A Belfast entrepreneur has launched a quirky hotel that celebrates the city’s rich literary heritage after falling in love with a beautiful Victorian townhouse on the Malone Road, thanks to help from the Go For It programme in association with Belfast City Council. The Go For It Programme is part funded by Invest Northern Ireland and the European Regional Development Fund under the Investment for Growth and Jobs Northern Ireland (2014-2020) programme.
Melanie Harrison dreamed of converting the former insurance offices – once the home of John Cleaver of Robinson & Cleaver department store fame – after moving into the apartment next door and uncovering a wealth of hidden period detail.
She has now transformed the neighbouring building at 45 Malone Road into The Harrison, a quirky and stylish 17-bedroom hotel that will include a beautiful downstairs restaurant, due to open in May.
Chair of Belfast City Council’s City Growth and Regeneration Committee, Councillor David Brooks said: “The Go For It Programme, delivered by Belfast City Council provides new entrepreneurs with accessible, free and tailored support in the start-up stage of their business in areas such as financial and business planning, and sales and marketing to help get their business up and running.
“I wish Melanie every success with this fantastic asset to the city’s tourism offer and I encourage anyone thinking about starting their own business to get in touch with the Go For It Programme.”
Melanie credits her love of travel for the decision to open her own hotel:
“When I came back from travelling, I realised what a great place Belfast is, and I wanted to tell the stories of the city and its people. That’s where the inspiration came from,” she says.
“I wanted to create the sort of place where my friends and I would like to stay, from a visitor’s point of view, and to create something that celebrates Belfast.”
Melanie fell in love with the history behind the building, the beauty of the marble columns, the bay windows and the stunning cornicing – and ended up working with her father to transform it into Belfast’s newest boutique hotel.
“It’s just realising the beauty of the old buildings we have in Belfast – we’re so keen to knock them down and modernise them, but we should realise the beauty of what we have,” she says.
As part of the refurbishment, Melanie and her father removed all the office partitions and restored the old staircases and floors. She knew that the neighbouring house had mahogany floors, so she restored the look with original mahogany floorboards that had once been in the Royal Victoria Hospital.
By the time the restoration was drawing to a close, the pandemic had arrived, but Melanie went ahead and opened in September, hosting key workers and airline staff, although The Harrison has had to close again for the most recent lockdown.
“It’s been a bit stop-start. The good thing is with being in lockdown last year, we really got a taste of what people like and the tweaks we needed to do. When I open properly, I will have perfected The Harrison and it will be bigger and better.
“Just before Christmas I was able to host guests and they really enjoyed it – even people from just around the corner were coming to stay, just to see a different four walls!”
Thanks to the Go For It Programme, Melanie accessed mentoring support from an advisor at the Ormeau Business Park who assist start-up businesses in South Belfast to help her to create a business plan.
The Go for It Programme is delivered free of charge by a team of experienced business mentors across all 11 council areas of Northern Ireland. It provides expert advice and help with developing a robust business plan to help turn ideas into a commercial enterprise.
Ormeau Business Park helped me a lot – it was great to be able to bounce my ideas off an advisor and to be held accountable on them! For anybody starting a business, Go For It opens the gateway for so many other opportunities,” she says.
“The restaurant is going to be something really special. We want it to be a destination for people to come with their family and friends and have a luxurious brunch with a beautiful Bloody Mary or Prosecco.
“It’s going to be glorious to be able to sit out on the terrace on the Malone Road and see all the passers-by.”
The restaurant is going to be something really special. We want it to be a destination for people to come with their family and friends and have a luxurious brunch.
Patricia McNeill, Manager at Ormeau Business Park said “Melanie approached the Go For It Programme with a grand design to transform a beautiful Victorian townhouse in South Belfast into a luxurious boutique hotel. We were delighted to help her achieve her dream, by offering her the support and guidance she needed to develop a business plan.
“The business plan helped Melanie to put in place a clear approach to service provision, health and safety, staffing, pricing, sales and marketing, and a two-year financial forecast.
“Melanie has done an amazing job transforming the property into a luxury hotel that truly epitomises her vision. We look forward to the day when she can launch this amazing luxurious accommodation for guests and visitors when the current restrictions are lifted.”
If you have a business idea you’d like to develop or if you are thinking about starting a business contact the Go For It Programme on 0800 027 0639 or visit: www.goforitni.com.