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.

There’s no place like home. But with many Derry and Strabane diaspora unable to travel back this Christmas, Jenni Doherty of Little Acorns Bookstore shares her pick of 2020’s local books to enjoy from wherever you are in the world.

The Liar’s Daughter, by Claire Allan (£7.99) – Derry journalist and author Claire Allan is back with another gripping thriller, this time about family, grief, and secrets.

Erin’s Diary: An Official Derry Girls Book, by Lisa McGee (£16.99) – This official tie-in with the hit Channel 4 sitcom contains newspaper clippings, poetry, school reports and more. A treat for Derry Girls fans awaiting a third series!

Tennis Lessons, by Susannah Dickey (£14.99) – Susannah Dickey, who grew up in Derry, has received excellent reviews for this funny and beautiful coming-of-age novel (which, unusually, is written in the second person).

Ulster Fairytales and Legends, by Nicola and Peter Heaney (£13.99) – Nicola Heaney and her father Peter, a retired schoolteacher, have joined forces to create this collection of legends from every country in Ulster. Illustrated by Conor Busuttil.

The Man They Couldn’t Ban: The John Crossan Story, by Richie Kelly (£15) – Former BBC sports broadcaster Richie Kelly documents the colourful career of local Man City and Sunderland star John ‘Jobby’ Crossan.

The Gap Baking Book – Favourite Recipes by the Bakers at Gap Coffee Co (£18) – Recreate the cosiest flavours of home – from scones and shortbread to Guinness bread – with this book from Bridgend’s Gap Coffee Co.

Considering a move home? Local experts share their advice

Returning to the North West to live, work or invest is an enticing prospect – and perhaps more than ever in 2020.

With the recent rise in remote working, the North West’s excellent broadband offering, and award-winning, homegrown and global firms located here, that long held dream could become a reality.

But where should you start when planning your relocation? We asked some local experts their tips for finding a job, choosing a new home, and making the move.

Lynn Jennings, founder and headhunter at talentsocial

Most of the software companies I work with in Derry and Donegal are expanding at the minute. If anything, the move to home working has increased the demand for their software, be it in the ecommerce, online recruitment or data protection industry.

There are countless opportunities for Software Engineers particularly, in the North West, but roles also come up within other departments: Sales, Marketing, Finance, Operations, Product/Project Management and HR. LinkedIn is the best place to find opportunities. Make sure your profile is complete and connect with headhunters in the area, and set up alerts for Derry and Strabane on job boards.

Some of the bigger companies do their own recruitment, so a direct application is the best bet. I’ll usually advise candidates of this and discuss clients I’d recommend we make an application together to. Most of the smaller software companies prefer to partner with an external recruiter. I usually start out partnering with small indigenous SaaS (software as a service) clients who are then bought by bigger global players and the partnership continues. I’m seeing a move back to cross border working again recently, and people returning from London, Belfast and Dublin in particular. COVID has prioritised proximity to family and nature as well as space, which the North West has in abundance.

Anaeleigh McCormick, company director, Locate Estate Agents

Social media makes the world a smaller place and allows you to choose your new home from anywhere in the world. I find that through my social media platforms I have made connections with many clients living abroad, who can keep up to date with what is available in the area via my daily stories.

If you have a family, it’s important to choose an area close to local schools as sometimes only certain postcodes can be allocated spaces in the schools. It’s also wise to be close to the family network, especially grandparents and other reliable babysitters.

You do not need your home to be in the city centre – for those who are a bit more open-minded and prepared to travel a short distance from the city, you will get a lot more house for your money. Those coming home will be pleasantly surprised at what’s available on their budget within Derry and Strabane!

Finally, welcome home. There is nowhere in the world better than Derry & Strabane.

Bernard McGowan, director and operations manager, Foyle International Removals and Storage

Derry is going through a renaissance at the moment. You’re making the right choice to move here – it is a great place to work and live. The upsurge in people who are moving home is absolutely astronomical. We’ve moved hundreds of people since the pandemic hit.

When moving, be boxed, packed and ready, and label everything for what room it goes in. Use larger boxes for lighter items, and small boxes for heavier items. Layer the box – heavy at the bottom, medium at the middle and light at the top. Notify all your new utilities suppliers, doctors and schools before you move so everything is lined up for you when you arrive. Always allow yourself ample time for travel and potential travel delays. If people opt to fly over, we can recommend people to transport your vehicle for you.

We also recommend packing a ‘bitz box’ to access easily when you arrive – all your TV remotes, kettle, toaster, important documents. We see people crying tears of happiness when they see the moving lorry arrive. It’s the beginning of their journey home.