Andy left in 2003. Having spent time working in Canada and the United States, they were most recently based in Edinburgh, with Andy travelling to his company’s head office in London monthly, and Kathryn doing a similar journey to Wales.17 years on from when Andy left, Kathryn said they are glad to be based in Derry which has all they need for remote working and a balanced family life.”We have considered moving here several times, but now that we have the opportunity to work remotely due to Covid-19 we decided that it would be a good time to do it as we have always had the desire to bring our daughter up here in the great schools,” said Kathryn.”Andy is happy to be back in familiar and comfortable territory but is amazed at how Derry has changed through more visible investment and growth. “When things go back closer to the old normal we plan to travel to Edinburgh, London and Cardiff when we need to. The duelling of the A6 is going to reduce my travel time significantly and the introduction of a Belfast to Cardiff route next year will also help. It is very convenient for Andy to fly from Eglinton, and his travel time to the airport would be less than it was in Edinburgh.”Kathryn also credited the green spaces, community spirit, low crime rates and affordability of living as factors in the family’s decision to work remotely from Derry and to plan their future here.”Since moving here in September this year we have enjoyed local walks in many of the parks and green spaces – we are spoilt for choice with outside space. We have enjoyed being within ten minutes out of the city centre as in Scotland we were 40 minutes from the city,” explained Kathryn.”We feel blessed to be able to bring up our daughter somewhere we feel very safe. Derry is also the most family friendly place that we have lived and is what we were in the pursuit of as we moved around to different countries.  We are happy to be surrounded by happy and welcoming people who are focused on the community and family.Kathryn continued: “We are lucky that we can work anywhere (close to airport links) and are confident that Derry was the best choice for us. We considered other parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland and were seeking greater affordability and quality of life.”There was nowhere that we looked at where we could get affordable property that met all of our needs, including home office space, had great schools within walking distance and had the transport links should we start to travel again. We feel that we have found our home for life if we are able to continue to work remotely.”

To view Uswitch’s Remote Working Index, visit https://www.uswitch.com/broadband/remote-working-index/

A new £1m cycling and walking route is to be constructed in Strabane.

Derry City and Strabane District Council’s Planning Committee approved the project on Thursday.

The project will see the district connected with Buncrana, Lifford and Muff

It will involve a 3.5km route connecting the A5, Derry Road, Canal Basin, River Mourne Flood Wall and Strabane Retail Park.

The project is being funded by Stormont departments, the Irish government and the Special EU Programmes Body.

Jonathan Henderson, Programme Manager for the North West Greenway Network, said it is “fantastic that planning has now been approved”.

“Council will now proceed to appoint a construction company with the aim of completing the project this year.”

The council says the project is a ‘key aspect’ of the Strabane-Lifford greenway which will help connect the district with Buncrana, Lifford and Muff in County Donegal.

Councillor Christopher Jackson, chair of the council’s planning committee said: “The completed project will offer cyclists and walkers a wider, safer and more user friendly experience and can play a key role in encouraging the public to get out into the fresh air and reap the health and wellbeing benefits of physical activity.”

We’ve made a list (and checked it twice) of some of the finest things to enjoy in Derry and Strabane this festive season. Whether you’re returning from overseas or based here, we’ve got Christmas wrapped up for you.

To buy

Made Here – You’ll find beautiful creations from some of the district’s most innovative designers in Made Here on Shipquay Street, Derry-Londonderry, including In Chlomo, from Strabane’s Chloe McColgan.

Velveteen Handmade – Rachel Kelly’s beautiful embroideries – from storybook-inspired pictures to appliqued cotton purses – make excellent Christmas gifts. View her pieces at the Craft Village’s Walled City Crafters.

Little Acorns Bookstore – Jenni Doherty’s independent book shop in Derry-Londonderry’s Society Street is a treasure trove of new and old books. You’ll also find local arts and crafts, literary gifts and must-have Derry Girls mugs.

To eat

With Love Recipes – Overindulged this festive season? Strabane woman Sharron McCormick’s range of guilt-free desserts, sauces and more are a delicious, healthier way to continue the celebrations.

Dart Mountain Cheese – Julie and Kevin Hickey’s award-winning range of artisan cheeses are handcrafted in the Sperrins and include the Banagher Bold local ale washed cheese and the creamy, flavoursome Sperrin Blue.

Grainola Goddess granola – Made using upcycled spent grain from the Walled City Brewery, Grainola Goddess’ delectable range includes Bountiful Berry (with dried cranberries, apricots and cherries), Scrumptious Spice, and Gorgeous Gluten Free.

Ukulele Chocolate – This Derry-based chocolate, from husband and wife team Donal and Sinead, is organic, melt-in-the-mouth, and oh so moreish. Even better, it’s made from sustainable, planet-friendly ingredients. Guilt-free chocolate… What’s not to love?

To drink

Foyster – This creamy new oyster stout showcases our native, sought after, Lough Foyle Irish Flat Oyster. A collaboration between the LegenDerry Food and Drink Network’s Walled City Brewery and Sippy Fest, it uses leftover oyster shells to make a delicious, old-style stout with a hint of saltiness.

Quiet Man Irish Whiskey – This award-winning, Derry-Londonderry based craft whiskey is expertly distilled in small batches and the ideal tipple to relax with on a cold winter’s night.

Rough Brothers – This handmade beer is brewed in Derry-Londonderry and the product range includes pale ale and red ale. You can also try its specially created Mekong Street Beer at Mekong Street Food (and a Beer 57, for Pyke ‘N’ Pommes, is also in the pipeline).

To do

Christmas Winterland Markets – Soak up the atmosphere, meet artisan traders selling local arts and crafts, taste seasonal delights and relax over a mulled wine at these markets in Derry-Londonderry’s Guildhall Square. Dec 12th to Dec 15th.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs pantomime – Enjoy the classic fairytale with some modern local twists – and plenty of gags for the grown-ups – at the Millennium Forum from December 4th to 29th.

The Snowman and Other Christmas favourites – Join the Allegri choirs and the recently formed Orchestra North West symphony orchestra as they present The Snowman and a host of Christmas classics. The Guildhall, December 15th.

Far and Wild Adventures – Treat yourself or an adventurous loved one to a moonlight kayak tour, archery, a foodie cycling tour, boom board adventure or urban mountain biking with Derry-Londonderry’s Far and Wild Adventures. Gift vouchers are also available.

Christmas Day dips – Feeling brave? Why not unpeel yourself from the sofa (and get out of Christmas dinner duties) and take part in one of the Christmas Day charity swims taking place on beaches around the North West.

A Women in Tech-themed event and startup pitching competition have been announced as part of the upcoming Derry-Strabane Enterprise Week 2020.

The 5th March event, hosted by leading startup community and platform Startacus, will focus on the wider themes of diversity and inclusion, and aims to inspire and motivate attendees through discussions, key-note speakers, workshops, a women in tech startup pitch competition and an evening social and networking event.

The pitch competition will invite shortlisted female-led tech startups from across Ireland to the stage to pitch their businesses to a panel of industry leaders and enterprise experts. The overall winner will be announced at the evening social event and the winning startup will receive a prize package.

Alastair Cameron, Startacus co-founder, said: “As well as inspiring and empowering attendees, we see this as a great opportunity to showcase innovative startups in the local area, bring standout keynote speakers to the city, and in turn encourage more people to embark on their own entrepreneurial journeys.”

Enterprise Week 2020 runs from 2nd March to 6th March. For full programme details, go to www.derrystrabane.com/enterpriseweek

If you are interested in getting involved or sponsoring the Women in Tech event, please contact Alastair@startacus.net

The North West region’s unique strategic cross-border location and pipeline of talent were the key messages to potential US investors during a recent trade mission to Philadelphia and Boston.

A number of focused engagements with industry specialists, foreign direct investment executives and venture capitalists took place during the weeklong Ireland North West trade and investment mission, led jointly by Derry City and Strabane District Council and Donegal County Council to showcase the northwest city region’s compelling investment proposition.

Potential investors heard how they could take advantage of the unique combination of benefits the region has to offer, including an accessible, connected and business-friendly gateway region (with a foothold in both EU and UK markets) and a compelling vision for greater international impact, a talented and educated workforce, superb quality of life and a supportive business environment.

The delegation also met with the Mayors of Philadelphia and Boston who outlined their commitment and support for the work being done by the two Councils.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh spoke about his ties with the North West and outlined his commitment to build on the positive work being done to promote strong communities and shared prosperity, while Philadelphia Mayor Senator Jim Kenney vowed to continue to work to celebrate our connections and build on the existing relationship.

The delegation included Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council Cllr Michaela Boyle, An Cathaoirleach of Donegal County Council Cllr Nicholas Crossan, and local businesses from a range of sectors who met with potential clients and business partners.

The trade and investment mission also involved engagement with educational institutions from across the region, and saw the launch of a research project with Harvard Graduate School of Design, exploring how the cross-border northwest city region could be shaped in light of the economic, political and social realities of Brexit.

For more information on the trade mission visit www.irelandNW.com

A sculpture in tribute to Ireland’s largest youth-led peace event has been launched in Ebrington Square, featuring peace pledges by pupils from more than 400 schools.

The Amazing the Space Peace Pledge Tree, a seven-metre high sculpture by local artist Maurice Harron, has leaves containing pledges penned by students across Northern Ireland and the border counties of the Republic of Ireland.

The tree sculpture was designed to be a permanent reminder of the work of young people involved in peacebuilding charity Co-operation Ireland’s Amazing the Space project.

The project, which launched in 2016, came from an idea by Rev Dr David Latimer. The Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry, attended the event in 2017 and 2018, when participating schools reunited to reaffirm their pledges and share their peace building experiences.

The tree sculpture in Ebrington Square, funded by The Executive Office, was launched by the Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, David Sterling, in association with the Amazing the Space programme and the local Pathway to Peace initiative, headed up by Rev Latimer.

A local delegation of commercial, educational and local government leaders have attended a seminar in London to discuss the factors shaping business growth as we enter 2020.

The event, hosted by the Mayor of London’s official promotional agency, London & Partners, brought together leaders in financial and professional services and technology to debate how innovation is reshaping the business environment.

Attendees heard from a panel of specialist industry speakers including Danny Corrigan, CEO, ED&F Man Capital Markets CEEMA Ltd Cyprus, John Healy, MD, Allstate NI, and Brendan Bradley, Co-founder, Seismic Foundry.

They addressed a range of business challenges including Future Technologies and Skills, and the Global View, considering the impact of new megatrends in technology and data.

The event is the latest in a series of networking opportunities reflecting the close local links with the City of London.

Chief Executive of Derry City and Strabane District Council, John Kelpie, headed up the delegation and said he was confident this close collaboration would continue for years to come.

He added: “We want to get across the message that the NW City Region is open for business with an exceptional offering of skills and talent that is second to none.”

The event pre-empted a special visit to Derry by a group from the City of London, led by newly vested Lord Mayor of the City of London, Alderman William Russell.

Ulster University researchers have developed a pioneering new computational model that could be used by developers to make self-aware machines.

The Intelligent Systems Research Centre (ISRC) at the university’s Magee campus has created the world’s first biologically motivated, computational model which can quantify decision uncertainty and explain its effects on change-of-mind during decision-making processing.

Numerous top technology companies are using some form of artificial intelligence (AI) in fields such as advertising technology, manufacturing, cybersecurity, and healthcare.

AI systems encompass machine learning techniques and powerful computational resources to create predictive models by processing complex and large data. However, they lack a key component essential to human intelligence and effective decision making: self-awareness.

At the ISRC, new research on biologically-inspired algorithms has been advancing beyond standard AI algorithms.

This exciting new work in Computational Neuroscience has shown for the first time that neural network models can be equipped with metacognition or self-awareness of their own actions and choices.

The computer model can not only mimic brain activity observed in humans and some animals, but also replicate change-of-mind and error correction behaviour, which require “on-the-fly” metacognitive processing.

Senior author and researcher of the research work, Dr KongFatt Wong-Lin, said: “Our research has revealed the plausible brain circuit mechanisms underlying how we calculate decision uncertainty, which could in turn influence or bias our actions, such as change-of-mind.”

He added: “We are perhaps closer than ever before to creating self-aware machines than we have previously thought. Real-time monitoring of decision confidence in artificial neural networks could also potentially allow better interpretability of the decisions and actions made by these algorithms, thereby leading to more responsible and trustworthy AI.”

Mr Nadim Atiya, lead author of the paper and a PhD researcher at the ISRC, added: “Our research work could also form the basis towards understanding brain disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and addiction, in which metacognitive abilities are impaired.”

The researchers are now working with cognitive scientists and brain scientists to further develop their computer model, while creating conscious machines that are self-aware of their actions and decisions, making AI and machines more intelligent and interpretable.

The research can be viewed here.

Around 250 local and international academics, clinical researchers and members of the Life and Health Sciences industry have attended a prestigious TMED (Translational Medicine) conference in Derry-Londonderry.

The event which is now in its 10th year, had a theme of ‘Disruptive innovation in healthcare’, and was opened by Professor Rafael Bengoa, an internationally renowned expert who previously developed a Systems not Structures healthcare strategy for Northern Ireland.

This year, the Clinical Translational Research and Innovation Centre (C-TRIC) celebrated a decade of partnership between Derry City and Strabane District Council, Ulster University and the NHS through the Western Health and Social Care Trust. 

Based on the Altnagelvin Hospital site in Derry/Londonderry, C-TRIC have been instrumental in facilitating healthcare research by bringing together clinicians, academic university staff and industry to achieve better outcomes for patients both locally and internationally.

During his keynote speech at the conference in the City Hotel, Professor Bengoa addressed how Northern Ireland has delivered on his report, which is also referred to as The Bengoa Report.

A high-level delegation from Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development has visited the North West to engage with local companies ahead of a trade mission to the US.

During the trip, the representatives met with local businesses and visited Ulster University, Letterkenny Institute of Technology and CoLab to explore the opportunities for partnership with education and business centres in the US.

The visit comes just weeks before a trade delegation from Derry, Strabane and Donegal travels to Boston and Philadelphia.

The Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council Cllr Michaela Boyle said she was delighted to showcase the city and region for investment and collaborative working.

She added: “The delegates were very impressed with our offering and how well placed we are in terms of offering cost competitive business opportunities in a cross border location, along with high level digital connectivity with a skilled and talented workforce pool.”

John Kelpie, Chief Executive with Derry City and Strabane District Council, said the work being done by Derry City and Strabane District Council and Donegal County Council and its partners to promote the City Region for investment was beginning to gain momentum.

“We are really seeing the benefits of this joined up and positive approach to establish strong economic development links and initiatives between the US and the North West region,” he added.

“The visit by this delegation puts us in a really positive position ahead of our trade mission planned for November.”

Seamus Neely, Donegal County Council Chief Executive said there would be a strong emphasis during the upcoming trade mission on promoting the region’s strategic cross border location to the US market.

“We will also be showcasing our talent, skills and entrepreneurship along with our strong ICT strengths, well established eco system and quality of life,” he said.

The North West City region trade delegation will build on the work done over the past number of years to build strong political, economic and cultural links and to reach out to the diaspora. Key to the visit is the inclusion of local companies to promote the region as an attractive investment proposition and to develop new market and network opportunities.

For more information, visit www.IrelandNW.com #IrelandNW19.