Four Belfast based businesses, including street / skateboard wear retailer Sole.Io Ltd and artisan baker ‘The Hundredth Monkey Bakery’, are set to benefit from Belfast City Council’s pilot capital grant scheme, ‘Vacant to Vibrant’ – helping to revitalise Belfast city centre.
The funding has been made available by the council through its Future City Centre Programme which seeks to regenerate and diversify the city centre. It has prioritised addressing vacancy as a key strand of work in response to the rise in the number of vacant city centre properties, including targeted support for business start-ups, property location and grant support. The council’s regeneration impetus for the city centre, and its vacancy toolkit, has already funded a number of local independent businesses to take up vacant space in the city centre and continues to work with applicants to bring forward new city centre opportunities.
Councillor Clíodhna Nic Bhranair, Chair of Belfast City Council’s City Growth and Regeneration Committee explains: “Since July 2022, our ‘Vacant to Vibrant’ grant programme has focused on incentivising businesses, charities, cultural or community groups and social enterprises to breathe new life into vacant city centre properties, so that we can help tackle dereliction, protect buildings of interest, increase footfall and support job creation. And our investment is also helping to boost the rates base which can then be reinvested in essential city services.
“As well as capital funding, we offer support services to link businesses with potential units, help applicants create business plans and develop social media and marketing skills. We’re particularly keen to encourage applications in high vacancy areas, and to stimulate innovative offerings which will meet city centre users and visitors’ changing expectations and provide a real point of difference and authenticity for our city centre.”
Sole.lo Ltd, a Belfast business which specialises in footwear, streetwear and professional skateboarding equipment and sponsors local skateboarding teams, has been awarded funding to create a pop-up store and event space in the ground and upper floors of 1 Cornmarket. The scheme is supporting this local business to create a unique meanwhile city centre offer in a property that is due to be developed for a future long-term use.
The Hundredth Monkey Bakery, which produces artisan sourdough breads, will use the funding to expand their business in a unit that has been vacant for over a year. As well as creating a bakery / sandwich bar and open plan production space, they also plan to host community events and classes.
IN2 Engineering is using the funding to establish a creative design hub at the listed Tedford’s Sail Loft Warehouse on Donegall Quay, transforming a property that has been vacant for over 20 years. The first and second floors will become an open plan studio space for architects and interior designers, graphic and web designers and a welcoming shop frontage to a maritime history interpretative space and coffee dock at ground floor level will also improve the streetscape.
The former Craft World property on Queen Street has also been awarded funding through the scheme to complete significant refurbishment works that will reactivate the property and contribute to the vibrancy of the area.
Grants of various levels are available through Vacant to Vibrant: £2.5k for pop-up ground floor use, £15k for active floor usage of up to 150m², and £25k for active floor usage over 151m². Belfast City Council has also commissioned Frazer Kidd to provide a ‘matchmaking’ service by creating and regularly updating a database of vacant city centre units and properties.
The Institute of Place Management has identified the £1m pilot Vacant to Vibrant scheme as being exemplary in its inception and design and it will remain open for applications for another 12 months, or until the funding has been exhausted.
For more information on making a Vacant to Vibrant grant application, go to www.belfastcity.gov.uk/vacanttovibrant