Northern Ireland

Open House Festival transfer deal for Bangor courthouse

Bangor courthouse Image copyright Alison Gordon
Image caption Bangor courthouse was decommissioned by the NI Courts and Tribunal Service in 2013

A 150-year-old County Down courthouse is set to be transferred to an arts charity with a view to regenerating the building as a community facility.

Bangor courthouse at Quay Street has been unused since it was decommissioned by the NI Courts and Tribunal Service in 2013.

The building is to be leased to the Open House Festival for 18 months.

It will then be transferred to their full ownership subject to proof of sustainability of their business model.

Alison Gordon, manager of the Open House Festival, said it would be the first 'nil cost' transfer of a property of its kind in Northern Ireland.

"We have an 18-month lease, that will be a development phase where we will do urgent repairs and start using it as a festival base," she said.

Former glory

"We are working up a detailed plan for the full restoration of the building, so we hope that work will then start at the end of the 18-month period.

"The restoration will take the building back to its former glory, there is a lot of work to be done both inside and outside.

"This is the first nil cost community asset transfer in Northern Ireland.

"This happens all the time in the rest of the UK, but although there is legislation here for community asset transfer, this is the first one to make it over the line.

"It is exciting and hopefully we will be able to help other organisations through their process."

Image caption The building served as a magistrates' court for more than 60 years

Full restoration of the building is expected to cost about £500,000, and Ms Gordon said the charity aimed to submit plans for approval during the lease period.

"It would then be used as an office base for the festival and other local enterprises," she said.

Pop-up restaurant

"The idea is that there would be two small performance bases for a year-round programme of events, with music concerts, small theatres and spoken word events.

"There would also be pop-up restaurant nights.

"There is a large rear yard enclosed by a beautiful old stone wall that would make a nice open-air or partially covered area for artisan markets and concerts etc."

Image caption The Department of Justice is transferring the building

Open House Festival has secured funding for the first phase of redevelopment of £111,206 from various sources including the Heritage Lottery Fund, Architectural Heritage Fund, Ulster Garden Villages, crowdfunding and a charity ball.

It will seek further funding as part of the second phase of redevelopment.

Bangor decline

"The building has charted the town's changing fortunes since Victorian times," Ms Gordon added.

"It is currently a symbol of the town's decline in recent years, like many seaside towns, but we hope it can be a symbol of the town's future."

Image copyright Open House Festival
Image caption The interior of the former court building

The Department of Justice, which is transferring the building, said the facility would "contribute to the regeneration of the Bangor seafront area, while creating a hub for community activities, which will allow Open House Festival to extend its programme of events in a permanent base".

Acting chief executive of the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Service, Peter Luney, said he was sure that the "transfer and regeneration" of the building would "bring this piece of history back into use for the benefit of the local community for years to come".

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