Belfast: A city's three dimensions

The diversity of events staged in Belfast this year might surprise those who don't know Northern Ireland well. Yasmin Razak sees how an association meeting, an exhibition and a consumer entertainment event fared.

BRITISH DIETETIC ASSOCIATION CONFERENCE AND EXHIBITION

The appointment of a new chair for the British Dietetic Association (BDA) brought the annual conference and exhibition to Northern Ireland this June.

"This is the first time we have held the event in Belfast," explains BDA dietitian and spokesperson Jacqui Lowdon. "Last year the event was in London. Before that it was Cardiff and then Edinburgh, so it is Belfast's turn. The new chair is a dietitian from Northern Ireland, so we wanted to come to her home."

More than 330 delegates attended the gathering, held from 19-21 June at the Hastings Europa Hotel. It was organised by the BDA's eight-person scientific programmes committee and event management agency Sovereign.

The itinerary combined an educational conference with an exhibition supported by pharma nutritia giants such as Procter & Gamble, SMA Nutrition, Nestle Healthcare Nutrition, Novartis, Unilever Slimfast and Yakult UK. A highlight was the awards dinner at the City Hall, broadcast by Ulster Television.

Lowdon says: "Our main obstacle was an entirely theoretical one - people think that getting to Belfast will be more problematic than other UK destinations as it is across the water. It is entirely down to perception as potential delegates also worried that it would be expensive to get there, but in many instances, it is cheaper than getting to London."

The event returns to the mainland in 2008 with Liverpool hosting the BDA at the recently refurbished Adelphi Hotel from 17-19 June.

THE BALMORAL SHOW

Something of a stalwart at King's Hall Exhibition and Conference Centre, The Balmoral Show is in its 139th year. This annual event took place from 16-18 May 2007, drawing more than 70,000 visitors to Northern Ireland's largest MICE venue. Organised by the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society, based at King's Hall, a dedicated team of 32 worked on the project from the venue's in-house team and were supported by members during the event itself.

The three-day show, designed to promote agriculture in Northern Ireland, was sponsored by a raft of regional and national corporates including Britvic, Coca-Cola, Vodafone, Tesco and Ulster Bank. Corporate hospitality options included lunches and afternoon teas in the Arena Suite, a glass-fronted marquee affording uninterrupted views into the Main Arena.

Attractions included the showjumping heats in the Main Arena, the Chariots of Fire display comprising carriage-driving stunts and a firework finale, and the dog agility competition.

The children's area, Punch and Judy shows, World of Owls and the Food Pavilion with its local delights were all new additions.

Events project manager Rhonda Geary says: "The main challenge is to try and keep the mix right for both the seasoned agricultural community and the city dweller. We conduct an exit poll to collate information on what the visitors are after so that we can develop appropriate new attractions."

The show was a success for many, including the Northern Ireland Sheep Shearing Team, who won the Five Nations Championship for the first time in 30 years. It returns to King's Hall from 14-16 May 2008.

BELFAST FOOD & DRINK FESTIVAL

Belfast's Saturday morning food shoppers were given something extra to chew on at the beginning of September when St George's Market hosted the opening of the Belfast Food & Drink Festival 2007. Now in its fourth year and bigger than ever, the month-long event kicked off with live culinary demonstrations from two of the city's best-known chefs.

Nick Price of Nick's Warehouse and Simon McCance of Ginger - both highly acclaimed restaurants - prepared and cooked a range of dishes on a raised platform in front of hundreds of market visitors. The chefs gave step-by-step explanations over microphones and used almost entirely local produce to highlight the quality and diversity of the region's food.

The highly interactive demonstration lasted from midday to 2pm, during which time spectators were able to sample freshly cooked delicacies and enjoy live music from the Martello Jazz Band. A small number of promotional staff were also on hand to distribute leaflets covering the remaining programme of events in the city - these included special dinner menus at participating restaurants, gourmet masterclasses and a two-day 'Chilli Fest'.

"We wanted it to involve people," says Wendi Kane, evening economy officer at Belfast City Council. "It was simple to organise but at the same time a very public way of raising awareness. There was an instantaneous quality to the event that really worked."

St George's Market itself, which dates back to Victorian times, has recently benefited from a major refurbishment with £4.5m of heritage lottery funding.


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