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Secret Belfast

Cloud created by:

Joel Kerr
29 March 2013

Joel Kerr’s design narrative: Secret Belfast


Having just moved to Belfast after three years of university in England I wanted to know more about what the city was about. There was plenty of publicity for the commercially viable activities but I had heard Belfast had a particularly vibrant ‘underground’ social scene and I wanted to learn more about that. 


As I was new to the city I had no contacts that could teach me accepted practises of the social scene or introduce me to the community so I realised social networking would play a key role.

Following a few failed attempts at websites and blogs I discovered a Facebook group called ‘Secret London’ which aimed to unearth the lesser known locations and events in London. I decided to set up a similar group for Belfast. After a few friends joined and a link to the group appeared in their activity feed, friends of friends joined out of curiosity. The group soon went viral and membership grew in thousands.

The description in the Facebook group was to share your Belfast secrets so we could learn from one another. Very soon members were posting news of events, favourite restaurants, creative groups and other projects. They were starting their own discussions in the forums and my role went from influencer to moderator, as the group took on a life of its own.

Due to press interest my role further evolved to organiser as I went from someone on the periphery of Belfast to someone who was considered an expert on what was going on. I got the opportunity to work with local creatives to organise events unearthing talent or activities in ‘secret’ locations. The group moved from Facebook to include Twitter, a blog and a YouTube channel.

The common goal of each of the key players was to facilitate innovation within Belfast and foster creativity in it’s many forms. We each had something unique to offer and we learnt from one another to advance ideas as opposed to achieving goals.

Everyone played a role whether they were an expert in their field, someone who like to spread the word or simply someone who wanted to do something a bit different.


The aim was to learn what was unique about Belfast. Every city has big shopping centres, nice restaurants and trendy night spots but they do not contribute to the personality of the location.

Success would be knowing all the things to do and the people involved with them. 


The actions:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Experimentation
  3. Discovery of an existing practise that could be replicated
  4. Taking action. This can cause embarrassment as you might mess up through trial and error or people question your motives and laugh at your efforts. Keep plugging on!
  5. Successful implementation The project was much more successful than I had anticipated. It required a lot of time and effort in moderating forums, answering questions, facilitating debates, speaking to the press and reacting to peoples requests for collaboration
  6. Growth There were a number of additional social channels that I could take advantage of in order to engage more people
  7. Collaboration The project would’ve fallen flat on its face without enlisting expertise from existing projects, and organisations.
  8. Innovation In order to continue engaging people I had to come up with ideas to spark their interest

The obstacles:

  1. Abuse Giving people open access can lead to inappropriate posts. I found that a few sharp words was a better alternative to deleting the posts. It soon stopped
  2. Spam Popular online forums are susceptible to unwanted sales pitches. Eventually I had to lock down access and approve people who genuinely had something to share
  3. Expertise Because it was my group people assumed I had all the answers so I had to enlist relevant experts


Expected outcomes: 

  1. Learn more about the personality of the city
  2. Learn about the lesser known events and activities
  3. Meet the people involved in these events and activities

Unexpected outcomes

  1. Expertise in using social media
  2. Expertise in organising events and promoting them via social media
  3. Experience dealing with the media
  4. Learning new skills from local experts (videography and audio production)
  5. The ability to quickly launch new projects using my acquired knowledge and influence
  6. The ability to help other creatives promote themselves for free


By acting on my initial curiosity I not only learnt about the city I live in, I became proud to be associated with it and found myself in a position to influence its development from a grass roots level.

I have replicated the process a few times to varying degrees of success. Each time I used the same format:

  1. An intriguing title
  2. A focused message
  3. A manageable use of social media
  4. The right tone of voice
  5. The ability for users to actively influence the progress

The one obstacle I haven’t managed to overcome is people’s suspicion at why Secret Belfast is free for them to use, they assume there will be hidden costs.

Extra content

Embedded Content

Healthy Eating Learning Outcomes (Compendium)

Healthy Eating Learning Outcomes (Compendium)

Accessible Alternative
added by Joel Kerr

Healthy Eating Design Narrative (Compendium)

Healthy Eating Design Narrative (Compendium)

added by Joel Kerr

Healthy Eating Design Narrative (PPC)

Healthy Eating Design Narrative (PPC)

Accessible Alternative
added by Joel Kerr


angela bonehill
4:33pm 10 April 2016

What a fantastic idea Joel,

I have been of searching secret palces near where I live and I also shared the page with my family, I'm originally from Belfast an still have lots of relatives there.

What a great learning exerience for you too and something you can share with others too

I love it

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