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Stormont MLAs need to get creative to rebuild economy – restaurant owner

Made In Belfast owner Emma Bricknell said the hospitality trade needs support and ideas to ensure its survival

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(Liam McBurney/PA)

(Liam McBurney/PA)

(Liam McBurney/PA)

Stormont has been urged to think creatively to help Northern Ireland’s hospitality industry recover following the coronavirus pandemic.

Emma Bricknell, who owns three restaurants in Belfast, said there is a bleak picture for the sector.

After founding Made in Belfast in 2008, Ms Bricknell went on to open two more eateries and employs around 60 people.

She had been in the process of setting up a fourth in the south of the city, which she said will be put on hold amid the uncertainty.

“It’s a catastrophe for the hospitality industry which has been such a big part in helping to change Northern Ireland, especially Belfast, it’s opened up areas like the Cathedral Quarter, it’s made it a European city,” she said.

“I first moved here from London in 2005 and I’ve really noticed the change to it becoming very international with a lot more flights coming.

“It just feels really sad that this could kill off the city.”

The hospitality industry is set to be the last to reopen under the Northern Ireland Executive’s five-step recovery plan announced on Tuesday.

However, no dates have been provided for when each step is likely to happen.

Ms Bricknell said she is trying to stay positive despite all the uncertainty around reopening dates, but fears being left with a £200,000 debt which she said will take 10 years to clear, adding that she does not know if she will be able to open her restaurants again.

To turn this round we need to be thinking now what we're going to do, maybe changing licensing laws, outside dining areas, cafe culturesEmma Bricknell

“We had thought end of June, then we saw July 1 earliest, now maybe August before we get things sorted, but then furlough will go on until October, so who knows,” she said.

“We are trying to get rent releases for three months but landlords aren’t being accommodating, if they aren’t like everyone else there’s every chance I could go under, bankruptcy or administration.

“To turn this round we need to be thinking now what we’re going to do, maybe changing licensing laws, outside dining areas, cafe cultures.

“We need to act quickly, that’s what worries me, that we don’t have creative, business-minded MLAs to start doing this.

“We’re going to have to embrace Belfast as a holiday destination, book a night in a hotel, have food vans so people can separate, let food markets open.

“We need to make it a staycation location, what can we do, markets up Ormeau Road, outdoor cinemas over July, a food festival, just something.

“None of us are going to make millions but what we do need is stimulation and escapism from what is going on, and it is going to have to be in our own city.

“MLAs need to become creative and think.”

PA