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15th Jan 2020 in Food & Drink

Dr Lynsey Hollywood is Manager of the Ulster University Food and Business Development Centre at the University’s York Street Campus in the Cathedral Quarter of Belfast. She leads research teams who are dedicated to making Northern Ireland’s world-class food and drink industry the very best it can be.

Dr Lynsey Hollywood – Distinguished Research Fellowship Faculty Award. (Photo: Nigel McDowell/Ulster University)

The self-confessed “food obsessive” really walks the walk when it comes to her passion for our local food and drink companies and producers, who she describes as “hardworking”, “innovative” and “dedicated to sustainability”.

Not only is Lynsey also the consumer columnist for the Irish News FarmWeek publication (also based in the CQ!), she and her fellow foodie, husband Robert Ainley, run one of Northern Ireland’s most popular blogs, Down The Hatch NI.

Lynsey has always had an interest in food and drink, so went to Ulster University to study what was then known as the BSc in Consumer Studies. During this time she won a scholarship with the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA), which brought her to the USA to work with a food company called Wawa and study at Saint Joseph’s University, which specialises in food marketing.

“That experience led to me being offered the chance to do a PhD in the area of food marketing when I returned, specifically in the dairy industry. I did that for three years, after which I had a brief stint working as a Research and Marketing Executive at the Irish News before working for a short time as a lecturer at Ulster University.” Lynsey explains.

“I then took a research post at Queen’s University for a couple of years at the Global Institute of Food Security; that’s where I really got to develop my research skills and further my knowledge in the areas of consumer knowledge, consumer behaviour and food choice.”

This led on to a five-year-long role as a lecturer in Consumer Management and Food Innovation back at Ulster University, before landing her current role at their new Food and Business Development Centre Manager.

Generation H – promoting hospitality careers in schools. (Photo: Nigel McDowell/Ulster University)

A world-leading centre of excellence, the Centre was established at Ulster University in January 2018 to promote and develop Northern Ireland’s agri-food industry, through teaching, research, and innovation support.

Lynsey’s primary responsibilities at the Food and Drink Business Development Centre are focused on its research work, including sourcing funding and supporting colleagues and PhD students with research projects.

“We’re currently running two big safefood projects; one investigating perceptions and use of meat thermometers in the home, and the other looking at food brought into healthcare settings for vulnerable patients”.

“We’re also working on a Connected NI project which brings together three local food companies to explore how to generate value from their waste. Working with Copeland Gin, Longmeadow Cider and Graham’s Bakery in Dromore in collaboration with Southern Regional College, we’re exploring creative ideas for reusing waste, including the possibility of turning it into, for example, a new food product or something totally new, like a soap.”

Lynsey also supervises PhD students, who come from a variety of academic disciplines, but all have food at the centre of their research. Some are looking for digital solutions to problems in the food industry, others are exploring the social issue of food poverty and another group have focused on creating new products from an underused type of fish called blue whiting.

Working with Ards and North Down Borough Council on their Food Destination Strategy

“The other aspect to my job is teaching,” continues Lynsey, “We are currently developing a masters in Food Design and Innovation, targeted at those already in the industry wanting to develop their skills in the area of consumer behaviour, research and food choice as well as digitisation, whether that’s social media or the digital processes within your company. We aim to launch that in the autumn of 2020.”

From marketers to operations managers to artisan producers, the course will give professionals in Northern Ireland’s food industry a major skills and knowledge boost in the areas of consumer behaviour, innovation and digitisation of processes.

Last year Lynsey also became a columnist for her former employer The Irish News, writing about consumer insights for FarmWeek. “I never lost touch with them; they are a great company to work for. They were revitalising Farmweek to appeal to a younger audience and also get farmers to think beyond the farm gate and who they were producing the food for, so they asked me to write a monthly column on consumer trends and insights, and what’s happening within the food industry.”

Seriously impressive stuff, however, Lynsey has recently taken on a job which may be her most important one to date – as Mum to baby Hugo who arrived in July 2019! While she is on maternity leave, her colleagues Prof Una McMahon-Beattie, Dr Ruth Price and Dr Amy Burns have taken over her role at Ulster University managing the safefood projects.

Looking back at a CV which encompasses the food and drink industry, its consumers, marketing, and media – not to mention Robert’s media background as producer at U105’s Frank Mitchell Show – Down The Hatch NI seems like the natural way for all of Lynsey’s areas of expertise to dovetail, but its creation was given a nudge forward by a cheeky student…

Robert and Lynsey after a meal in Hadskis

Lynsey explains: “A few years ago I had to develop a new module in the area of food and media and at the time blogging was the latest phenomenon. I had to learn fast about it and I was challenging the students to create and write their own blogs. One student challenged me back, saying ‘How can you mark this when you don’t do this yourself?’

“At the time I had just started dating Robert and we’d discussed the fact we both loved food and drink, and that most of our dates took place in restaurants, so in May 2016 we decided to start a blog together.”

“It started out as us just tweeting about our dates and where we were eating and tagging in the restaurants. Then in January 2017 we actually developed a website for Down The Hatch NI and in 2018, we won the NI Best Food and Drink Blog at the DANI Awards.”

Lynsey agrees that her work informs her blog, and likewise her experience as a blogger feeds into her work. She believes Hugo’s arrival could bring another element to the mix. “We’ll have to bring him up to be a foodie!” she jokes.

They have been creatively inspired by parenthood, as well as by “local food hero” Jilly Dougan, the creator of the Sow Grow Munch initiative which teaches kids in schools about growing, cooking and eating local.

“We’re exploring a few ideas – we want to inspire the next generation to care about food and where it comes from. Maybe a podcast for kids or a book for kids? We’ll keep thinking, but it’s something we care a lot about.”

As well as thinking of the next generation of Northern Ireland foodies, parenthood has given Lynsey a brand new experience of eating out. She has become acutely aware of the challenges of going out for food or a coffee – baby changing facilities for one has become a must as well as space for a pram, and not all of our cafes and eateries cater for those needs.

Licensing regulations do not allow licensed premises, including restaurants, to have children on site after 7pm, so this restricts the meals and blogger events they are able to enjoy.

Lynsey is keen however, not to paint a negative picture and has had a positive experience as a new mum eating out in the Cathedral Quarter.

Lynsey enjoys a post-work dinner with the girls at Buba

“I had my first post-baby coffee in The MAC and it is very family-friendly with lots for older kids to do – Hugo isn’t quite ready for the play area yet! I’ve had great experiences at the Academy Restaurant too – it’s on the ground floor and very spacious which is important when you have a pram with you.”

The Academy Restaurant is the University’s teaching restaurant, staffed by the hospitality and culinary students, it offers fine dining that is also wallet-friendly which makes it a great option for lunch or dinner during term time.

Lynsey also rates Bunsen Burger and Made In Belfast as young-family-friendly, as well as The Merchant Hotel. “On my birthday we went for afternoon tea in The Merchant and I got my nails done, and the girls in The Merchant were phenomenal at helping to look after Hugo.”

Enjoying a meal with University colleagues at Made In Belfast

So although she is officially on maternity leave from Ulster University at the moment, Lynsey and Robert continue to update Down The Hatch NI’s channels on their foodie (and family!) adventures.

You can follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The Down The Hatch NI website is down for maintenance at time of writing – but we will update this article when it’s back up and running.

Join in Down The Hatch’s #NIFoodieChat over on Twitter and make sure to include the #CQBelfast hashtag if you’re enjoying some delicious food and drink in the Cathedral Quarter!

If you’re also a keen foodie, you’ll be delighted to know that Belfast Restaurant Week is back next month from 17 to 23 February, with loads of your favourite CQ eateries taking part! Give Belfast Restaurant Week a follow on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and look out for more delicious details on this website!

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