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Be Inspired Series

Colin Hassard

Customer Services Offical And Arts Ambassador
Ulster Bank

Ulster Bank is the proud sponsor of the Belfast Festival at Queen’s. A team of bank employees also double up as arts ambassadors to promote the arts and make them accessible to all.

What does your role as an arts ambassador entail?

I’m an employee of Ulster Bank which sponsors the Belfast Festival. When Ulster Bank gave its staff the opportunity to work as Arts Ambassadors, I immediately said yes as I have always been a big fan of the Festival. I’m also involved in the Festival as poet John Copper Clarke’s supporting act so it all fitted perfectly. What’s great about being part of the Arts Ambassador team is that we all work together to make sure people are looked after and enjoy themselves. And of course it’s fun to be part of Northern Ireland’s growing arts scene, on stage and behind the curtain!

Is it 9-5?

My work at Ulster Bank is mainly 8am to 4pm but my work as an Arts Ambassador has no fixed schedule. Outside of my regular working hours, I focus on promoting the arts, and of course on my poetry and on rehearsing.  Being an Arts Ambassadors gives me the opportunity to share my passion for the arts with the public and to discover the richness of what the Festival has to offer. I look forward to the Joe Strummer talk on tomorrow (Saturday) afternoon, which will hopefully relax me before my performance. My nerves have been playing up ever since my parents bought tickets to see me!

How did you get into this kind of work (arts ambassador/poetry)?

As a teenager trying to break into the music writing business, it didn’t take me long to realise that this wasn’t my calling, so I moved on to poetry and discovered this was something I truly enjoyed. My poems have been well received and I’m delighted to have progressed to where I am today, as John Cooper Clarke’s supporting act at the Festival. Becoming an Arts Ambassador for Ulster Bank felt like a natural step. Over the years I've helped out at and seen many great shows including The Buzzcocks, Harry Hill, Elvis Costello, Michael Palin and Ray Davies at this year’s festival. It has been thoroughly enjoyable to be a part of, and gain an inside look at, one of Europe’s biggest Festival’s.

Outline your career to date

I graduated from the University of Ulster. At that time I was playing guitar in a band and freelancing as a music journalist but I wanted and needed a more structured role.  I saw the opportunity come up to work at Ulster Bank and I knew I had to go for it. Not long after that I heard about poetry open mic nights happening in Bookfinders Cafe (near Queen’s). The minute I stepped in I was swept away by the excitement of those nights and by the warmth between poets. After performing at various venues around Belfast I won the opportunity to represent Ulster at the All Ireland Performance Poetry Final in Dublin in 2010. Since then I've gone from strength to strength, winning the Belfast Culture Night Poetry Slam and the Belfast Book Festival Poetry Slam in 2011. This year I won the Belly Laughs Festival Comedy Poetry Slam judged by Nuala McKeever. In addition I joined a performance poetry group called Voica Versa who have performed, amongst other places, at Sunflower Festival and a sold-out Black Box gig as part  of the Belfast Festival. This year I’m performing at Queen’s White Room, across the road from Bookfinders where my journey first started.

Tell us about your qualifications/training

I’m a qualified journalist, with a BA Hons in Media Studies and a Post Graduate Diploma in Media Studies.

What qualities are required for your work – personal and professional?

There are a lot of common qualities required for my work at Ulster Bank and my role as an Arts Ambassador: you need a strong sense of contact with the public, to be articulate and personable. In work I lead meetings so I need to be able to keep people engaged and entertained. Some people I work with might say that I just try and look like I know what I'm doing… but really, I do know what I’m doing!

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

"Let it flow" from my friend and fellow Belfast Fest performer Seamus Fox. He was All Ireland Performance Poetry Champion in 2009 and has been like a guru to me. From him I've learnt that you can go searching for the poems, but the best ones are the ones that find you.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I'm a huge football fan, in particular Northern Ireland. I was proud of the performance of the lads over in Portugal recently (in a World Cup qualifier) and hope we can get 9 or 10 points from the next few home games & have a real go at qualifying.

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.

One of my poems 'Norn Iron' is being used in a big screen feature film due for release next year. The film is called 'Made in Belfast' and stars Ciaran McMenamin in the lead role. A video for this poem is available on YouTube.

Who has inspired you the most in your life?

Noel Gallagher. In one of my recent poems which I’ll be performing on Saturday, 'Teenagers of the Nineties', I write about how the band Oasis inspired me to play the guitar & write songs which eventually led to writing poetry. And that band opened my ears to timeless music like Bob Dylan, the Beatles & the Clash. I might not get to be a rock’ n’ roll star now, so a rock’ n’ roll poet will have to do!

Catch Colin supporting John Cooper Clark on November 3 in The White Room at Queen's University Belfast.

Part of the Independent News and Media group