£120,000 of funding has been awarded to six proposals from Belfast’s creative and digital businesses, artists and innovators to develop innovative visitor experiences to animate and enrich the city’s Maritime Mile.

They will collaborate with heritage organisations and communities along the Maritime Mile in early 2024 to develop prototypes which use technologies such as augmented reality, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence, to encourage more visitors and local people to explore the historic area which connects attractions, sculptures and viewing points on both sides of the River Lagan.

The projects are being supported by the Belfast HUB-IN (Hub of Innovation) programme, developed by Belfast City Council’s City Innovation Office in partnership with the Maritime Belfast Trust and funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 initiative to explore how digital innovation can help to sustain, enhance, and preserve the Maritime Mile’s rich and unique heritage.

The successful applicants are being supported to develop a series of prototypes, including:

  • Aura Digital Studios Limited – will create an Augmented Reality experience highlighting HMS Caroline’s heritage. The free-to-download mobile app will give a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the people who worked on this First World War ship through WebXR, 3D animation and storytelling.
  • Big Telly Theatre Company – will develop a digital and live interactive experience along the Maritime Mile. The adventure will begin at The Big Fish sculpture where visitors can talk to an AI Salmon of Knowledge, before engaging with live performers and 3D holographic experiences at City Quays, St Joseph’s Church, and Sailortown. Community partners include local artist Corrina Askin, The America Bar and Sailortown Regeneration.
  • Darin Smyth – Darin Smyth, in partnership with Belfast Metropolitan College, will develop a new immersive digital experience, Maritime Echoes: An AI Voyage to the Past, bringing local historical figures to life using the latest AI technology. Visitors will be able to engage in ‘conversations’ with pioneer of Belfast shipbuilding William Ritchie; chairman of Harland and Wolff during the Titanic era Lord Pirrie; social reformer Mary Ann McCracken; Captain Henry Ralph Crooke, who led HMS Caroline during the Battle of Jutland; and a linen mill worker from the early 20th century.
  • Flax & Teal – will develop interactive 3D/VR rooms along the Maritime Mile, giving visitors a lens into the generations who shaped the area. They’ll work with the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) and local communities to develop new 2D and 3D experiences, using images, video, audio, and historic maps to tell local stories.
  • Katya Solomatina – will develop ‘Memory Anchors’, a fine art initiative designed to engage people of all ages to discover new ways of expressing feelings through interactive digital sculpture and storytelling. The artist will collaborate with the Sailortown community on digital sculpting, AI-driven verbal art, photogrammetry and NeRF scanning (extracting 3D information from 2D images), sound recording, and improvisational storytelling to create immersive art pieces.
  • Ulster Touring Opera – will work with EastSide Partnership and Whitepot Studios to develop a new immersive experience along the Yardman’s Trail using cutting edge technology such as 3D film, AI and Augmented Reality. The Yardman’s Trail celebrates the heritage links between east Belfast and the Maritime Mile, and visitors will be able to download a free app and experience residents telling their stories about the area.

Chair of Belfast City Council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee, Councillor Christina Black said:

“HUB-IN is helping to nurture exciting new relationships between Belfast’s heritage and creative industries sectors, communities, and businesses along the Maritime Mile, and supporting people to develop valuable entrepreneurial and digital innovation skills.

“I’d like to congratulate the successful applicants for their creativity and commitment to this vision. I can’t wait to see these proposals come to life along the Maritime Mile in the months ahead.”

Jenna Crymble, Marketing and Digital Content Officer added:

We are always looking at innovative ways to animate the Maritime Mile to tell the story of our rich maritime heritage. We are delighted that HUB-IN is supporting and enabling new, exciting collaborations between creative industry partners and existing communities and we have been blown away by the interest and calibre of the applications. These projects will give local people and visitors even more reasons to visit the Maritime Mile in 2024 and be part of our journey in developing and delivering an iconic waterfront for Belfast.   

The projects aim to:

  • enrich and animate the Maritime Mile for both locals and visitors,
  • increase footfall, dwell time and local spend,
  • connect surrounding communities, workers, students, and visitors with the Maritime Mile, and
  • align with the ambitions outlined in the Belfast HUB-IN Roadmap.

The Belfast HUB-IN project is part of a €7.9 million European initiative that aims to transform historic urban areas through innovation and spread public benefits from urban regeneration. It’s funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 869429.