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AHF grants new funding to NI health, well-being and community charities

7 January 2021
Northern Ireland

Three important projects, which help to address the needs of those suffering from poor mental health, breast cancer, and one of the most economically deprived communities in NI, have been awarded Project Viability Grants from the Architectural Heritage Fund.

MYMY (Mind Your Mate and Yourself) mental health charity is aiming to acquire the mid 19th century Ardnabannon House in Castlewellan via a community asset transfer from the Department of Education and develop it into a Personal and Family Wellbeing Centre. 

Last used as an outdoor recreation centre, this former mill owner’s house, set in mature grounds, would help MYMY expand their work, beyond core counselling services, to support a whole person and  family approach by providing education, training, nutritional advice and fitness classes. They also plan opportunities for horticulture training, where people can benefit from being in the outdoors and learn how to grow (and cook) their own healthy food.  The group has until March 2021 to submit their business plan and it will use the grant from AHF to establish the social return on investment this project represents and to carry out some architectural feasibility work.

Ray Cunningham, Director of MYMY said:

"We are delighted to receive funding from AHF.  This allows us to carry out a Social Return on Investment piece, which will then feed into our overall planning.  It will give us the confidence to move in the right direction based on our community's needs."

Breast cancer charity, Knitted Knockers, plans to use part of the courtyard of the Grade A listed Brownlow House in Lurgan, Co. Armagh, for their offices and to provide a Breast Cancer Health and Wellbeing Centre to support those affected by breast cancer.  Brownlow House was the original manor house for Lurgan, built in 1833 by Charles Brownlow, 1st Baron of Lurgan.  The building played an important role during WWI and WWII as a headquarters for various military purposes, including as a base for US troops.

The main house is now owned by the Orange Order and is used as a wedding venue, a coffee shop, a WWII museum and as a community facility, but the courtyard is largely empty and is beginning to fall into disrepair.   The Centre would facilitate volunteers in a cross-community learning space, where they can develop traditional skills needed for the production and delivery of free knitted knockers (prosthetic breasts) and post-surgery kits.  It would also provide a direct access facility and a safe environment for mental health programmes which deal with body image and post-breast cancer diagnosis anxiety.

Joanne Harris, Founder of Knitted Knockers said:

"We are delighted that the Architectural Heritage Fund decided to award us a project viability grant - which will enable and help us to move forward on our plans for the future and breathe new life into the amazing Courtyard at Brownlow House. Our aim is to support and empower those affected by breast cancer and their families by opening a health & wellbeing centre for the use of our local and regional community, we will create a unique creative space, a haven to enjoy for years to come. Thank you so much to everyone at the Architectural Heritage Fund for helping us to create a community space that will enhance the lives of so many, words cannot express how much this means to our group".

North Belfast Working Men’s Club is located in one of the most deprived wards in Northern Ireland.  Constructed in 1894-1904, the building was the first working men’s club to be constructed in the north of Ireland and is still run by the organisation formed at that time.  It was created to be non-political and non-sectarian, with the intention of providing ‘healthy recreation’ for the artisan classes and their wives and sisters.  The Club was located in north Belfast due to the high numbers of linen mills and factories in this part of the city and was viewed as a ‘new departure’ for Belfast’s civic life.  A site was chosen for the building with open ground to the rear, which still remains and now serves as a bowling green. 

The foundation stone was laid by Lady Harland, wife of Sir Edward J. Harland, the MP for North Belfast, and partner in the world-famous shipbuilding firm of Harland and Wolff.  Generous subscriptions were made by local employers such as Ewart’s, Edenderry Spinning Company, Brookfield Linen Company, Combe, Barbour & Combe as well as Harland and Wolff.   

Part of the main building’s ground floor functions as an event space, but the building is largely vacant and has suffered from vandalism and neglect, with a number of broken windows and a hole in the roof, which is causing serious damage to the timber floors below.  The group is keen to encourage wider community involvement in the building, but this will rely on the building being safe and accessible for all.  The Club needs to get a grasp of the work that needs to be done and prioritise urgent repairs, which the grant will enable them to achieve.

All of these projects demonstrate how AHF’s Heritage Transformed programme in NI, funded by the Department for Communities, Pilgrim Trust and Garfield Weston Foundation, is seeking to  make a real difference to a variety of social causes and economically deprived communities by reviving historic buildings as a focal point for new activities.   

David Smyth, Secretary of the Trustees of the North Belfast Working Mens Club said: 

"All of us at the North Club in Danube Street are delighted to receive this grant from the Architectural Heritage Fund, The support of the AHF also has been greatly appreciated. For the first time we feel our historical and architectural merit has been recognised. This will be a vital stepping stone towards the restoration of our listed buildings and also to opening up their potential to the community of North Belfast. To get this award in these difficult times is heartwarming,”

Matthew Mckeague, CEO of the Architectural Heritage Fund said:

“This is a very diverse group of organisations, demonstrating the range of social and community causes we often help support. However, all are seeking to revive important but underused or out of use historic buildings that will have a significant regeneration impact on the communities around them.

We are seeking to support a number of new projects delivering similar impact over the next few months and please do visit our website or speak to our Support Officer, Rita Harkin, about how we might be able to support you.”    

Photo Credits

Ardnabannon House, Castlewellan c.MYMY

Editor’s Notes

1)      The Architectural Heritage Fund is a registered charity, working since 1976 to promote the conservation and sustainable re-use of historic buildings for the benefit of communities across the UK, particularly in economically disadvantaged areas. It is the only specialist heritage social investor in the UK, and provides advice, development grants and loans.  

2)      The Heritage Transformed programme in NI is funded by the Department for Communities, the Pilgrim Trust and The Garfield Weston Foundation.

3)      For media enquiries, please contact Rita Harkin on 07789 758080 or or Oliver Brodrick-Ward, on 020 79250199 /

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