BANGOR COURT HOUSE
Bangor Court House is an iconic Victorian listed building, in a prime location on the seafront of Bangor, County Down, that has been empty since March 2013 when it was decommissioned by the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Service. The building dates back to 1866, the year after the railway arrived in Bangor, when it was built as a branch of the Belfast Banking Company, with accommodation for the Bank Manager’s family. Over the last 150 years, the building has charted the town’s changing fortunes, and in recent years has become a stark symbol of Bangor’s economic and social decline.
Good news wasn’t really a thing in 2020, especially for the arts sector. But we ended the year on a high as, after a five-year journey and plenty of false starts, we’ve finally been given the Court House. And we’ve raised £1.3m to fully restore it.
In 2014 Festival Director Kieran Gilmore joined up with local voluntary group Bangor Shared Space who were campaigning to save the building. The group passed the baton to us at Open House Festival. As of Monday 14th December 2020, Open House is officially the new owner of this beautiful B2 listed building.
As part of our ambition to support the regeneration of the town through festivals and events, we plan to transform the building into a permanent home for the Festival, and a much-needed multi-purpose venue serving the town.
- After a tendering process we expect contractors to go on site by April 2021, with work finishing around 12 months later. We plan to restore the building to its former glory, creating two flexible performance spaces, plus office space for small creative businesses and potential for open air events in the rear yard.
- As part of the Belfast Region City Deal, Ards and North Down Borough Council have submitted a bid to enhance Bangors seafront and re-connect the town centre with two miles of coastline from Skippingstone Beach to Ballyholme. As part of this bid, called the Bangor Waterfront Masterplan, there is a plan to develop into the rear yard of the Court House, building a major extension that will house a much larger multi-purpose venue.
Community Asset Transfer
It’s been a long and complex process to raise the money and secure the ownership of the building, with many setbacks and disappointments. But we’ve done what no other organisation has done before. This is the first transfer of a Government owned building in Northern Ireland under the Community Asset Transfer (CAT) scheme. The former Court House is valued at £180,000 but we’ve been given the building forever for just £1 under this CAT scheme. We hope that, with the difficult lessons learned and relationships established with Government departments, this will unlock the process for other transfers to take place.
The transfer was confirmed by Justice Minister Naomi Long on 14th December 2020, who popped down to Bangor make the handover in person. She said:
“I am delighted that the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Service has been able to ensure a building of such architectural significance like this can be transferred and contribute to the regeneration of Bangor’s iconic seafront. I have no doubt it will be a real asset for the festival and also the people of Bangor and North Down.”
Thanks to a crowdfunding campaign, we raised an initial £70,000 from local people. This was the springboard to secure the rest of the £1.3m which we needed towards the restoration and redevelopment, as follows:
- National Lottery Heritage Fund – £854,900
- Dept for Communities – £250,000
- Garfield Weston Foundation – £100,000
- Ards and North Down Borough Council – £50,000
- Ulster Garden Villages – £5,000
- Crowdfunding and public donations – £70,000
Among the organisations who contributed to our crowdfunding campaign were Barclays Bank, who organised a Court House charity ball in April 2018, which was supported by many local businesses and individuals. Thanks also go to North Down Athletic Club, Flatliners MCC and Bangor Community Kitchen who all organised fundraising events. Heartfelt thanks to the many local businesses who contributed to the cause either through cash donations or sponsorship support.
Donations large or small are gratefully received. If you would like to know more about our campaign before you make a donation, please feel free to contact Festival Director, Kieran Gilmore at email@example.com