How Odyssey-Lottery partnership has changed Belfast's landscape forever

Work starts on the Odyssey project back in the 1990s
Gary McDonald Business Editor

SINCE the UK's first-ever National Lottery draw was made 25 years ago, it has had a transformational impact on thousands of individuals.

Indeed 133 lottery millionaires have been created in Northern Ireland alone, and an eye-watering £40 billion has been raised locally for good causes, with 565,000 grants made across arts, sport, heritage and community.

And it has also helped to transform the Belfast landscape, with the city's flagship Odyssey leisure development having been part-funded by a £45 million National Lottery grant in 1997 - still the largest single amount awarded to a project in Northern Ireland.

From an industrial wasteland on the edge of the city centre in the early 1990s, that lottery cash boost has acted as a catalyst for the regeneration of Belfast, according to Wendy Langham, the Odyssey Trust's head of social affairs

“The Odyssey development introduced visitors to this part of the city for the first time, and the Odyssey Trust was formed to establish, hold, manage and develop investment in the project for the benefit of all the people of Northern Ireland.

“The physical environment around us has changed beyond recognition, yet the Trust's charitable objectives remain the same, to advance public education and to provide facilities for leisure and recreation.

“The SSE Arena provides a varied programme of concerts, sporting events and theatrical productions bringing world-class events to the city as well as providing a home venue for the Belfast Giants ice hockey team, an huge asset for Belfast and Northern Ireland, that attracts an average audience of over 4,500 per game.

“W5 is currently undergoing a reimagining process with a major £4.5m investment to create eight brand new themed interactive learning and education zones by June 2020 alongside investment in a new digital learning centre due to open in autumn 2020.

“A further £17m is being invested on the redevelopment of the former Pavilion which is due for completion in the spring of 2021 and supports our ambition to ensure Odyssey is the number one leisure destination for families in Northern Ireland.”

While £45 million is still the largest single award made in Northern Ireland, more than £1 billion has been raised for good causes in the arts, sport, heritage and Northern Ireland community since the National Lottery's first draw took place on November 19 1994.

Aside from safeguarding and developing the leisure destination at the edge of Titanic Quarter, the Odyssey Trust takes its position as a responsible business seriously.

In 2018 it launched the Odyssey Ice Academy aimed at creating better life chances and supporting wellbeing for young people with experience of the care system, by building their skills and self-esteem. Its current charity partnership with Action Mental Health promotes frank and open discussion around mental health and Belfast Giants team members have been instrumental in delivering this message to their fans.

Wendy added: “We have all benefitted from the development of Titanic Quarter and the Titanic Museum as Belfast's tourism economy has grown four-fold since Odyssey opened in 2000. New initiatives like the Maritime Mile are looking at the assets along the river and exploring how a joined-up approach with a focus on the visitor can benefit all the partners, celebrating Belfast's maritime heritage.

“The Odyssey is well positioned to provide a range of family leisure experiences within easy walking distance of the city centre. Visitors can avail of onsite car parking along with a range of sustainable transport options including train, bus and cycle.”

Wendy is no stranger to the benefits that working in partnership with the National Lottery can bring to organisations. For instance, the Connswater Community Greenway, another Belfast landmark, received £23.5 million lottery funding to create a 9km linear park through east Belfast for leisure, recreation and community events.

As programme manager for the Greenway from 2007-2017, she says of the National Lottery: “They are an intelligent funder, focused on outcomes and supporting community led regeneration. The Greenway was a very ambitious, transformational project and is a legacy for future generations to enjoy for many years to come.

“With over 300 projects initially bidding for the funding, we were one of three successful projects awarded significant investment by the National Lottery, benefitting the people of Belfast and beyond.”

She added: “Our plans for Odyssey and our support for further developments in the area are paving the way for a truly world class family-focused visitor destination.

“In 1999 we were not seen as part of the city. Now 20 years on we're a key part of an international tourism success story. That truly is evidence of how the National Lottery's willingness to support a vision can result in a sea change for an entire city.”


Belfast Odyssey - key statistics

• £16.7m annual turnover

• Part-funded by £45m National Lottery grant in 1997

• Currently has 155 full-time employees and 300-plus casual staff

• 286,084 visitors to W5 last year

• 598,430 visitors to SSE Arena, which last year hosted 58 concerts and 21 family shows

• Microsoft invested £1m in a new digital learning centre opening at W5 in autumn 2020

• Charitable partnership with Action Mental Health, promoted through Belfast Giants

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