Record loan period for NI social lender
A squeeze on the public purse has led to an increase in borrowing by Northern Ireland community or social businesses.
Lending organisation the Ulster Community Investment Trust (UCIT) has just had the busiest period in its 16-year history.
Eighteen projects, some creating new jobs, have received loans totalling £2m in the first three months of 2017.
UCIT chief executive Harry McDaid said the increased activity "comes at a time when public funding is tightening".
The loans, ranging from £20,000 to £220,000, are for businesses which have a social or community purpose and do not normally attract capital from banks.
Mr McDaid said UCIT was "plugging a gap".
UCIT is Northern Ireland's largest social finance lender and also manages Invest NI's small business loan fund.
One of the projects it backed recently is the Foundry in east Belfast - office space and support for business start-ups.
It is operated by East Belfast Enterprises and is a base for 60 small businesses, including website designers.
Its chief executive Jonathan McAlpin said its aim is to help people "in an area of high unemployment and social deprivation".