Dear friend of the festival,
Some time ago we adopted Creating a Creative Town as our motto – a reflection of our driving motivation to regenerate Bangor through arts and culture. You may have heard us mention this if you’ve been to a Festival event.
As an extension of that ambition, we’re excited to reveal that we have applied to the Heritage Lottery Fund for £3.1 million to restore and develop the former Court House on Bangor seafront. We want to return the existing building to its former glory and in doing so provide a permanent home for the festival, as well as space for other local creatives. We also have plans for an ambitious new extension to the rear of the Court House that will house a multi-purpose performance space and enable us to present a year-round programme of events in Bangor. The Heritage Lottery application is a two-stage process, and we’ll know if we’ve made it to the second round by the end of June.
The initial groundwork was done by local voluntary group, Bangor Shared Space, who first approached the Department of Justice (who own the building) with the idea of a Community Asset Transfer – a scheme to bring empty public buildings back in to civic use by transferring ownership to community based organisations like Open House Festival. Bangor Shared Space passed the baton to us last summer, and we have been rigorously developing our own plans and ideas ever since. If successful, this will be the first Community Asset Transfer in Northern Ireland.
Built one hundred and fifty years ago as a branch of the Belfast Bank (later the Northern Bank) the building became Bangor’s magistrates court in the 1950s and was listed as Grade B2 in the 1970s. It has been empty since it was decommissioned by the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Service in 2013.
At the beginning of this week, the English social designer, Wayne Hemingway MBE, paid us a visit to hear our plans for the Court House. The creator of fashion brand Red or Dead, Wayne has become a leading activist in seaside town regeneration. He has been involved with major projects in Margate, Bournemouth and Lowestoft, and was appointed Urban Design Champion for Perth’s 2021 UK City of Culture bid following his role in Derry’s successful 2013 bid.
This wasn’t Wayne’s first visit to Bangor as he has teamed up with local developer, the Karl Group, to submit a tender for the redevelopment of Queens Parade and the Marine Gardens. He’s almost as excited by the potential benefits to Bangor of our Court House redevelopment plan as we are.
“The Court House could provide a fantastic cultural hub for the town,” he said. “Open House Festival is something really special and unique for Bangor, and this project will add a beautiful bookend to our own plans for a rejuvenated Bangor seafront. This is a once in a life time opportunity for the town, and we believe that Bangor could be to Belfast what Brighton is to London.”
We’re thrilled to have someone of the caliber of Wayne Hemingway turn his attentions to Bangor – and to our own future plans.
If we make it through to round two of the Heritage Lottery Funding process, we’ll proceed to a development phase, which could take up to two years. If that stage is successful, work on the building could potentially begin around mid 2019, with completion late 2020.
We’ll keep you posted, and hope to see you all in August for the festival.
Director, Open House Festival