17th Oct 2019 in Arts

The perceived doom and gloom of the High Street is something which the business community in the City is keen to shake off.

Belfast punches well above its weight comparably and can sing from the rooftops about our independent traders, and our incredible food and drink scene which is complimented by a great offering of art, culture, and entrepreneurship. We enter an exciting period of becoming a City Centre that will be lived in, that will be home to two universities, and an ever  growing commercial market.  The last 12 months have been tough, habits change and we are working with City Centre stakeholders on ensuring Belfast remains a vibrant destination; be it for shopping, eating, drinking, hanging out with family & friends, and more importantly somewhere to enjoy.

A city that has a week long night life, a range of non-drinking options, and leisure activities is crucial.  It’s also important we develop public space, green space for people to hang out and spend time, roads, and cycleways that are safe and well connected to the residential areas – not just a thoroughfare from A-to-B.

The role of the BID

Destination Cathedral Quarter Business Improvement District (BID) has the selfish task of improving the area for the businesses, employees and their visitors.  These are the local residents who will come not once or twice but who use the City on a daily and weekly basis and are who we target through our initiatives and events. Whilst our buoyant tourist market is fantastic and the ongoing investment in the hotel and tourist sector is incredible, it also raises the need for us to invest in vibrant choices, activities and things to explore for us all.

The City Centre and in particular the High Street is a dynamic & ever changing market in constant flux.  We find ourselves with an oversupply of retail units in the City Centre propping up our vacancy rate (around 19%), with some areas of Cathedral Quarter and Smithfield in particular feeling the pain. Whilst the immediate answer is to challenge the Business Rates, in the short term the BID is keen to explore what alternatives can be found for these buildings. Some fantastic case studies are emerging with units reimagined at community hubs, cultural hubs, art galleries, and areas for a  host of leisure activity.  As we move towards ‘click & collect’, and online 24/7 services gather pace the High Street needs re-imagined.  This may lead us to turn full circle and concentrate on its original purpose – community and a space for social gathering.

Let us introduce you to the…. 

The Worst Cafe in The World.  Emerging as a direct response to empty shopfronts, this project is a way of understanding and showcasing what empty units can become in and around Cathedral Quarter & Smithfield.  Big Telly Theatre Company have a track record of pop-ups and immersive theatres across NI High Streets and we were delighted to welcome for their first jaunt to Belfast City Centre.

As part of Belfast International Arts Festival the opportunity arose to bring this idea to life and through the BID Culture & Events Fund and Arts & Business NI we have secured a pop-up theatre experience in the heart of CQ as part of the festival programme.

Worst Café is such a unique production, and for us at CQ BID, we love the concept of bringing theatre into the streets of the area. We have excellent dedicated arts venues here, so for us animating a really visible empty space only increases the cultural currency of the CQ area.


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