From selling fancy hankies to selling kids TV around the world – Sixteen South open new offices

Arlene Foster Colin Williams Martin McGuinness Claude Lily Sixteen South new office openingThis morning, Sixteen South officially opened their new offices in One Clarence Street, the company’s third premises. Chief Executive Colin Williams explained to visitors and press that back in 1884 the building was home to the Clarence Finishing Company, a linen manufacturer.

“They sold – all over the world – fancy handkerchiefs … and I think it’s a little bit fitting that 130 years later it’s now home to us, part of the new creative industries of Belfast, and we’re trying to do exactly the same thing as the Clarence Finishing Company and selling stuff all over the world.”

Sixteen South are celebrating being in production of season two of Lily’s Driftwood Bay – a show “proudly born and bred in Belfast”. The new series takes it up to 100 episodes of the show that has been sold to over 100 countries across Europe, Africa, Middle East and America. Another show Claude is also in production for Disney and will be dubbed into 21 languages. And there’s a new pilot for PBS in the works too.

The company’s first foray into children’s television came with two series of Sesame Tree [which led to my favourite ever interview] followed up with Big City Park, Pajanimals, and Big and Small.

Richard Williams Peter Robinson Martin McGuinness Sesame Tree Series Two launchOver the years, the First and deputy First Ministers have attended many launches at Sixteen South. Despite acceding to being photographed with Muppets in the past, the joint leaders of Northern Ireland have always seemed relaxed at these events. The gathered press were keen to capture political views on Brexit this morning before the opening began.

The United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union does create uncertainty for the film and animation sector in Northern Ireland. In a few years time they will fall outside quotas for broadcasting EU shows and their product may be a lot less attractive to television channels across Europe.

The First Minister Arlene Foster reminded those gathered that she’d “been a huge supporter of the creative industries right throughout my time as Enterprise Minister”.

“It’s wonderful to see the ambition, the drive, the innovation, the imagination that you have here in everything that you do. Of course, entertaining young people is no mean feat. I had the privilege of visiting many primary schools and many pre-schools during the election time, and they have absolutely no filter! … They certainly are a tough audience and you seem to have succeeded with young people.”

Highlighting the £329 million contribution to the local economy, the First Minister added:

“Animation and everything surrounding the creative industries is so exciting … It’s grown quite quickly but it’s [an industry] that the deputy First Minister and I are committed to continue to support and promote globally for you and your colleagues.”

She finished by admitting that “we’re delighted to be here this morning – it’s a little bit of light relief whilst everything else is going on!”

Thanking Colin for the invitation to attend, the deputy First Minister quipped that “some of those hankies would have come in useful last Friday”.

Martin McGuinness remembered being at the original launch of Lily’s Driftwood Bay and said the international success was a “tremendous accolade to yourselves and a testimony to the quality of the work”.

“Arlene and I are committed to working together even though we were on different sides of the [EU referendum] discussion and the debate. It’s still our duty and our responsibility to take our society forward and we’re absolutely determined to do that.”

NI Screen’s Richard Williams reminded those gathered that the Opening Doors Strategy target is to have a screen industry here in NI that within ten years is second only to London in the UK and Ireland.

“Sixteen South and the broader animation and children’s sector are illustrating exactly how to do that. Totally internationally focussed, connected to every centre of finance and creativity that’s relevant in their sector, and showing the entrepreneurship, the leadership, the innovation, the energy and belief required to ensure that we all deliver on behalf of Northern Ireland our ambition.”