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Business looks up for Belfast architects with £300m of new projects on the drawing board

By Margaret Canning

Published 12/05/2015

White Ink Architects, founded by Queen’s University graduates Joan McCoy, Claude Maguire and Sean Tunney, is enjoying success throughout the UK
White Ink Architects, founded by Queen’s University graduates Joan McCoy, Claude Maguire and Sean Tunney, is enjoying success throughout the UK

White Ink Architects is celebrating one of its busiest ever periods with over £300m worth of projects on 'drawing boards' - to borrow a phrase from the profession.

The Belfast-based business employs around 20 people and like many in the architecture sector, is finding that much of its work is in Great Britain.

Co-founder Joan McCoy, who set up the firm with Claude Maguire and Sean Tunney after all three completed their studies at Queen's, said: "We are working on hotels and high quality apartments in Great Britain and we've also got some health work and work with Queen's University at home. In fact, we are all over the place."

The firm has finished work on eight UK hotels since 2006, including a Hilton Hotel in Bournemouth, a Maldron Hotel in Cardiff, as well as Premier Inn hotels in London and Aberdeen.

Ms McCoy said the firm has a number of repeat clients, often through working with Northern Ireland contractors such as Gilbert Ash, McAleer & Rushe and O'Hare & McGovern.

It has been working with Gilbert Ash for clients such as the British High Commission, doing work on its embassy in Sri Lanka.

"The big contractors really opened the doors for us to big-name clients," she said.

"We've also done work for house builder Taylor Wimpey, which has become more involved in building high-quality apartment blocks in the centre of London."

The work with Taylor Wimpey had begun through a third party - though White Ink is now working directly for the FTSE 250 company. Last year around 75% of the company's turnover had was generated in Great Britain.

White Ink has now starting working with Scott Tallon Walker in the Republic of Ireland.

And generally speaking, the firm has seen a pick-up in the economy - but complete recovery is still some way off.

Ms McCoy said: "We are hearing on the grapevine that there are more positive stories out there but it's still not great. There still seems to be a lack of commercial investment in Northern Ireland and we are not seeing very much of a rise in private sector work."

Turnover for the firm did fall during the economic downturn - though Ms McCoy and her partners feel they were lucky to keep going at a steady rate of around £500,000 turnover during the tough times.

Now turnover is at the altogether healthier level of £1.2m - and the partners hope to reach £1.5m in turnover this year.

Belfast Telegraph

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