Reimagining the future of Northern Ireland

Social innovation has the potential to thrive in post conflict communities. We saw this first hand during the Unusual Suspects Festival in Northern Ireland, through a variety of approaches that were being used as a means to build trust, openness and dialogue across communities. From using art and sport to connect young people, helping them to realise that they are not that different after all, in spite of their preconceptions, to the use of technology and mapping platforms to build safer and closer communities, willing to help and look out for each other.   

Transparency, trust and openness are often talked about as conditions that are vital for social innovation to embedded and flourish in a society or community. But how does this play out in places of recovering from tension and conflict? How does a legacy of division and confrontation influence the social innovation process?


Northern Ireland is on the periphery. Not only geographically (both in the UK and Europe), but in people’s minds also. It is a place that is often overlooked and forgotten about, with most of the news coming from there being negative in nature. That said, Northern Ireland is somewhere that has a rich tradition, history and culture of innovation. It is somewhere that has an alternative story to be told, as Janene Ware formerly of the Young Foundation indicates:

‘The festival provided the opportunity to showcase Northern Ireland as a place where highly creative, committed and resourceful people take action on a daily basis to bring hope, tackle inequalities, and champion their communities. Many are doing this on shoestring budgets, as volunteers, or in their spare time. They see a need or experience an injustice, get passionate about it, act and take risks. Innovation is in the history, culture, and DNA of this place; and to be involved with something like the festival reminds us that we do have an alternative story to tell, both to the wider world and ourselves’

Janene Ware

Key Highlights

The sessions that took place over the course of the three day event, across two cities (Belfast & Derry-Londonderry) resonated with the idea that there is an alternative narrative in Northern Ireland to be discovered and shared. UV Arts examined the effect that divide communities have on young people. Following a walking of the city walls of Derry-Londonderry, participants explored the way in which art, in particular graffiti, can be used as a tool to bridge across these divisions- envisioning a Northern Ireland that is less strongly defined by its two separate communities.

The opening of the event in Derry-Londonderry gave a platform for a variety and range of citizens to talk about their wishes and visions for the future of the city. Young participants from both sides of the city’s division spoke directly and openly with the audience (including the Mayor of Derry-Londonderry) about what they wanted future of Derry-Londonderry to look like — a city of potential, culture, hope, energy, a creative spirit and self-determination of what it wants to be.

'We've talked more about race, gender and identity in an hour at Unusual Suspects Northern Ireland than in my previous 4 years in the sector'

Robbie Best- Building Change Trust

Highlights video

See the full list of sessions and activities.

Download programme