Art galleries safely reopen


Stuck for something to do this weekend?  Why not go along to your local public art gallery and enjoy some great art!

A number of the region’s public art galleries have begun to reopen following a significant period of closure as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.  From R-Space in Lisburn, Millennium Court in Portadown to VOID in Derry-Londonderry and Belfast Exposed, Craft NI, The MAC, Golden Thread Gallery and University of Atypical, all in Belfast, there is a wealth of visual art on display to get out and enjoy safely this autumn!

Whilst we all need to remain vigilant with regard to health and safety during this pandemic, the public can take confidence that every safety measure is in place within those galleries that are open.  All galleries are running a booking system, available on their websites, to ensure that the number of people in the gallery at any one time is fully controlled.  Mask wearing is essential and there are a number of sanitizing stations throughout the spaces.

Dr Suzanne Lyle, Head of Visual Arts, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, commented, “Whilst we await a date for the reopening of performance venues and theatres, it’s heartening to see parts of our arts sector reopen and welcome people back.  Our galleries have been working very hard to put in place all the health and safety measures required to open their doors safely to the public.  Indeed, the very nature of public art galleries allows for vital social distancing during these challenging times.  I would encourage everyone to go along and support your local gallery this autumn and enjoy great art!

Deirdre Robb, Chief Executive, Belfast Exposed, added, “Belfast Exposed is delighted to be open and welcoming people back to enjoy our photography exhibitions.  We went through a number of processes to make sure the building was safe to open to the public.  We have sanitizers around the building, we have masks available for people and gloves for anyone wanting to browse through the book shelves.  We currently have an MFA graduate exhibition called Anthology and it really is a reflection of people and places in everyday life with themes similar to what we’re all going through right now – it really is a fantastic exhibition.”

Public art galleries currently showing exhibitions include:

The MAC: Ulster University BA and MFA Fine Art Graduate Show

From now until 11th October, The MAC presents the popular, Ulster University BA and MFA Fine Art Graduate Show, across all three MAC galleries.  The MAC is open from 10am-4pm Wed-Sun and you must book to attend the exhibition at

Golden Thread Gallery:  More Bad News and Dissolving Histories Exhibitions

More Bad News – showing now until 19th September
A solo exhibition by Dougal McKenzie.  To book visit:

Dissolving Histories: An Unreliable Presence – showing until 30th September

Co-curated by Mary Cremin and Peter Richards, featuring artists: Bassam Al Sabah; Liliane Puthod; Michael Hanna; and Stuart Calvin.  To book visit:

University of Atypical: Brian Kielt Exhibition

University of Atypical is showing Brian Kielt’s exhibition, Confessionals.  Brian Kielt is a painter based in Mid-Ulster who makes work about memory, trauma and anxiety. In 2012 Kielt co-founded the LOFT collective and continues to collaborate with members on numerous projects. This is Kielt’s fifth solo exhibition and his work has featured in several group shows and has work in private collections in the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland and the USA.  Conscious that many people may continue to shield, they have also organised an online event for those who can’t make it to see the exhibition. A Studio Visit with Brian Kielt will take place on Saturday 3rd of October 2020 from 2pm to 3pm.  Register your interest and receive the Zoom link at

VOID: echoes are always more muted

VOID in Derry-Londonderry is showing an exhibition by artist, Alan Phelan, echoes are always more muted, from 5th September until 31st October.  To book

R-Space: Re: New Wallace #3 and MMM#8 – Obvious

R-Space in Lisburn present two exhibitions including:

Re: New Wallace #3, Robert Peters, 12 September – 16 October 2020 11am to 5pm Tuesday to Saturday.  Augmented reality and mixed media by Robert Peters casting an eye on the fraught relationship between Britain and Ireland in the 19th century; absentee landlords, rent strikes, decadent aristocrats, the Famine and Home Rule.  Re: New Wallace #3 is the much anticipated third in their series of Re:New Wallace Collection exhibitions, in collaboration with The Wallace Collection, London.  To book visit:

MMM#8 – Obvious, Aimée Nelson, Aoife O’Connor, Gary Shaw, Jill Phillips, Mr. Papers, Pauline Clancy, 7 November – 11 December 2020  11am to 5pm Tuesday to Saturday.  Six artists based in Northern Ireland have been selected from an open call as part of our Materials, Messages and Meaning series. Now in its eighth year, these exhibitions explore artists’ different approaches to materials, methods of production and messages within their work.  The works include interactive screenprinting, mixed media installations, digital imaging, and folk art.

To book visit:

Craft NI: presents regular exhibitions of the work of craft makers from around Northern Ireland and also a gallery retail space where you can buy from local craft makers.  Visit

Millennium Court Arts Centre: No Time

Millennium Court Arts Centre in Portadown, is showing their current exhibition, NO TIME, by Martin Boyle.  To book visit

Belfast Exposed: present two exhibitions highlighting the work of a selection of recent graduates from the MFA Photography and BA in Photography and Video at Ulster University.  The exhibitions are:

Anthropology (MFA Exhibition) – 3rd September – 24th October

The works presented are universally human and deeply personal navigations of current climates and a response to exactly this moment in time. The exhibition sits with the process of grief and walks along the borders of small towns and fallen cities. Artists reckon with the aftermath of abuse and make sense of fluctuating architecture and the human effort to heal our natural environment. Perception is questioned and subverted to understand home, gender, and community. Exhibition link:

Human Condition (BA Exhibition) – 3rd September – 24th October

The works presented are a broad exploration of human existence plunging into topics from water quality to fluid gender expression and roles. Further observations on mental health spanning youth to retirement, isolation, healing, and recreational space.  Exhibition link:

To support organisations to safely prepare to reopen the Arts Council recently announced the Health & Safety Capital Programme which is now open for online applications and will close at October 1st 2020. To be eligible, organisations must demonstrate the purpose of the requested equipment or minor works to be clearly focused on the arts.  For further information on eligibility, guidance notes and to apply, please visit


Patricia Lavery, Arts Council of Northern Ireland with Deirdre McKenna and Damien Coyle from the University of Atypical.

Lidl Northern Ireland Launches First Own-Brand Self-Tan

Lidl Northern Ireland has announced the addition of its brand new vegan certified, cruelty-free self-tan to the retailer’s permanent affordable beauty range. Available in all 39 stores across Northern Ireland from the 23rd July, Marbella Glow is Lidl’s first ever range of own-brand fake tan and, at just £2.99 a bottle, will give sun-seekers that perfect holiday glow without breaking the bank. 

The Marbella Glow bronzing mousse is available in three shades; Medium, Dark and Extra Dark so whatever shade of bronze you prefer, you can get a sun kissed tan that will leave you glowing all summer long for just £2.99. The lightweight mousse formula provides a streak-free, flawless finish for the ultimate glow that will look like you just stepped off a flight from Marbella itself!

The vegan friendly, cruelty-free tan is also infused with white truffle and champagne extracts combined with Vitamin E, known for its antioxidant properties, leaving skin conditioned, nourished, and silky smooth. 

Lidl’s Marbella Glow offers the perfect alternative to sunbathing, giving you a healthy glow without the risks of sun damage. Made with Northern Irish skin in mind, Marbella Glow gives the ultimate sunless tanning experience with its nourishing ingredients and flawless finish.

The launch of Marbella Glow is the latest addition to Lidl’s affordable skincare range. Recently, Lidl launched a range of new Cien skincare products, offering salon-quality skincare starting from just £0.49. The new range of summer skincare includes premium products such as the hyaluronic sodium-infused Cien Hydro Expert Crème Gel for Dry Skin (£3.99) and a Hyaluron Gel Serum (£2.99).

Lidl’s Marbella Glow self-tan is available from the 23rd July in the retailer’s 39 stores across Northern Ireland.

Temple Golf Club host charity Drive In Movies

This Friday, 10 July, Temple Golf Club in Carryduff will host their first ever drive in cinema and they’ve teamed up with Cinemagic as their charity beneficiaries. The cinema listings are:
• 2pm – The Lion King
• 4pm – Toy Story
• 6.15pm – Dirty Dancing
• 9pm – Grease
Joan Burney Keatings (pictured), CEO of Cinemagic, is excited about this weekend’s screenings. She says; “Cinemagic is delighted to be working in association with The Big Drive Inn, to deliver family friendly films in a safe and fun way. This magical event will definitely be an opportunity to create special family memories and a chance for guests to learn all about Cinemagic via our promo videos which are shown on the big screens before each movie.”
To book tickets for The Big Drive Inn, in association with Cinemagic, check out
You can also pre-order food direct from Temple Golf Club, which you can enjoy in your car during the movies. Burgers and Hotdogs £7.00, popcorn and chips £2.00.

Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort Among UK’s First Hotels to Secure New AA COVID Confident Mark

Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort has become one of the UK’s first hospitality businesses to secure the new AA COVID Confident Mark for its health and safety commitment ahead of reopening on Friday 24th July.

The UK-wide accreditation certifies Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort as having all the necessary assessments, safety measures and staff training in place to reopen safely and in line with all official guidelines.

Backed by all the UK’s top industry bodies, the scheme is designed to support the hospitality industry in reassuring consumers as restrictions ease.

Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort, which is the only independent hotel in Northern Ireland to make the AA grade, recently published its own full safety guidelines and hygiene commitment. The Resort is also in the process of obtaining Visit Britain’s ‘We’re Good To Go’ consumer safety standard, which is supported by Tourism Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation.

Colin Johnston, Galgorm Collection Managing Director, said:

“We’re looking forward to safely reopening on 24th July with all the approvals in place to ensure the health and safety of our team and guests. Last month, Galgorm published in full its hygiene commitment and reopening policy which has been accompanied with a walk-through video advising guests of what to expect when they arrive.

“From luxury accommodation, to famous golfing greens, a world-renowned spa offering, lively traditional Irish bar and an award-winning fine dining restaurant, our guests will enjoy the same fantastic experience the Resort is known for, albeit with additional safety measures in place.

“The AA’s new COVID Confident assessment scheme is a fantastic way for us to achieve external verification that the measures we have adopted are best practice and reassures guests and visitors that the Resort is safe to visit.”

The COVID Confident Mark is the latest AA accreditation to be awarded to Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort, alongside its 4 Red Star Inspector’s Choice Award for the Resort’s high quality and customer service standards as well as its 3-Rosette Award for culinary excellence at the Resort’s premier restaurant, the River Room.

For more information please visit



More than half of people in Northern Ireland (52%) have changed their ‘bucket list’ since the outbreak of COVID-19, according to new research carried out by The National Lottery.

While people still dream of striking it rich with a £15M ‘Must Be Won’ Lotto jackpot up for grabs this Saturday night, their priorities and how they might spend it have changed significantly during the past three months.

Now learning how to cook, growing your own vegetables and redesigning the garden are top of Northern Ireland’s ‘new normal’ bucket list.

Forgetting travel to exotic locations, adrenalin inducing skydives or marathon running challenges, Northern Ireland’s current wish list is now much closer to home and motivated by reducing stress and worry (48%), keeping our nearest and dearest safe (41%) and living a healthier lifestyle (38%).

Topping the new bucket list is learning to cook or improving home cooking or baking skills (20%) – as NI residents look to unleash their inner Gordon Ramsay or Nigella Lawson!

Improving our outside space is definitely high on the new wish list with creating a kitchen garden (16%) and a garden redesign project (14%) making up the top three – and building a pub or bar in the garden (9%) and the installation of a hot tub (7%) also taking top ten spots.

Demonstrating Northern Ireland’s entrepreneurial spirit, starting a business (7%) also features in the top ten, with gardening or animal care enterprises topping the list of business ideas, followed by online retail emporiums.

From online entrepreneurs to new careers as gardeners and tree surgeons, bucket listers want to improve their work-life balance as well as their place of work.

With a £15M ‘Must Be Won’ Lotto jackpot up for grabs on Saturday, participants were also asked how they might spend a big National Lottery win.

The good life trend continues with the international jet setter lifestyle and all its trappings firmly replaced by a seaside holiday home (29%) and a desire to be with those dearest to us (with 14% opting for a large country estate where their whole family could live).

‘Giving back’ is also key for Northern Ireland residents with deep Lotto pockets as 31% would commit to improving society – whether donating to charity or NHS (13%), giving up work to volunteer (6%), supporting businesses affected by COVID-19 (7%) or creating a wildlife sanctuary (5%).

Reflective of the current global situation, safety is high on the list for a handful of those with a big bank balance, 5% would invest in a luxury, self-sufficient underground bunker to keep their family safe.

Commenting on the findings, Camelot’s Andy Carter, Senior Winners’ Advisor at The National Lottery said, “Northern Ireland’s ‘new normal’ bucket list has certainly changed tack following lockdown however while our movements may have been curtailed, our dreams have not and they are now firmly focused around the simple joys of life.

“Over the years we have seen our winners relish the freedom a big win gives them, allowing them to follow their dreams. What we are seeing now is that those dreams are closer to home and based around the people and experiences we value the most. The greatest happiness often comes from having more free time to spend time with family and friends, trying a new hobby or investing in a campervan and hitting the open road. This research shows that if one person wins £15M on Saturday night, they are more likely to splash out on a country estate with its very own walled kitchen garden rather than a fleet of sports cars!”

This Saturday’s Lotto draw (27 June) is a special ‘Must Be Won’ event draw with a £15M jackpot up for grabs.

The life-changing jackpot cannot roll beyond this draw so if no one matches all six main numbers then the prize will roll down potentially creating lots of millionaires (when players match five main numbers and the bonus ball) as well as boosting the prizes at all levels. Players can check their tickets online at or via the National Lottery App.

Horse-assisted workshops to help overcome stress and anxiety

With concerns rising over the impact the COVID-19 pandemic may have on people’s mental health and a recent survey* revealing one third of adults are worried about finances, such as bill payments and debts, June Burgees has a novel way of helping people cope with stress.

Based at Ballygraffan, Comber on the shores of Belfast Lough, June runs equine assisted workshops and for the past six years she and her horses have worked with a variety of clients enabling them to overcome the challenges of everyday life and in particular, PTSD, through her business Horses For People.

Living in such a relaxing environment and being surrounded by horses and wildlife has always been June’s secret weapon for tackling stress and maintaining a balanced perspective on life while working in a busy corporate environment.

June, a TEDx speaker, discovered that many others had recognised the mental and physical benefits of this combination of a stress-free environment and horses as facilitators and that particularly in USA, Equine Assisted Learning was widely recognised as an effective approach for corporate leadership training, mental health challenges, drug rehabilitation and combating stress in general.

With the hospitality sector facing potential losses of £1.1billion and almost 16,000 jobs, June, the former owner of The Fitzwilliam Hotel understands only too well the stress those in the sector must currently be under and their concerns for the future.

June explains: “We’re facing a challenge like no other and with so much of what’s happening beyond our control it’s only natural to be experiencing feelings of stress and anxiety which is why it’s more important than ever to prioritise our mental wellbeing.

“Horse-assisted workshops can help to overcome stress and anxiety, build confidence and self-esteem and remind you how powerful you really are. They are of benefit to anyone who would like to learn more about themselves and how others perceive them and acquire tools to thrive regardless of challenges or circumstances.”

There is no riding involved in the workshops – the personal insights are gained through a series of ground-based exercises, interacting with the horses. Each exercise demonstrates existing behaviours, reactions and thought patterns and once highlighted, these can be changed.

June offers one-to-one coaching, adhering to social distancing during lockdown and group workshops will resume when it is safe to do so. June has also created special workshops, specifically to help business people cope with uncertainty, focus on the way forward and rebuild teams.

For further information visit


June Burgees

*Survey results from the Coronavirus: Mental Health in the Pandemic.project led by the Mental Health Foundation

NI company inundated with orders for new ‘Super Sanitiser’

A Northern Ireland company has been inundated with orders for its ‘super sanitiser’ after it became the first in the UK and Ireland to be certified to kill the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Laboratory tests* in England have confirmed that Aktivora, which is blended and bottled in Lisburn, County Antrim, is 99.9999% certain to kill the virus and help protect people from the deadly disease.

The company is also awaiting certification for a further 21 major super viruses, including SARS, Ebola, Swine Flu, Mad Cow Disease and the new African Horse Sickness.

Aktivora is made from totally natural plant-based ingredients, unlike many alcohol or petroleum-based sanitising products which are not just harsh on the skin but can also be highly inflammable and very dangerous, therefore very difficult for companies to include in their insurance policies.

Aktivora NI Ltd is currently negotiating multi-million pound orders from all over the world for its multi-purpose solution which can be diluted to varying strengths depending on whether it is used as a hand sanitiser, for cleaning buildings, floors and surfaces, or for mass sterilisation.

The growing list of clients queuing up to get their hands on Aktivora includes the governments of China, Russia, Vietnam, Canada, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Kuwait, UAE and Oman – whilst the company has recently secured a contract to help sanitise The Principality Stadium in Wales, which has been converted into a 2,000-bed NHS Hospital to care for COVID-19 patients.

“We’ve always known how effective our product is but to receive official certification that it kills COVID-19 is a real game changer,” said David Good, Managing Director of Aktivora NI Ltd, a man with vast experience of the international market, having travelled the globe extensively.

“We’ve been developing this product for some time – long before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19 – and it has been clinically trialled in relation to no fewer than 21 superbugs including SARS, swine flu and mad cow disease. In fact, it has beaten every bacte­ria and virus it has come in contact with.

“However, since being tested and certified to kill COVID-19, our phones simply haven’t stopped ringing and our problem now is meeting demand – but we’re working quickly to address this,” he added.

“We will be exporting to 32 countries around the world, dealing directly with governments and health ministers, and while we have been successful in the major London Hospitals, we would be happy to sit down and talk to our own Health Department in Northern Ireland and the Irish Health Service Executive (HSE) too, should they wish to find out more about the product and what it can do.”

Mr Good is quick to point out that Aktivora is a prevention against COVID-19 and not a cure.

“We’d all love to find a vaccine or cure for this awful disease and until one is found, our lives will continue to be dramatically affected,” continued David. “At Aktivora, we are always evolving and trying to make the world a safer place, but it’s important to stress that while Aktivora may be one of the most potent weapons in preventing the spread of COVID-19, it’s not a cure.

“However, it has passed every test that we have given it and we know that it can stop this virus in its tracks.  Nothing survives on any surface it comes in con­tact with and it can be safely used in any domestic setting.  You can spray on your clothes, uniform, in your washing machine, any­thing at all, and it will give you a protective barrier,” he added.

“So for front line workers, especially those working in hospitals and nursing homes, Aktivora can provide an impenetrable barrier against the virus.  We also believe that by spraying the inside and outside of face masks and scrubs, we can ensure that they last longer and greatly increase protection, potentially easing some pressure on the current PPE crisis.

“We are also receiving interest from a wide range of industry sectors outside of healthcare, including public and private transport organisations, veterinary and agricultural services, sports arenas, cruise liners and even the army and police – for the cleaning of uniforms, to name but a few.  We’re also speaking to the Prison Service who, for health reasons, are looking at Aktivora as a solution to its own sanitisation requirements for prisoners and officers.

“Some people have labelled it a miracle solution and to be honest, it does seem that Mother Nature has given us an amazing antidote at a time when we need it most,” concluded Mr Good.

Eco-friendly and biodegradable, Aktivora is available in a 100ml atomiser Super Sanitiser, a 500ml trigger spray for hands and, for the commercial market, 1 litre, 5 litre, 10 litre and 20 litre drums, and a 1000 litre IBC container.

For sales enquires, contact Aktivora NI on

For general information, email or visit for more details on the product and its certifications. 


Aktivora NI Ltd directors Marty Chappell (left) and Neal Connor.

Aktivora was developed to tackle the ever-growing threat of germs, viruses and pathogens that are becoming resistant to our drugs and medicines, including superbugs responsible for millions of deaths.

While its ingredients are readily available, Aktivora is created using the latest technology and a closely guarded secret formula, forming a matrix that continues to work long after it is applied.  

It can completely destroy bacteria and pathogens, and hugely improve the prevention of infections within hospitals, clinics and surgeries, nursing homes, hotels, food preparation areas, schools, animal housing, toilets, gyms and many more applications.

* tests carried out by Microbiological Solutions Ltd (MSL)

Star Nation 2020 offers Ulster musicians a slice of success

John Paul Prior, MusicMaker music store, and Niall McMonagle of Windmill Lane Recording Studios join Christina Hamilton of Four Star Pizza at the launch of the second annual ‘Star Nation’, an all-Ireland music competition.

A nation-wide search for Ireland’s next big music star got under way recently with the launch of the second annual ‘Star Nation’ competition, giving aspiring songwriters and musicians a chance to win €3,000 of music equipment, a recording session in one of Ireland’s most famous studios, a performance slot at a renowned acoustic music club and a chance to play a showcase gig at a top Irish venue.

The brainchild of Irish-owned pizza chain Four Star Pizza, ‘Star Nation’ calls on musicians across the island to submit one original song for a unique opportunity to grab themselves a slice of success, increase their profile, and win some very tasty prizes.

Four provincial winners will be selected to compete in the Grand Final at renowned live music venue The Roisin Dubh in Galway, the home city of last year’s winners Turnstiles, a punk band whose blistering final performance saw them see off stiff competition from other provincial winners, including Ulster winner Riley Holland from Newtownards, Co. Down, a young singer songwriter whose song ‘Butterflies’ earned her a place in the final four.

This year’s prizes include:

  •  The overall winner will receive 3,000 of musical equipment from leading music store MusicMaker in Dublin, described by Glen Hansard as ‘a vital artery in the Dublin rock scene’ with visitors over the years including the likes of U2, Blondie, Muse, Fun Loving Criminals, Manic Street Preachers and The National.


  • All four provincial winners will receive a one-day recording session at the renowned Windmill Lane Recording Studios, following in the footsteps of artists like David Bowie, Lady Gaga, U2, Van Morrison, Kylie Minogue, Depeche Mode, The Rolling Stones, New Order, The Spice Girls, Kodaline and Snow Patrol… to name but a few.


  • NEW for 2020!!!  This year’s competition will include a new ‘People’s Choice’ award in which the public will vote for one of the four finalists to perform at the prestigious Ruby Sessions in Dublin, which has hosted the likes of Ed Sheeran, Damien Rice, Paul Brady, Hozier and many more.


Four Star Pizza Communications Executive Christina Hamilton explained why she is excited for what’s to come in this year’s competition. “Following the overwhelming success of last year’s inaugural event, we are thrilled to launch our second Star Nation competition at a time when artists and musicians really need an outlet for their creativity,” said Christina.

“The calibre of entries we had from Ulster last year was fantastic and the judges were especially impressed by provincial winner Riley Holland from Newtownards who really wowed the crowd with a captivating performance in the Grand Final.  We’re really looking forward to seeing what Ulster has to offer this year!

“We know that many musicians and bands out there are suffering with gigs and concerts cancelled all over the country as a result of COVID-19, although it’s been amazing to see how they’ve channelled their energy into putting together some amazing live performances from their homes.

“With this in mind, I’m sure that this year’s Star Nation – which will run across our online and social media channels – will really give our incredible original artists an opportunity to focus their creativity on the competition and win some amazing prizes that could help them further their career,” she added.

“Ireland is renowned all over the world for producing first class, original musical talent having produced some of the greatest musicians in history – so with the support of our sponsors, we are really looking forward to finding the country’s best undiscovered songwriters and performers.

“The competition is open to all genres of music and offers local artists and bands a wonderful opportunity to take a big step on that ladder to stardom and have their music heard by lots of people,” concluded Christina.

How to enter

‘Star Nation’ is free to enter and musicians can submit their track to Four Star Pizza online before the closing date of midday, July 13, 2020.

All entries must be completely original compositions and only one song per artist can be submitted.  Entrants must be over 18, resident in the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland and willing to participate in promotional activity if selected.

A judging panel including representatives from Four Star Pizza, MusicMaker and Windmill Lane will select a winner from each province, with all four provincial winners receiving a day’s recording at Windmill Lane.

The four provincial winners will then battle it out on social media for a chance to win The People’s Choice Award with the prize being a performance slot at the iconic Ruby Sessions in Dublin.

The Grand Final showcase event at The Roisin Dubh in Galway on September 12 will see all four provincial winners compete for the overall title and a voucher for €3,000 of musical equipment courtesy of Music Maker.

Full details on how to enter along with terms and conditions for entry, which must be read and agreed, can be found at and don’t forget to use #StarNation2020 on social media if you are posting about the competition.


Punk band, Turnstiles, winners of the inaugral Star Nation music competition in 2019.

Local Husband and Wife Introduce Wine With Stories

Thomas Soliman at Montagner Vineyard.

Thomas Soliman and his wife Sherril started GreatVine Ltd in 2016, to import beautiful artisan wines from small, single vineyard producers after living for many years in the heart of the Veneto wine region near Venice. Thomas was Food & Beverage Manager in luxury hotels on the Grand Canal in Venice for over 20 years and in Middle Eastern Resort hotels before that. A joint passion for good food and great wines, drove them to want to share the previously unheard of incredible producers that they had truffled out, back home in Northern Ireland. 

They began to import and wholesale to the finest hotels and restaurants in Northern Ireland including the Merchant Hotel which partners with GreatVine to host the annual month long Festival of Prosecco, featuring Prosecco parties on the roof terrace with speakers from guest wineries and Masterclasses in Prosecco where participants get to experience a flight of 5 different styles and quality levels of Prosecco. 

They launched on Amazon UK with their new retail brand Wines With Stories selling a range of artisan wines direct to consumers across the UK. Artisan wines always have stories, whereas industrial commercial wines never do. If a wine has a story, that’s proof of authenticity and provenance. 

The plan was already underway to launch a European wide e-Commerce website called backed by investors, with a specialist wine e-commerce distribution hub located in Spain. Then the Coronavirus event happened, and the wholesale business literally fell off a cliff overnight. Improvising almost overnight, a more simplified version of was launched to showcase all of the beautiful authentic wines in stock and the response has been almost overwhelming. Amazon sales went crazy and from a standing start and a little bit of Facebook advertising, the new website orders also started to get really busy, especially with local people in lockdown ordering wines for home delivery.

Wines With Stories deliver all over NI and the UK for a flat fee of £5 or FREE DELIVERY if the order is over £150 in value. For more information visit: |


Thomas with Garganega Grapes Sculpture at Anselmi Winery.
Thomas pictured at the Passo Antico Tasting at the Vineyard Belfast.

Arlen House publishes Her Other Language

‘Her other language’ book launch at The Irish Secretariat Belfast. Picture by Bernie Brown

Her Other Language: Northern Irish Women Writers Address Domestic Violence and Abuse is an anthology of poems, stories and play extracts by women. Published by Arlen House and edited by Natasha Cuddington and Ruth Carr, Her Other Language was conceived as a project to raise the ongoing issue of domestic violence and abuse while also giving visibility to women’s writing.

Funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Allstate, the project has met with an overwhelming response from women. There are well over 90 contributors, including distinguished writers such as Lucy Caldwell, Leontia Flynn, Bernie McGill, Joan Newmann and Medbh McGuckian alongside emerging and first-time writers and survivors, all giving their work freely in support of Belfast and Lisburn Women’s Aid.

In her foreword, Monica McWilliams warns: “What you are about to read is both joyful and painful. Fear and tension jump out from the pages.” It is remarkable how the written pieces interconnect, bringing to light the insidious grip that an underlying cultural misogyny can exert.  And yet there is hope, also as stated in the introduction:

“On the precipice of Brexit, from this contested locale, this book offers the hope of solidarity across declaimed generation, class, gender, sexuality, language and ethnicity. From here, these writers speak in a fullness beyond omission, erasure and redaction, very much their mending selves. What began as a project to bear witness to violence against women, has expanded to articulate the many paths from harm into the freedom of imaginative capability.”

A response to the anthology from writer and editor Tara McEvoy: “Here is an anthology that goes beyond awareness building to engage seriously with the societal prevalence of sexist abuse and domestic violence, and the legacies of that abuse and violence in the lives of survivors. This difficult subject matter is approached with candour, sensitivity and grace; the result is timely, and deeply moving. Her Other Language is both a revelation and an intervention. Like The Female Line before it, this is a landmark anthology, and represents an important contribution to Irish literature.”         

Books are £10.00 and are available from No Alibis Bookshop, Botanic Avenue, Belfast or, £10 plus postage. Proceeds go to Belfast & Lisburn Women’s Aid.

Brighter days ahead with Elite Travel NI

With many Northern Ireland families having to change their recent holiday plans one local travel agent is urging people to look forward to a brighter, not so distant, future.

William Elliott of Elite Travel in Cookstown is encouraging people to do their bit to support the local travel industry and book that much needed holiday for later in the year.

William Elliott of Elite Travel in Cookstown.

William explained: “It’s a time of disruption and stress for many households across Northern Ireland and now more than ever people need something to look forward to.

“Our customers are at the heart of everything we do and we’ve been working hard to make sure everyone who booked with us and hasn’t been able to travel amid the current COVID-19 epidemic has had their holiday rearranged with minimum hassle.

“We know there are plenty of people out there who are keen to get away asap and our knowledgeable staff are well informed and up to date with the latest travel news so they can be trusted to help you make the best decision.”

Acknowledging that while it has been a difficult time for the industry William has no doubts it will bounce back rapidly.

“The travel industry is a resilient one and having overcome many challenges in the past we’re confident it will also overcome this,” he said.

“Our Summer 2021 package holidays are already proving very popular and we’ve a host of great deals on offer, including Stateside deals to Boston, New York or Washington starting from just £899 per person.”

Currently on offer for Winter 2020/2021 are ski holidays, Christmas market breaks to the likes of Krakow and Prague, starting from just £149 per person, and an unforgettable Lapland Santa Experience day trip.

William said: “With low deposits on most of our deals we’ve a holiday to suit everyone – from couples, to families and larger groups. I would encourage people to follow our Facebook page for all our latest deals or to feel free to pick up the phone and give us a ring.”

With a wealth of experience in the industry, we as a premier independent travel specialist offering corporate travel, package holidays, luxury holidays, and flights from over 200 ABTA and ATOL tour operators, and over 500 airlines including charter, scheduled, and over 30,000 hotels, villas & apartments worldwide.

“Now more than ever I think people are realising the importance of booking with a local, independent travel agent. Not only can we help you get the best deal that’s right for you but if anything goes wrong we’re by your side every step of the way to help you get it resolved.”

For more information, visit:

How to Protect Your Office During Lockdown

With the vast majority of business premises now closed across the UK and Ireland, as a result of the COVID-19 ‘lockdown’, Lisburn-based security company Mercury Security & Facilities Management (MSFM)  is offering tips to business owners on how best to ensure their property is protected during these exceptional times.

The outbreak of the Coronavirus, and the need for social distancing, has led to all but essential workers now working remotely from home which means that across the country, factories and offices, bars and restaurants, sports and leisure venues and a host of other buildings are now lying eerily empty.

For MSFM, Ireland’s largest independent security provider and facilities management company, these unprecedented circumstances have led to a sharp increase in demand for security solutions to help business owners protect their empty properties.

The company has experienced a huge 70% increase in demand across all of its key security services including CCTV and alarm systems, remote monitoring services, and the use of mobile patrol units:

  • CCTV and Alarm Systems:  the provision and installation of CCTV and alarm systems to act as powerful tools to help fight against crime, protect your property, and keep insurers happy.
  • Remote Monitoring – MSFM can link into a company’s CCTV, Intruder and Fire Alarms to monitor remotely from its ARC command centre, thus ensuring appropriate Police response to alarm activations, the recording of evidence via visual confirmation, and importantly, the ability to engage live with intruders through audio systems – without the risk that comes with facing down intruders in person.
  • Mobile Patrol Units – MSFM has increased its mobile units to proactively patrol premises and act as the first port of call in the event of a fire or intruder alarm activation.

As well as the security services it provides, Mercury’s facilities management division, launched in 2018, offers a specialised deep cleaning service, designed to eliminate COVID–19 and help organisations minimise risk to staff and visitors.

The company has also just launched the Mercury TC-1 thermal camera to enable the speedy detection of high body temperatures which may indicate the presence of a fever – one of the first vital symptoms displayed by carriers of the Coronavirus.

“We appreciate that this is an extremely challenging and worrying time for people at home and throughout the world,” said Mercury director Liam Cullen.  “So at Mercury, our staff have been working around the clock to help businesses monitor and protect their empty premises remotely, removing the need for them to leave home, and thus ensuring they are not exposed and remain safe and healthy.

“In this time of uncertainty, it’s important that you protect your business and don’t become a soft target for burglars who are very smart and make it their business to gain entry to your property,” he added.

To help companies ensure their property is as safe as possible during the COVID-19 Lockdown, Mercury Security & Facilities Management has compiled the following list of helpful tips:

Mercury’s Top 10 Tips to protect your property during lockdown

1) LOCK before you leave – It may sound simplistic but ensure that all doors, windows, fire exits and gates are locked.  Fit restrictors on windows if possible as thieves can wriggle through any gap larger than a human head.  Pinpoint any vulnerable areas and fix these.

2) TEST-ing times… Test your CCTV system, intruder alarm, fire and sprinkler systems and ensure they are all fully operational.  Make sure cameras are well positioned to cover as much of your property, internally and externally, as possible.

3) Keeping an EYE on things – If you have serious security concerns, talk to a company like Mercury about having your premises remotely monitored.  The Mercury Eye CCTV camera doubles up as an intruder alarm that is picked up by the company’s monitoring centre or on your mobile device.  Should an alarm be activated or intrusion detected, the intruder can be engaged with a live audio challenge whilst we’re calling the police – or scared off without the risk that comes with facing down intruders in person. The camera can operate without wires, electricity or broadband.

4) See the LIGHT – Make sure your outdoor lighting is working and preferably on a sensor.  Visible alarms that light up at night will make burglars think twice about targeting your house. Consider the use of timer switches to ensure sufficient lighting inside your premises.

5)  Be WHEELIE careful – Burglars often use wheelie bins to help them get into properties, so ensure that they are stored away and not accessible.

6)  Security is KEY – Ensure spare keys to your premises are not left inside but rather with dedicated key holders who can be contacted in times of emergency.  Mercury is a dedicated key holder for many businesses across Ireland and the UK – compliant with and to BS 7984-1-:2016.

 7)  SAFE and secure – Ensure that no cash is left lying around on the premises overnight and consider moving high-value items and important documentation into a safe or secured location that can be monitored remotely.

 8) Dif-FUSE the situation – Electrical equipment should be turned off and unplugged, and electrical systems isolated at the main fuse board, unless critical to the continued running of your business.  Fire risks or burnable materials, such as old packaging or wooden pallets, should be moved off site.

9)  Keep MOBILE… Empty premises should ideally be inspected once a week.  Mercury’s Mobile Patrol Units proactively patrol premises and act as the first port of call in the event of a fire or intruder alarm activation.  Mobile inspections may include the removal of any build-up of post, or  any other action to minimise the risk that the property can be easily identified as being closed.

 10) MARK your territory – Use an ultraviolet pen to mark items of value with your company name and address.  This will help police to identify your property more easily if it’s stolen.  Try to make sure that larger desirable items can’t easily be seen through windows.


For further information on Mercury services and how to protect your empty premises, email or call MSFM on 028 9262 0518.