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Proposed circus school at the former Cathedral School in Derry. Credit - John McCloskey.
Proposed circus school at the former Cathedral School in Derry. Credit - John McCloskey.

Heritage Regeneration Projects in Derry Receive AHF Support

15 May 2023
Northern Ireland

The Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF) is pleased to announce that it has awarded grants to three different community-led heritage regeneration projects in Derry. These include two Project Viability Grants through the Heritage Transformed in Northern Ireland programme and one Village Catalyst Project Development Grant. Proposed plans for the successful projects include regenerating a former school as a circus school, restoring a historic fort and its surroundings for community use, and transforming a former convent school into a ‘Centre for the Common Good.’

You can learn more information about these projects below.


Image: The Cathedral School. Photo courtesy of In Your Space Circus. 

Cathedral School

In Your Space Circus

With St Columb’s Cathedral as its striking backdrop, the Grade B+ listed former Cathedral Primary School was built in 1891 to the designs of the prolific local architect, John Guy Ferguson. The Flemish Gothic style school, with its corner circular stair tower, is located in the Historic City Conservation Area and the Cathedral Quarter of the City. It is also one of just five buildings that exit directly onto the old City Walls. Until the early 1990s, the school provided a space for education, social activities and community life. It later merged with Carlisle Road and First Derry to form the Fountain Primary School. However, having since lost its use, the building has fallen into a state of disrepair.

In Your Space Circus (IYSC) is a circus school and performance company, which plays a key role in the cultural landscape of Derry city and the region. Both IYSC and the Cathedral are keen to breathe life back into the former Cathedral School and regenerate it as a circus school, offering children, young people, adults and artists a space to learn, play and create. It will be a multi-use arts centre, with a key focus on circus education, lifelong learning, good relations, health and wellbeing, street theatre development and collaborative arts practice.

The AHF Project Viability Grant will fund a conditions survey and architect’s drawings, as well as help IYSC to obtain overall construction costs.


Image: Culmore Fort. Photo courtesy of Culmore Community Partnership Ltd.

Culmore Fort

Culmore Community Partnership Ltd

Due to its strategic location, Culmore Fort has witnessed many historic events that have shaped the history of Ireland and the establishment of the city of Derry. Most of the original fort, which dates back to 1600, was destroyed in 1688. Today, the tower and associated ramparts and ditch remain. The Grade B+ listed fort, which sits in a prominent and salient position on the River Foyle, is currently closed to the public, and is being used as a storage area by Lough Foyle Yacht Club.

Culmore Community Partnership, Culmore History Group and Lough Foyle Yacht Club want to explore the potential of restoring Culmore Fort and the surrounding land for community use, creating employment and volunteering opportunities, as well as providing new services to address the needs of the most vulnerable in this socially isolated area. Specifically, they would like to develop the site more fully to deliver mental health and wellbeing support for young people, and engage with the Yacht Club and the Sailability charity to provide sailing experience and training for young adults with learning difficulties. They also plan to enhance the scheduled earthen ramparts and ditch, improving access to the river/pontoon in the process.

The AHF Village Catalyst Project Development Grant will help cover professional fees to progress plans for this project.


Image: The Convent. Photo courtesy of The Playhouse Theatre (North West Play Resource Centre). 

The Convent

The Playhouse Theatre (North West Play Resource Centre)

The Convent is a group of three-storey, brick-built, late-Georgian buildings. No.10-14 Pump Street was originally built around 1780 as the Kings Arms Hotel and later became the St. Columb’s College seminary. In 1848, The Sisters of Mercy established a convent school in the building, which remained in use until 2005. No.16 Pump Street was built around 1830 as the offices of Londonderry Sentinel and was acquired by the Sisters of Mercy in 1880.

The Playhouse Theatre, which aims to empower people and support peaceful change through the arts, is interested in developing this Grade B-listed site into ‘A Centre for the Common Good’ - a mixed-use campus bringing together people, partners and practices from the fields of culture, climate, peacebuilding and care to work towards social and cultural wellbeing. The Centre would encourage cross-disciplinary collaboration, a circular economy model, and invite local residents and visitors to engage in learning, cultural experiences, community building and social activism.

The AHF Project Viability Grant will enable The Playhouse Theatre to undertake an initial viability exercise, funding a condition survey, helping to establish broad costs and carry out stakeholder engagement. They can then make informed decisions about the opportunity, risk and effort in developing a ‘Centre for the Common Good’.

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