Public affairs specialist to renovate former Belfast library
A public affairs specialist here is set to renovate a former north Belfast library as the organisation he set up after the Good Friday Agreement merges with a London-based specialist.
Quintin Oliver, who led the 'Yes' campaign for the 1998 referendum before setting up Stratagem, Northern Ireland's largest public affairs agency, is set to take on a very different challenge as he refurbishes the Carnegie Library on the Oldpark Road to make it a "beacon of hope" for the north of the city.
The project is led by the Northern Ireland Foundation, an independent operating charity that has asked Mr Oliver, its secretary, and the purchaser of the Carnegie Oldpark with his partner Fiona MacMillan, to chair the Restoration Committee.
Mr Oliver told the Belfast Telegraph that having worked at the Carnegie Library on the Donegall Road for many years at the helm of Stratagem, he saw "the vision of what a restored library could be".
Two years ago he assisted a community worker from north Belfast at the auction of Carnegie on the Old Park Road, which had been abandoned eight years earlier, and "instead of holding her hand, I raised mine and bought the building", said Mr Oliver.
He now plans to raise £1m to fully restore the property. Emergency repair work has already been completed.
When all renovations are finished Mr Oliver plans to let out the finished building to social enterprises. He estimates that could take two years once funds are raised.
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Refurbishing Carnegie Library is not the first venture Mr Oliver has engaged in outside his work at Stratagem.
He is also co-founder and chair of The Consultation Institute, NI adviser to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, company secretary of social enterprise Artemis Schools NI, and special adviser to Scottish anti-sectarianism charity Nil by Mouth.
Among his most pressing work after departing Stratagem will be his international interests on conflict resolution. At present he is working on resolutions for Syria. He added: "That is really important work in global terms and I have some skills that I can share there."
But Mr Oliver is perhaps best-known for his work at Stratagem, which merged with Westminster-based Connect recently, making it one of the UK's leading public affairs independents.
Grainne Walsh will take Mr Oliver's place at Stratagem, which will continue to operate as its own brand in Belfast, but she will also join Connect's senior team.
The merger will grow the overall Connect group team to 35 consultants and its projected group fee income to £3m.
Andy Sawford, managing partner of Connect, said: "Having grown our income organically by 50% since 2016's management buyout, Connect has been looking for the right opportunity to catalyse the next phase of our growth.
"There is a huge opportunity for us and Stratagem to grow together. Connect and Stratagem are a great fit, with closely aligned values, complementary products and services, and a shared commitment to setting high standards. Joining up with Belfast's biggest public affairs firm creates an unrivalled client offer at a time when Northern Ireland is playing a pivotal role in UK and European affairs."
Mr Oliver said: "Bringing Stratagem together with Connect makes huge sense at this stage, with talks under way, hopefully for the Assembly and Executive to return, and with the Brexit drama unfolding around us, across these islands.
"The joint business will bring added scale, investment and strong relationships with key policy-makers, opinion-formers and political institutions. I am pleased that the team at Stratagem will continue, headed by Grainne Walsh and I wish them well as I now take a step away to concentrate on other projects."
Speaking about his departure, he continued: "It seems like a good time and I want to do other things. I don't want to get stale after two decades."