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Bring Your Next European Conference to Belfast – An Interview with Associate Professor Nick Gee 

EAPRIL (European Association for Practitioner Research on Improving Learning) held their annual conference in Belfast from 22nd – 24th November 2023. EAPRIL brings together those interested in the crossroads between research and practice but also between education and professional learning. Their annual conference offers activities allowing to interconnect and exchange research and experiences with fellow researchers and practitioners across a variety of fields within education. 

With our unique offering for Integrated Education 27 EAPRIL delegates visited 4 local schools of integrated education: Cranmore Integrated Primary; Malone Integrated-College; Glengormley Integrated Primary and Glengormley Integrated College. Each school Principal provided guided tours of their schools and spoke about the Northern-Irish educational system and local educational practices. EAPRIL delegates found this incredibly inspiring as the Integrated education system is something new for most of the EAPRIL delegates and they were impressed with the attention for the individual student and inclusivity. 

The conference welcomed 430 delegates, most of which were from outside Northern Ireland. The main conference venue was the iconic, centrally located Assembly Buildings. Built in 1905, in the style of a Scottish Baronial Castle, this historic and ‘one of a kind’ conference and meeting venue is capable of hosting a conference from 2 to 1150 delegates. Following an £8 million refurbishment in 2010 and a further multi-million pound re-development of the ground floor space in 2018, the facility offers state-of-the-art technology in a historically rich setting. The Assembly Buildings Conference Team have a long track record of delivering international, national and local conferences across a wide range of sectors and you will not find another venue as unique as this in Northern Ireland. 

An interview with Dr. Nick Gee, EAPRIL Chair, on his experience of Belfast as the host destination of their annual conference: 

  1. What were the deciding factors in choosing Belfast for your conference? 

Whenever we are looking to bring our conference to anywhere, we’re mindful that we’re bringing around about 35 different nationalities. We are bringing lots of people who have maybe never visited the cities that we choose before. Therefore, we look for somewhere that’s warm & welcoming, somewhere that’s new, fresh, open to new ideas and perhaps a bit inventive. And as soon as we landed in Belfast, we knew we’d found the place. The infrastructure is perfect as we could get to here and there from more or less anywhere.

     2. How has your experience been in working with the team at Visit Belfast  in the lead up to your event?

Fabulous. We’ve only run a handful of conferences before where we’ve not had an academic local organising committee, and this was one of those times. This partnership [with Visit Belfast] has been every bit as successful as any university we’ve ever partnered with. Anything we’ve needed, the team at Visit Belfast have known what we needed. They’ve been able to introduce us, link us up with suppliers, hotels, different areas of the city. But also, even though Visit Belfast is not itself an academic organisation, they still have links with the academic organisation. It was a match made in heaven, really. It was brilliant.

3. What would you say to anyone considering Belfast for a European Conference? 

Don’t consider it, do it. Stop considering and get over here. Once you visit, your decision will be made.

4. What has been the highlight of the event for you so far?

My highlight of the event so far has been seeing so many happy faces. What I really like to do as a chair of an international conference is to see people enjoying themselves, to hear those rich conversations that are happening, to hear the laughter, to make sure that everybody feels comfortable, safe and that they’re enjoying the surroundings. So that’s the highlight for me as a Conference Chair.

As an individual, I just love the atmosphere of the place, just soaking everything in. I know we’re coming near to Christmas, so there’s all the extra Christmas things which are really exciting, but I listen and I see all around that there’s just a real positive buzz about the place and that’s what fulfils us the most.

5. Can you describe Belfast and Northern Ireland in 3 words?

Beautiful. Welcoming. Progressive.

6. As part of your conference you ran educational visits, you went and saw some of our integrated schools here. What were the delegates takeaways and what do you think will be the lasting legacy of those visits?

The takeaways from the delegates will be something that they remember for the rest of their lives and careers. We organise school visits all over the world and we have done for  many years. But the school visits that we’ve experienced here in Belfast have been really, moving. The take home points have been because of that progressive nature that I mentioned. People don’t understand necessarily what integrated education means, what shared education means. And the school visits that were selected for us really gave everybody the insight as to what it is to actually coeducate and to bring people together. Our delegates were completely moved by that, more so than just visiting any other school anywhere else. I think it surprised a lot of people. I think it challenged perhaps some preconceptions about what shared education might be or might look like. And also coupled with the keynote that we had, Professor Joanne Hughes from Queens University, where she presented a really balanced view of where the positives are and where the challenges still remain. And that, for an educator, is perfect because it helps to inform the rest of their academic career and think about their teaching as well. Because although the segregation and separation is different in different contexts, the ethos that the schools here are practicing every day can inform on the work of all of us. So it was a real privilege to be able to visit them.

Visit Belfast provides free and impartial advice and support on bringing your next meeting, conference, event or incentive to Belfast and Northern Ireland.

If you are looking to host your next conference in Belfast, contact the Business Events Team on  to see how we can help.