Bank of Invention Hoping to Foster Innovation in Belfast
There’s been a bit of stir lately in the Facebook and Twitterspheres. From former Lord Mayors, to local TV celebrities, the rather beautiful Art Deco building at the opposite end of Belfast City Hall has been thrust into the spotlight.
Leading on the conversation is the Bank of Invention team, which is headed up by Peter Edgar and Suzi Waddell, who first joined forces when working together as Steering Group members of the Young Influencer (YI) network.
YI is a peer to peer driven network of young creators, innovators and influencers across Northern Ireland. It has grown to over 1000 members in a year, and is committed to making Northern Ireland one of the world’s best places to live, work, create and visit by 2030.
Peter and Suzi first presented the Bank of Invention project at a YI event in February 2015, forming a team of over 50 supporters on that evening.
Everyone on the Bank of Invention team volunteers their time and skill to the project, many with demanding full-time day-jobs in a wide variety of disciplines. What they all share is a vision to bring a city-centre collaborative ‘design thinking’ space to Belfast. This space, they believe, will stimulate the creation of new ideas, start-ups, jobs, export of products and a vibrant economy.
Peter Edgar, who works in the Science Park and manages the Invent Awards , explains the background of the concept:“For centuries, this part of the world was known for its creativity and invention.
"We built things that modernised the world and our people were some of the most talented creators and innovators. Fast-forward to 2015 and we’re still at it. We’re the 2nd fastest growing knowledge economy in the UK, and have an incredible ecosystem of start-ups still actively developing an international reputation for this place".
He continues; “But we’ve still a huge way to go in securing and enabling the talent we have in NI. A 2014 Belfast Telegraph report suggested that approx. 66% of young people see their future permanently outside of NI, believing it to be a ‘backward’ place.
""If we are truly going to make positive changes here for our culture, society and economy then we will need all the energy, creativity and ambition of our young people to be harnessed.
"The true identity of the people here is that we are some of the world’s greatest hustlers, builders and creators, but we need a central, accessible city centre space for them to deposit ideas, invest in talent and lend connections, to allow the creative collisions to occur".
The Bank of Ireland on Royal Avenue, Belfast is a great example of a beautiful art deco building from the 1920s. Anyone who lives in the city knows it well; it’s a stunning five-storey steel-framed limestone-clad construction with a tiered clock tower. After a long period of being run-down and uninhabited, the bank went on sale last month, and the Bank of Invention team were galvanised into action.
By day, Suzi Waddell is a Marketing Manager for a leading energy company in Ireland. She explains why this particular building is important to the Bank of Invention team: “The location of the property is important, as it’s a nodal point in Belfast, connecting North, South, East and West.
"It is central, accessible, connecting all communities and would attract a global audience to visit and work within.
"It was this building that first sparked the Bank of Invention idea, and although we are aware that this building may eventually go to other uses, we feel it’s important to be ambitious about the prospect of our city spaces. We care about this city; we care how an iconic and central building like this will be used.
"We’ve seen from other examples across the world, that spaces like this can have a transformative effect on cities, by showcasing and nurturing indigenous talent-pools".
When news of the Bank of Ireland sale was announced, the Bank of Invention team launched their website within 2 weeks.
The message is loud and clear; “To turn an idea into a reality, it takes hustlers, builders and creatives.” Peter explains that the response to the website has been impressive;
“When the website launched last week, there were over 200 sign-ups within 2 days from people who identified themselves as hustlers, builders and creatives, and who absolutely saw the need for a city-centre space where they can start meeting, collaborating and inventing. It’s an exciting time here in NI, we have a generation ready to transform this place with their energy and talent”.
So, what’s next?
For now, the Bank of Invention is about building the users, the community and the partnerships. Whatever space they eventually secure will be built around the relationships they have nurtured and the collaborations they have already initiated. They have some well-established networks already on board with the idea, including the Potting Shed, Design Salon, and Farset Labs to name a few.
The Potting Shed is an innovative group of designers and engineers, volunteering their skills to design solutions for a range of commercial and community ‘problems’.
Ryan from the Potting Shed explains why they as a team support the Bank of Invention project, and why it’s important for the future of the city of Belfast:“It is clearly evident that there is a large community within Northern Ireland that just want this little country to prosper and do some good in the world. It transpires that this community also just happens to be made up of highly skilled, creative, devoted, passionate and diverse people....lucky that... isn't it?
"Northern Ireland has a rich history of producing success stories and its time for this generation to live up to its name and ensure that those successes are not confined to history.
"Belfast needs a hub where the sparks of invention can ignite, letting the people here do what they do best...This hub should be the 'Bank of Invention', a landmark place accessible to all, with spaces that stir the senses and generates an atmosphere that promotes creativity and nourishes the appetite of the people within".
If you’d like more information or would like to get involved in the Bank of Invention, visit www.bankofinvention.com