Date: 23 Sep 2020. A world-class Visitor Information Centre has officially opened in the heart of Derry-Londonderry.

Derry City and Strabane District Council Mayor, Brian Tierney who officially opened Derry’s new state-of-the-art Visitor Information Centre at Waterloo Place, pictured with, Dave Vincent, Tourism NI, Colin Greer DFC, Catherine Crawley, centre manager and Odhran Dunne, Chief Executive, Visit Derry. The new centre, located in the heart of the city centre and adjacent to the historic City Walls, will be the new hub for tourists to the city and area looking for advice and information on the top attractions to visit and what events are happening across the city and district. Picture Martin McKeown. 23.09.20

Today marked the opening of Derry’s new state-of-the-art Visitor Information Centre at Waterloo Place. The new centre, located in the heart of the city centre and adjacent to the historic City Walls, will be the new hub for tourists to the city and area, looking for advice and information on the top attractions to visit and what events are happening across the city and district.

The refurbishment works commenced in December of last year following the decision by Derry City and Strabane District Council to relocate the Visit Derry Information Centre from Foyle Street into the city centre. Thanks to funding from Council, the Department for Communities, the Department for Economy and Tourism NI, work commenced on the project to put in place a world-class tourist facility for the city and region.

Welcoming the completion of the works and the opening of the new facility, Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council Cllr Brian Tierney said the opening of the new visitor information office was a significant milestone for Derry and the wider region.

He said: “This is a fantastic facility and I am hugely impressed with the work that has been done to create this world-class centre in the heart of our city. This is a very important tourism capital project for Council and all our partners. We believe that it will greatly benefit our tourism business and domestic and overseas visitors and allow us to showcase and promote our tourism product in a much more animated way to a wider audience.

“This facility will enhance the entire Waterloo Place area of the city and bring new life and activity into a key retail area in the city centre. We believe this location, right in the heart of the city centre and adjacent to the historic city walls, will be popular with tourists as Guildhall Square and Waterloo Place is a central hub for visitors to the city and that it will also greatly help retailers and local businesses in that area of the city centre.”

The Chief Executive of Tourism NI, John McGrillen commented; “This is a significant project for tourism in Derry~Londonderry and we are delighted to support it. The new visitor centre will provide an interactive experience with enhanced digital offering and combined with the new central location, this will allow visitors to easily access information on everything the city has to offer. This new interactive visitor centre also compliments Tourism NI’s new experience brand, Embrace a Giant Spirit and sends a clear message to the people here that they should stay home, support local and explore what is on our doorstep.”

Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín said: “I am delighted that my Department has been able to support this project to relocate the Visit Derry Visitor Information Centre to a more central location.  The new state of the art facility offers a unique and inspirational visitor experience in an attractive and accessible setting and will provide a much needed boost to the city’s tourism offering.  This investment is timely as we work to support the economic recovery of our town and city centres from the impacts of Covid-19The completion of this project will breathe much needed new life into the city centre at a difficult time for traders.”

Economy Minister Diane Dodds said: “Northern Ireland is world-renowned for its tourism and hospitality offering and this new centre showcases the many visitor attractions here in Londonderry and the surrounding areas. With so many people staycationing this year, I hope as many people as possible will use the new centre to find out something about their local area, and take advantage of the many wonderful tourism experiences and visitor destinations right on their doorstep.”

Since 2016 Visit Derry has been operating its marketing and administrative functions from the Waterloo Place building. As part of the relocation, the remaining front of house tourist staff will relocate from Foyle Street to the newly refurbished Waterloo Place location.

Funding for the project has been provided by Tourism NI, the Department for Communities, the Department for the Economy and Derry City and Strabane District Council.

Construction work commenced in December 2019 and was suspended temporarily as a result of COVID-19 but recommenced in recent weeks to facilitate the official opening.

Ulster University’s new School of Medicine at Magee is now recruiting future doctors after progressing through the next steps of the General Medical Council’s rigorous quality assurance process.

With support from the Executive, ring-fenced funding combined with the GMC’s recent review of the University’s readiness, allows the school to recruit staff and students for a September 2021 opening.

Professor Louise Dubras, Ulster University.

Ulster University’s new School of Medicine based on the Magee campus is now recruiting Northern Ireland’s future doctors following a successful progression through the next steps of the General Medical Council’s (GMC) rigorous quality assurance process for new medical schools.  

With support from the Executive, ring-fenced funding was announced last month, combined with the GMC’s recent review of the University’s state of readiness, enables Ulster University to recruit staff and students for a  September 2021 opening. Ulster University’s School of Medicine will select students who have already completed an undergraduate degree and provide them with four years of innovative, intensive, practical medical education. The School will offer a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) medical degree programme that is unique in Northern Ireland.   

In 2018, The Department of Health commissioned a Review of Medical School Places which recommended that Northern Ireland needs 100 more medical students a year to meet the increasing demand for doctors. Currently, approximately 40% of medical graduates in Northern Ireland tend to stay and live within 10 miles of Queen’s University Belfast after graduation, according to the GMC. The new School of Medicine at Magee will address departmental recommendations by providing access to medical education in the North West, positioning the Derry~Londonderry City region as an attractive place to study and work. It further builds on Ulster University’s capacity to deliver life-changing education and research, supporting the health and well-being agenda in Northern Ireland.   

Students will benefit from access to clinical placements across the full range of general practice, medical and surgical specialities with primary care-based experience from week one. This will enable students to develop knowledge and appreciation of the interconnectivity between primary, secondary, social and community-based healthcare.  

Foundation Dean of the School of Medicine, Professor Louise Dubras who will lead the Gradate Entry degree programme commented: “As a GP working in the city myself, I am continually reflecting on the role of the doctor and the doctor-patient journey.  COVID-19 has emphasised that a career as a doctor requires a commitment to lifelong learning and adapting to life’s modern challenges.   

“The MBBS programme at Ulster’s School of Medicine will provide students with the professional skills, knowledge and relevant clinical experience necessary to be a twenty first century doctor. Working closely with our partner medical School St George’s University of London and alongside globally acclaimed visiting professors, our medical provision, rooted in the heart of Derry-Londonderry on our Magee campus, will provide the much-needed doctors required for the North West.  

“The School of Medicine on our Magee campus will attract students to study, work and live in the North West and will be a catalyst in the innovation corridor to be established as part of the City Deal. We look forward to taking the next steps and to welcoming our first medical students ready to embark upon such a rewarding and vital career path with us.”  

The Graduate Entry programme offered at Ulster’s School of Medicine is open to anyone with a minimum of a 2:1 honours degree in any subject:  Applicants are required to sit the GAMSAT entrance exam in September 2020 or March 2021 at the location most convenient for them, with the Magee campus recently added as a  test centre on the island of Ireland. Those successful in the GAMSAT will be invited to Multiple Mini interviews which have to be passed, along with an Enhanced Disclosure from Access NI or other relevant authority before offers can be made. The University will work with key partners to establish a scholarship fund to support students, details will be announced early next year.  

 The University has already received hundreds of enquiries from the North West, across the island of Ireland and the UK who are keen to find out more about the School of Medicine and the MBBS Medicine programme of study. For more information, visit ulster.ac.uk/medicine 

All new medical school applications must complete a GMC multi-stage approval process. Now that this milestone has been passed, work will continue with an ongoing programme of checks and visits over the coming months and years to make sure that the medical school remains satisfactory and passes all GMC quality assurance requirements. Once all of these stages have been completed, and subject to the approval of GMC Council, the school will be added to the list of institutions able to award its own primary medical qualifications in 2025. 

Five new entrepreneurs and start-ups have each received £10,000 from Innovate UK, the government’s innovation agency, as part of the first Catalyst North West Co-Founders programme.

The funding will help the winning teams pursue their technology, engineering and science ideas and contribute to the thriving innovation ecosystem growing in the North West region.

Although based at Catalyst Innovation Centre at Fort George in Derry, the Co-Founders cohort completed a part-time online programme one night a week for 16 weeks.

The five ideas which have secured funding include technology for medical student training, an innovative development for cat’s eyes on the road, a digital platform for golf caddies, a social fintech solution and a digital platform for exercise and wellbeing.

Catalyst at Fort George opened in 2014 and is fully occupied by 32 companies and 250 people working in the innovation and knowledge economy.

Find out more about The Co-Founders programme at www.co-founders.co.

The head of Allstate NI has paid tribute to hundreds of staff in the North West for helping ensure the firm’s continued success during the Covid-19 crisis. 

The business, which is now Northern Ireland’s largest IT firm, was established in 1998 to provide high quality software development services and business solutions in support of its US-based parent company, the Allstate Corporation. It employs 900 people in its Derry and Strabane offices, and a further 1500 staff in Belfast. Allstate took the decision to move all 2400 staff to virtual working in mid-March, as the global pandemic loomed. Since then, the company said it has managed to maintain productivity levels and a steady order book – an achievement managing director John Healy attributes to the talent, skills and connectivity found in the North West, and Northern Ireland in general. 

“I’m hugely proud of how the workforce has responded to this. We’ve managed to get all our resources home, and maintained high levels of productivity. As I talk to the leaders back in the US, they are incredibly happy with what we’ve managed to achieve here,” the Derry native said. “We already have a culture within the business of people working from home; we have the infrastructure to allow that to happen, and we periodically test it. But whenever you’re doing it for real, to watch how people respond, now for over 11 weeks, it’s just been amazing.” Staff from the Derry and Strabane sites were “incredibly busy” as Covid-19 unfolded, with part of Allstate’s technology helpdesk functionality run in these locations. “During the initial weeks of the crisis, those teams in the North West helped our colleagues right around the globe to move quickly and safely to working from home,” added Mr Healy. “The volumes have now come back down to normal levels, but definitely they were key to the success of the corporation as a whole as we all move to new ways of working.” 

As a major centre for innovative software development, covering the full lifecycle from design to maintenance and support, the local wealth of talent and experience was a huge draw for Allstate. Asked what message he would give to other investors who are considering the North West as a location, Mr Healy said: “The initial set-up of Allstate in the North West was around getting access to a deep talent pool, not just in Derry and Strabane, but also from hinterland such as Donegal. “What we’ve managed to achieve over the years that we’ve operated out of the North West shows that decision was absolutely spot on. These are really talented individuals who are making a great contribution to the success of all of our businesses. “And the innovation, the resilience, the ingenuity of the people who are making it work, from home, in recent weeks has been great.” 

Mr Healy predicted longer term changes to working practices for many businesses, including Allstate NI. “We’ll still have the office and we’ll still have people who are calling in to work with colleagues and interact with others, but I think it will definitely change our perception around how much we need to be in the office and how that space is used,” he said. “Whenever you’re working in a hi-tech environment like ours, as long as you’ve got your laptop and a connection to the internet, you’re able to connect onto the Allstate infrastructure and do your job from wherever you find yourself.” The broadband infrastructure in employees’ homes has been holding up “incredibly well”, Mr Healy added. “We’ve had very few issues with connectivity for our employees when they’ve been working from home. “It’s fantastic that we can have everybody at home, safe and secure, at a time of crisis.”

Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Councillor Brian Tierney, praised Allstate NI’s teams in Derry and Strabane for their resilience and innovation during the Covid 19 crisis. “The global outbreak of Covid 19 created unprecedented challenges to Allstate and how they provide their software solutions and services,” he noted. “The team in Derry and Strabane displayed resilience and innovation in quickly moving to remote working and a virtual office space to ensure their client’s services continued as normal. “Allstate are a shining example to other prospective investors of the talent pool that exists in this region who can meet the needs of global companies and rise to the challenges posed during periods of uncertainty.” 


A new medical training school in Londonderry has been given the go-ahead.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill confirmed the graduate medical school at Ulster University’s Magee campus will open in September 2021.

The only medical school in Northern Ireland at present is at Queen’s University in Belfast.

The deputy first minister said the school will be “instrumental in the regeneration of the region”.

“This is a hugely important investment decision for the north west, and it adds to the executive’s recent announcement on the Derry and Strabane city deal and inclusive future fund,” she said.

Ms O’Neill said the first 70 students would start their training in the north west in 2021.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said the announcement was “a very welcome piece of positive news”.

“The Covid-19 pandemic brought the chronic medical staffing gaps in our health service into sharp focus, as the enlisting of retired doctors and early graduation of final year medical students showed,” the BMA’s NI chair Dr Tom Black said.

He added: “This new school will mean more medical students graduating annually in Northern Ireland and then staying on, not only to treat our growing and aging population but to support our health service should such a pandemic like this ever happen again.”

Plans for a medical school in Derry were first mooted in the mid-2000s, and submitted to the General Medical Council in 2016.

In May 2019, the UK government announced £100m for the Derry and Strabane city deal.

The bulk of that, and match funding from Stormont announced earlier this month, has been earmarked for Ulster University’s expansion in the north west, including the medical school.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood welcomed the announcement from the deputy first minister but said further detail is needed.

“We need a guarantee from the executive and from Ulster University that the first students will enrol starting in September 2021 and we need to see a plan for university expansion beyond that.

“The medical school is the first step, not the end product,” the Foyle MP said.

Foyle Sinn Féin MLA Karen Mullan said the school’s go ahead is “a major boost for Ulster University and for Derry” while DUP MLA Gary Middleton tweeted that “we must now work towards students being accepted from 2021”.

Hypixel Studios, the videogame developer behind upcoming title Hytale, will establish its headquarters in Derry~Londonderry as part of its acquisition by US-based developer and publisher Riot Games.

Hypixel Studios was established in 2018 as a spin-off of Hypixel Inc, the creators of one of the world’s most popular independent game servers, with a leadership team including Derry~Londonderry natives Aaron ‘Noxy’ Donaghey and Sean McCafferty. The studio has traditionally operated entirely remotely, with a geographically-dispersed team of over 40 developers. In December 2018, the company announced its debut title, Hytale, a community-powered game that allows players to go on adventures in a block-based fantasy world, express their creativity through extensive built-in customisation tools, and compete in quick and accessible online minigames.

Artwork from Hytale, developed by Hypixel Studios.

Hytale has received a monumental reception from the gaming community. It has amassed over 2.5 million sign-ups for its forthcoming beta testing program, and its debut trailer has received millions of views on YouTube. It was nominated for ‘Most Anticipated Game’ at the 2019 Golden Joystick Awards. In November 2019, Hypixel Studios announced that it is planning for Hytale to be playable by everyone in 2021.

Hypixel Studios today announced its acquisition by Riot Games, the developer and publisher best known for League of Legends. Hypixel Studios will continue to operate as an independent studio while leveraging Riot’s expertise, technology and resources to support the development of Hytale, including the establishment of the company’s first physical office in Derry~Londonderry.

“When the question of where to set up came into the conversation there was no doubt in my mind that we should set up in Derry~Londonderry,” said Hypixel Studios Chief Executive Officer Aaron ‘Noxy’ Donaghey. “Many members of our team have enjoyed visiting the city over the years, and as a base to develop many of our team’s functions, it has both the talent pool and – more importantly – the spark of hunger necessary to ignite creativity.”

“As part of our acquisition, we had the opportunity to pick almost anywhere in the world, but one of my favourite sayings is ‘when the roots are deep, you need not fear the wind’ – and Hypixel’s roots in Derry and Northern Ireland are deep,” Donaghey said. “It may seem strange to be announcing such a move in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis, but games and home entertainment are now more important than ever and we have a community of millions to be looking after. Our company HQ will be the nexus for these ongoing efforts.”

The present COVID-19 crisis means that an opening date for the new office cannot currently be set. When it opens, the Hypixel Studios office will act as a base for back-office functions and quality assurance throughout the development process. Hypixel Studios is initially hiring 20 highly skilled new positions in these areas, all based in Derry~Londonderry. The company anticipates further growth as development of Hytale continues and the needs of the project evolve.

“Our offices in Derry will be the backbone that allows our remote development team to work effectively,” said Hypixel Studios Chief Operating Officer Sean McCafferty. “There, we will not only have our back-office services such as finance, recruitment and general operations, but as we move through the year we will be ramping up areas such as quality assurance while providing a space for our remote workers to congregate a few times a year.”

“I’ve been in game development for 20 years at this stage, always working around the north west and Derry~Londonderry specifically,” McCafferty said. “It has been my greatest wish to bring game development, wholesale, to the place in which I grew up. Having worked in the space for this length of time and to be finally in a position to help bring a game studio to ‘the town’ is something incredibly special to me – a life-long wish that is finally coming true.”

Hypixel Studios’ office in Northern Ireland is being established with support from Northern Ireland Screen, the national screen agency for Northern Ireland.

Richard Williams, CEO of Northern Ireland Screen, said; “We are absolutely delighted that Hypixel Studios is setting up its latest hugely ambitious games venture in Derry~Londonderry with the support of Riot Games, one of the biggest game publishers in the world.  We are in no doubt that this hard won next step for Aaron and Sean is hugely important for the video games sector in Northern Ireland.   Hypixel Studios and Riot Games can do for the games sector here what HBO and Game of Thrones did for the TV drama sector.“

In addition, advice has been provided by Derry City and Strabane District Council.

Kevin O’Connor, Head of Business for Derry City and Strabane District Council, said: “Derry City and Strabane District Council have been delighted to coordinate with Hypixel Studios over the last number of months. The selection of the North West is a further endorsement of the City/Region as a key investment location. The availability of a highly skilled talent pool, world-class digital connectivity and unparalleled quality of life have obviously featured heavily in this decision. This is an exciting development for the City providing well-paid jobs in a growing sector of the economy “

For more information on Hypixel Studios and Hytale, visit www.hytale.com

LIMERICK-based tech firm Deveire has set up a new software development centre in Derry’s Ebrington Square, as it looks to guarantee access to the UK markets post-Brexit. The Irish web solutions company has said it expects to create 15 new jobs at the site over the next three years. Invest NI has offered the firm £97,500 in support.

Set up over 10 years ago, the company specialises in building web solutions for enterprises and large organisations looking to use the latest technologies for their digital presence.

Deveire has delivered platforms that power the systems behind over 50 globally-renowned companies including Johnson & Johnson, Cisco, Walmart, Coca-Cola, Amazon and the Special Olympics. It has also developed National Geographic’s and Hallmark’s video platforms.

Welcoming the company to Northern Ireland, Steve Harper, Executive Director of International Business, Invest Northern Ireland, said: “Deveire’s decision to locate its new centre in the North West is based on the many advantages this region has to offer international companies, particularly in the software and technology industry.

“With our support for 15 new jobs, the company will be able to build upon its innovative ambitions and expand in new markets. The new centre will also create economic benefit for the local economy, with £582,000 of additional annual salaries.”

Invest NI is offering the company £97,500 to support the creation of the new jobs.

Cathal Murtagh, Chief Operating Officer of Deveire, said: “When we began the process of expanding our team, we were eager to create a base where we had access to a strong talent pool of software developers; we believe Londonderry is the right place to find the talent we need.

“Also, as a part of our Brexit strategy, the Londonderry office gives us access to the UK markets. Invest NI’s support has been invaluable, helping us to build a team whose innovative expertise will allow us to develop new products and grow and explore success in global markets.

“Our Software Development Centre will focus on advanced computing and innovative technical approaches, to build next generation application solutions. It will have a strong focus on culture and people, through our working environment, but this will also be a key objective of our software solutions. Our aim is to create software that meets the users’ needs to allow for seamless experiences that are personal to a user, allowing people to reach their full potential.” The company’s new centre will be based in Ebrington Square, Londonderry

Pictured (L-R) are Steve Harper, Executive Director of International Business, Invest NI, with Cathal Murtagh, Chief Operating Officer, Deveire.

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.”

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