Belfast and Derry host Unusual Suspects Festival
The Young Foundation's Roger Warnock (left) with the Department for Communities Sharon Poulson and the Trust's Paul Braithwaite.

Belfast and Derry host Unusual Suspects Festival

05 October 2016

Northern Ireland’s two main cities are co-hosting a festival with a difference aimed at building unlikely connections for social change through social innovation.

The Unusual Suspects Festival from October 12-14 is a festival of ideas, solutions and debate exploring bringing together local organisations and some of the world’s experts in social change to seek new and imaginative ways to improve people’s lives and tackle some of society’s most pressing challenges.

All events are free and the organisers are encouraging members of the public to make their views heard as part of the drive for more open and participative democracy.

The festival has been held previously in London and Glasgow by the Social Innovation Exchange and it’s being brought to Belfast and Derry/Londonderry by the Building Change Trust, an organisation charged with developing and promoting innovation within the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector in Northern Ireland.

Paul Braithwaite, who heads up the Trust’s work in Social Innovation, said he hoped the festival would inspire fresh thinking and encourage collaboration between government, the private sector and the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector.

He said: “Social Innovation is all about bringing together people from different disciplines to find novel ways to solving social problems such as poverty, rural isolation and improving health, as well as a wide range of others.

“The Unusual Suspects Festival is a festival of ideas and collaboration to solve some of the most pressing challenges.

“Thinking outside the box and being innovative comes naturally to people in Northern Ireland. 

“The peace process is seen as a model for how to address conflict throughout the world and you only have to look at our burgeoning tech sector and our heritage as leaders in the industrial revolution to see how responsive we are to new and progressive ideas.”

The festival will be held in unusual venues – including on the train from Derry/Londonderry to Belfast and Hydebank Wood College.

It launches at the Holywell Trust in Bishop Street in Derry/Londonderry on October 12 with discussions on innovative approaches to social inclusion.

Highlights include:

  • A session hosted by Innovation Peace Lab on Technology, transformation and peace-building with contributions from international peace organisations such as Ushahidi from Kenya.
  • The Holywell Trust will host ‘Reframing Conflict’ looking at building on the assets in our communities. Taking part in the collaborative discussion with local groups will be the Cape Town Partnership.
  • Democracy Games – a chance for young people to create and launch their own political party and stage a vote for the best party. Another event in Derry/Londonderry will also look at the role of young people in building society.
  • The festival moves from Derry/Londonderry to Belfast with a session on the train on Making Connections.
  • Another highlight will be Unsung Heroes – Stories of courage, connection and commitment to place hosted by Amplify NI/Young Foundation at Clifton House with contributions from Clare CIC and Kinship Care NI.
  • The launch of Social Innovation NI and the new Innovators in Residence programmes by the Building Change Trust.

Other topics include how business can help develop active and healthy communities; how the environment can contribute to building a national health agenda; value of space in developing communities and building inclusive cities.

Unusual Suspects is also being sponsored by the Department for Communities. A spokesperson for the Department said: “We are delighted to be supporting the Unusual Suspects festival. There has been a growing and focused interest in social innovation and a desire to instil a new way of innovative thinking that will embed social innovation in Northern Ireland. 

“One of the objectives of Innovate NI, the Executive’s Innovation Strategy, is to stimulate social innovation in the third sector and help develop a sustainable social innovation ecosystem.  It’s hoped the Unusual Suspects festival will help promote precisely this bringing together people from a range of sectors and provide learning and networking opportunities that otherwise would not be available.”

For more information about the Unusual Suspects Festival visit: