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Former BBC journalist Austin Hunter dies

Very saddened to learn of the death of former BBC colleague and friend, Austin Hunter, in an accident in Bahrain. A true professional, Austin remained calm in the most stressful situations and covered stories from the troubles in Northern Ireland with the utmost sensitivity and respect for all involved. It was always a joy to spend time in Austin’s company whether in a work situation or socially.  Northern Ireland has lost a great journalist and a great human being. He’ll be sadly missed.

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The former BBC journalist and News Letter editor Austin Hunter has been killed in a traffic accident in Bahrain.

The First Minister Arlene Foster has said she is shocked and deeply saddened to hear of Mr Hunter’s death.

Mr Hunter was well-known to the public as a television and radio reporter with the BBC in Northern Ireland.

He later was appointed as director of media and public relations with the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Mr Hunter had also served in a senior role in the BBC Northern Ireland press office.

In a statement, the Hunter family said they were “absolutely devastated at the loss of a loving husband, father and grandfather”.

Mrs Foster said Mr Hunter was “held in the highest regard by all who knew him”.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness described him as a “very good journalist and nice man”.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt, who worked as a journalist with BBC and UTV, said Mr Hunter was a “great journalist” and “superb human being”.

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Mr Nesbitt said Mr Hunter had been “very encouraging” when he began his career at the BBC.

Peter Johnston, Director, BBC Northern Ireland, said Mr Hunter was “a true professional”.

“He demonstrated his great skill as a journalist on the frontline of reporting of some of the toughest times in Northern Ireland and throughout his BBC career he also gave generously of his time and knowledge to encourage others,” he said.”He will be sadly missed by so many colleagues.”

Former colleagues of Mr Hunter at BBC Northern Ireland and across the media have also paid tribute.

Kathleen Carragher, Head of BBC News NI, and former colleague said she was “deeply saddened and shocked” by Mr Hunter’s death.

“He was passionate about Northern Ireland, the people and the politics and it informed all his work,” she said.

“He worked for many years for BBC NI, through some of the worst days of the Troubles and established his reputation as a fine broadcaster. He helped many young journalists in Northern Ireland develop their careers and he will be deeply missed by all who knew him.”

Andrew Colman, former Head of News and Current Affairs at BBC NI, said Mr Hunter had reported on “many of the most difficult and challenging circumstances” of the Troubles “with great compassion and integrity and won the respect of all”.

“He was a very fine journalist,” he added.

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Austin Hunter (far right) at a press conference in the company of former RUC chief constable Sir John (known as Jack) Hermon

News Letter editor Alistair Bushe said Mr Hunter’s leadership skills had helped “lead it out of a difficult period” and he had maintained an affinity for the newspaper.

“He was a hugely respected and well liked figure across the media industry in Northern Ireland,” he added.

Head of the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s corporate communications department, Liz Young, said Mr Hunter had “brought a wealth of skill, professionalism and experience to the organisation”.

In recent years, Mr Hunter had travelled around the world sharing his expertise with other countries.

He was in Bahrain working for the not-for-profit organisation Northern Ireland Co-operation Overseas (NI-Co) when he died.

NI-Co chief executive, Graeme McCammon, said Mr Hunter was a “highly-valued member of the team”.

“We will remember him for his outstanding talent, principles, compassion and his commitment to change,” he said.

“Austin was recognised and respected worldwide as an expert in his field and his knowledge and opinions were greatly valued by all who knew and worked with him.”

Mr McCammon said Mr Hunter had been in Bahrain advising on the implementation of youth justice reforms.

Source: BBC News



Starting a successful business. (Case study)

Catherine Cunningham: The Present Tree

cs_toptips_catherinecunninghamThe Present Tree in County Antrim sells gift-wrapped trees as luxury organic gifts.

Catherine Cunningham, founder of The Present Tree, explains how combining her love of trees and design has helped her to start and grow a successful business.

Since launching her business in 2013, Catherine has developed an online shop and is now shipping trees to customers throughout Europe.

Here, Catherine highlights the importance of market research, creating an efficient team and being passionate about your business.

Source: nibusinessinfo.co.uk



The salesman who could afford a Ferrari when he was 24

By Will Smale
Business reporter, BBC News

For a mobile phone salesman who was so successful he was able to buy himself a Ferrari for his 24th birthday, Jacyn Heavens didn’t have the most auspicious of starts.

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Jacyn’s career as a salesman really took off despite a slow start

Three years earlier, in 2004, after previously working in insurance, he had got his first job selling the handsets.

And things did not initially go well for the man from Norwich, in the east of England.

“Before I started I’d talked my way into doubling my basic salary, but the only problem was that I then had to do the job,” says Jacyn, now 33.

“It was boom time for mobiles, but it wasn’t working for me, I couldn’t get one sale. One day the boss said to me, ‘Get out of the office, and don’t come back until you have a sale.’

“So I drove to an industrial estate, sat in my car and cried. I phoned my mother to say ‘I’m useless, I need to jack this in.'”

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Not many 24-year-olds can buy themselves a Ferrari

Thankfully for Jacyn, he decided to tough things out. Instead of quitting he devised a strategy to succeed.

Today the founder and boss of Epos Now, the UK’s 13th fastest-growing technology business, Jacyn is still quick to come up with ways to get around the unforeseen problems that all businesses face.

‘Financially secure’

Back in 2004, his dilemma was very simple – he was trying to sell mobile phones to businesses, would spend all day cold calling firms, and they would always say no.

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Epos Now currently has 260 staff

Then Jacyn says it dawned on him that the reason no-one was interested was because their existing contracts weren’t due for renewal.

So instead of trying to sell phones in the first instance, he would instead ask companies when their current contracts were due to run out.

He’d write this down, and soon built up a long list of forthcoming renewal dates.

Phoning back at a time when firms were indeed looking to upgrade their handsets, Jacyn says he started to win order after order.

“I was 500th out of 500 members of staff on the sales list, then all of sudden I was 200th, then 50th, then number one,” he says.

Working for a company in East Anglia at the time, he was soon headhunted by a rival mobile phone business in London.

Jacyn says his meticulous planning meant that his sales figures continued to boom, and he raked in commission payments.

So much so that by his 24th birthday he was “completely financially secure”, and treated himself to a brand new Ferrari.

But two years later he decided to quit the world of sales. “I was little burned out, I decided I’d go back to Norwich and just chill out,” he says.

“I’d reached the pinnacle in sales, I’d done everything I could do, so I thought I’d open a bar with a mate.”

‘Stacked against us’

Opening his bar in Norwich in 2009, Jacyn says he soon discovered that he had a woeful lack of knowledge regarding the finances of running a small business, despite his parents owning their own pub.

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Jacyn (left) says he was woefully inexperienced to run a bar

“I didn’t really understand profit and loss, VAT and payroll. And was I a limited company, or a sole trader? I didn’t know.

“But the biggest problem was that while we were making money, we didn’t know where it was all going. When we sat down and went through everything, we realised there were a lot of costs we hadn’t factored in – suppliers, telecoms, broadband, cleaners etc.”

To better get to grips with the bar’s cash flows, Jacyn realised that he needed to get an epos (electronic point of sale) system. This is a computerised till system that typically has a touchscreen and software that enables a retailer to easily check all in and outgoings.

After checking the prices of such systems, Jacyn says he found that they typically retailed for about £6,000, which he thought was far too expensive for him and thousands of other small firms.

He immediately recognised that there was a business opportunity to produce a version for less than a quarter of the price.

So, selling the Ferrari and remortgaging his house, Jacyn decided to enter the epos marketplace.

Importing the hardware from China, and paying to download a software system, Epos Now was born in Norwich in 2011.

Retailing for £1,000, sales soon boomed, with the company advertising on Google, paying “5p a click” whenever someone in the UK typed in the word “epos”.

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Epos Now initially bought in its software system, but then had to quickly build its own

However, a year later Jacyn says the business faced a significant problem when its then software provider pulled out.

Epos Now had to quickly find and employ its own software designer, and it was able to stay in business.

“Everything was stacked against us,” says Jacyn. “But I was all in by then, everything was in.

“You never know if you are going to be successful [when you start a business], but you just have to make a real run at it and overcome any problems.”

Cash offer

Today Jacyn says Epos Now is turning over £17m a year, and it has entered the US and German markets.

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Epos Now’s offices have the typical technology sector amenities

The company had planned to open its American office in Silicon Valley, but Jacyn says it was far too overpriced, so instead the business’s US operation is based in Orlando, Florida.

Looking ahead, technology journalist and IT consultant Adrian Mars cautions that epos firms such as Epos Now face ever growing competition from cheaper competitors, driven by big falls in the price of the hardware.

However, Jacyn says he is confident that Epos Now – of which he owns 100% of the shares – will achieve an annual turnover of £100m in five years’ time.

“Everyone is offering me money for the business, last year I was offered £50m in cash,” he says. “But I don’t do this for the money, I do it because it is fun. I enjoy the negotiations, the deal making.”



The young entrepreneurs trying to help South Africa’s townships

By Gabriella Mulligan
Business reporter, Cape Town

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Lance Petersen’s radio station now employs 16 people

Lance Petersen sits in his radio studio and chats into his microphone.

While most DJs of his age let the music do the talking, the 25-year-old very much likes to converse with his listeners.

Lance is the founder and owner of Vibe Radio SA, an internet radio station based in the Cape Town township of Athlone.

Set up in 2011, Vibe is aimed at South Africa’s teenagers and young adults.

With listeners across the country, it engages with them on topics ranging from bullying, to HIV/Aids, fashion, and advice on becoming an entrepreneur.

Lance says: “The point of Vibe Radio is to provide a platform that focuses solely on the youth voice, and gives young people the opportunity to say what’s on their mind, and be heard.”

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More than half of South Africans live in townships

He adds that the radio station was born from his own frustration at the lack of support given to young people in South Africa, and the failure to make them heard on a national level.

“The scariest realisation I had was that the young didn’t have a voice, or were seldom heard,” says Lance.

“It was at that realisation that I knew I had to find a way to start my own radio station.”

A former TV producer, Lance set up the station using his own savings, and support from a Cape Town-based social enterprise called Reconstructed Living Lab (RLabs).

Vibe now has 16 employees, and makes money from advertising.

With the youth unemployment rate in South Africa standing at 37.5% (for people between the ages of 15 and 34), job opportunities are few and far between for many of Vibe’s listeners.

As a result, much of the station’s focus is on discussing how young people can best go about launching and running their own businesses.

Lance says the aim is for this always to be done in an interesting and entertaining way, or as he calls it – “edutainment”.

So for example, in a recent discussion about becoming a concert promoter, and how the cost of each ticket breaks down, he discussed a tour by teen heartthrob Justin Bieber.

Numerous challenges

Another young entrepreneur from a Cape Town township, Andisiwe Nyavula, says that young people in her community need access to basic business services if they are to create self-sustaining companies. So since 2012 she has taken matters into her own hands.

Ms Nyavula, 25, is the founder of Nzum Nzum, a chain of three business centres cum internet cafes that offer photocopying, printing and faxing, company registration, and web access to those trying to get their start-ups off the ground.

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Andisiwe Nyavula offers a range of business services

The prices range from five South African rand (35 cents; 27p) for 30 minutes of internet access, to one rand per page of photocopying, and 80 rand for 10 business cards.

About 3,000 people use the centres per month, which are located in the Cape Town townships of Nyanga, Phillipi and Gugulethu.

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There are now three Nzum Nzum centres in the Cape Town area

But as much as Ms Nyavula tries to make a difference, she admits that there are many challenges facing township entrepreneurs that also need to be addressed, such as the high crime rates, rogue landlords, and unhelpful service providers.

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Many people rely on Nzum Nzum centres to access the internet

“It took more than three months to install a reliable connection at our new internet cafe,” she says. “And if there’s a problem it takes more than two weeks to fix it.

“The townships have long been shunned by big businesses.”

‘Incredible individuals’

The World Bank estimates that more than half of South Africa’s 53 million population lives in townships and other informal settlements.

With that many potential customers, South Africa’s townships should by rights be looked upon as potential economic hotspots.

But attention tends to focus on the negatives, and little notice is given to the economic success stories hiding within South Africa’s sprawling townships.

“There are incredible individuals with amazing ideas and grassroots businesses that they run in the townships,” says Craig Dumont, a member of the management team at RLabs.

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RLabs offers training to would-be business owners

RLabs, which receives government grants to fund its work, provides would-be township entrepreneurs with training and support.

From its main hub in a Cape Town township, since 2008 it has been an incubator for more than 50 start-up companies, and has seen thousands of entrepreneurs – including Vibe Radio’s Lance Petersen – walk through its doors and receive business support.

According to Mr Dumont, not only are township entrepreneurs innovative and determined, their knowledge of local needs gives them an advantage over corporate South Africa.

“Township entrepreneurs have a deep understanding of their environment, the challenges, and their target audience,” he says.

‘Uplifting people’

Based in the Kayamandi township on the outskirts of the affluent Western Cape town of Stellenbosch, some 50km (30 miles) east of Cape Town, Loyiso Mbete is the type of businessman that Mr Dumont would say deserves more credit.

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Loyiso Mbete says township businesses should be given more credit for the vital role they play

Mr Mbete, 36, is a beekeeper who owns more than 400 hives and employs three people.

He jokes that demand for his honey and related services – such as fruit pollination – is so high that he struggles to keep up.

“I came from a poor family so there was always a need to make it in life,” says Mr Mbete. “I had no choice but to find ways and means to make ends meet.”

He adds: “It is important to understand that those businesses active in township are feeding the poor and uplifting people out of poverty. They also help create employment, so they are making a big contribution to the South African economy.”

While many businesses in South Africa’s townships complain that they don’t get enough help from the authorities, the Western Cape Government says that in recent years it has greatly increased the support on offer.

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Loyiso Mbete provides work for three people

Alan Winde, its Minister for Economic Opportunities, says that over the past two years more than 2,000 small businesses based in townships across the province have been assisted by a scheme called the emerging business support programme. This provides financial management, sales and marketing training.

He adds: “Regions across the province, including townships, are vibrant spaces for innovative small businesses.”

Source: BBC Business



Crafted with love: Northern Ireland guitar makers take centre on world stage

By Francis Gorman
BBC News NI

Northern Ireland can punch above its weight in sport and entertainment, but it is also known on the world stage for its guitar makers.

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Music to the ears: Northern Ireland has honed a reputation for hand-crafted guitars

That story starts with George Lowden. He put local guitars on the global map.

“When I started in 1974, I had no idea where it would lead,” he said.

“If someone had said to me, ‘In 40 years’ time, your guitars are going to be selling all over the world,’ I would have laughed.”

George now employs about 20 people in Downpatrick, County Down, making high-end instruments that sell for thousands of pounds.

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George Lowden put local guitars on the global map

It is a successful business, but he feels the government could do more to help with apprenticeships.

“If I was building something else other than guitars, then I would be able to find young people to bring in to apprentice who would already have had some basic training, “he said.

“It’s very hard to do that because the woodworking industry and the cabinet-making industry in Northern Ireland have virtually died out.”

Avalon guitars in Newtownards is another name on the global guitar stage.

Company boss Stephen McIlwrath said they take pride in their hand-crafted product.

“The Irish guitar makers are really sticking to the principles of hand crafting,” he said.

“A guitar maker is different from a machine. He has a brain; he has eyes; he has ears. He can see what he is doing to the wood. He can hear what he is producing.

“You are really getting a much better quality instrument rather than the machine-made stuff.”

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Michael Britt found his dream job at Avalon in Newtownards

Avalon shares the building with a guitar school called the Lagan Lutherie School, run by Sam Irwin.

One of the students is Michael Britt from San Diego. He gave up the day job as a government inspector in the Navy to follow his dream. It brought him to Newtownards.

“I looked up the best lutherie schools in the world and this was one of the top ten schools that came up,” he said.

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Hand crafting a guitar in Antrim

In Antrim, Dermot McIlroy has been making his own guitars for about 16 years. He used to be a carpenter but he got fed up getting paid off every winter. Now, he is busy all year round.

“In January, I will make calls to the shops around the world,” he said.

“I’ll ask what they want for the next year or two. They give me orders right through for the next several years and then that is the order book closed and we know that we are in full employment.

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Dermot McIlroy set up his company in Antrim 16 years ago

“That’s the way it has worked for the last 16 years.”

The instruments these three companies make are not cheap.

They can cost thousands of pounds but the high price is a reflection of a high quality and reputation in the world of guitars.

Source: BBC Business



Only two problems to be solved when going to the moon.

This is part one of a series of six articles specifically commissioned and scripted for ‘one minute’ radio slots. They were written and narrated by John Callister and broadcast a number of times.

Neil Armstrong once said, “There are only two problems to be solved when going to the moon. The first is how to get there, and the second is how to get back. The key is, don’t leave until you have solved both problems.”

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It was in 1961, that US President, John F Kennedy, made his famous declaration, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”

When Kennedy set the goal, complete with time frame, no one knew exactly ‘how’ it was going to be achieved. But they started preparing as if it was going to happen, and it DID happen.

Maybe there’s a lesson here that too often we’re reluctant to set the goal because we don’t know how it’s going to be achieved. Maybe there are times we need to move forward in faith, believing that the HOW will be found as we do.



JUST RELEASED – THE STORY OF FRIENDS IN THE WEST AND THE AFRICAN CHILDREN’S CHOIR

I recently spent some time with Ray Barnett, founder of the African Children’s Choir, in Portstewart, Northern Ireland, where he was born. Ray has recently updated and re-published two books that were written more than three decades ago, but are more relevant today than ever.  

Ray_Portstewart_op Ray, (March 2016) enjoying a visit to one of his favourite places – Portstewart Strand, N. Ireland, a stones throw from where he was born.

By normal standards, Ray could have retired and put his feet up around fifteen years ago. Instead, he feels compelled to do what he can to bring prayer and practical support to displaced and suffering Christians around the world. These books, ‘Where The Brave Dare Not Go’ and ‘Uganda Holocaust’, are a means towards that end. They have just been released on Amazon.

Ray Barnett is well known as the founder of the African Children’s Choir, who have been the subject of a recent award winning feature documentary shown in cinemas around the US and they also played a major role in Gary Barlow’s “Sing” which was commissioned for the Queen’s Jubilee celebration. For this, they were filmed in Africa with Gary Barlow as he developed and rehearsed the song with their help. The choir also performed live at the spectacular Buckingham Palace celebration event that was beamed live around the world.

It’s a lesser known fact that The African Children’s Choir was formed as a project of ‘Friends In The West’, the first organisation that Ray founded. The original books focused on the early activities of Friends In The West, when Ray was working to help Christians who had been imprisoned for their faith in the former Soviet Union. Attention was then directed towards Africa when it was learned of the plight of thousands of children who had been orphaned in fighting there. Christians were suffering and were under threat of death by the Idi Amin regime in Uganda, so that’s where Ray headed at great personal risk to his own life. It was also here that Ray experienced what could only be described as miracles and divine interventions. One of the outcomes was The African Children’s Choir, which is still doing a great work, more than thirty years later.

Born in Portstewart and raised by foster parents in Coleraine, Ray left Northern Ireland in his late teens to study at a Bible College in Canada. Although he lived in Vancouver, he has always regarded Northern Ireland as home and has frequently visited over the years. Portstewart Strand holds a special place for him since from here he can literally see his place of birth. This is a location Ray has come to in the past when he has been at one of those crossroads points, where he needed to pray and seek guidance for challenges he was facing and for the next chapter of his life.

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Ray is at one of those junctures once again. He feels he’s being called to a new phase which will be less about being the CEO of organisations, and more about sharing his experiences of the past and encouraging and mentoring a younger generation.  His greatest desire is to do everything he can to help the current crisis that affects Christians around the world who are suffering  – especially those who have had to uproot from their homes and are currently displaced. Ray believes that when things are critical as they are today, God is calling every Christian to be part of His answer.  That essentially means prayer and action, and believing for divine intervention and miracles. Ray fervently believes that miracles will happen when we are obedient to the call to “think of those who suffer as if you shared their pain”. (Heb13:3)

Friends In The West has been highlighting some of the current stories of suffering of the Christian family around the world.  Often these go unreported in the secular media, so it’s important that the Christian community is kept informed with regard to some of the things that Christians and other groups under attack are facing. This is not just for the sake of information alone, however, but that we will stand in prayer and support of our brothers and sisters who are suffering.

Ray believes the Christian community can draw encouragement from the stories in his books from events of thirty years ago. These in turn can help shape a strategy as we face difficult situations in the future. In the past, miracles solved problems that appeared to be unsolvable. Hearts were changed in the most hardened and unlikely people. Battles were won without killing anyone and without resorting to military might. Love overcome hate and good defeated evil. These are the central stories of the books Ray is re-publishing, with the underpinning message being that the difficult situations we are facing today in the worldwide Christian community, requires us to learn how situations can be changed through the power of prayer.

If you feel a burden for Christians who have been displaced and are suffering hardship because of their faith, then Ray would love to hear from you. It would be a huge encouragement just to know that there are others out there who are willing to pray and act as doors open up. He would also love to hear your story, no matter where you’re at on your journey. Maybe he could offer a word of advice or encouragement. And if you have a prayer request, we have partners who would love to pray for you.

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Why not drop Ray an email at ray@friendsinthewest.com.  Also, Ray is now available for interviews either by telephone, SKYPE, or in person at your studio or office. If you have a connection with a publication or radio or TV outlet, why not get in touch and arrange for Ray to tell his story and encourage a wider audience.  Ray will be visiting Northern Ireland during May 2016 and may be available for local meetings or to share at your church. So do get in touch. He’s looking forward to hearing from you.