The Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF) is thrilled to announce that it has awarded MHS Heritage and Culture a Village Catalyst Project Viability Grant to advance plans to acquire the former Ulster Bank and reuse it for the benefit of the whole community, especially those most in need.
Situated in Maghera, the two-storey, five-bay building dates back to 1866. It was designed by Thomas Jackson, the principal architect of the Ulster Bank Italianate buildings that were erected all over the province in the mid-19th century. Constructed in whinstone and sandstone, the prominent B1-listed bank is one of the best surviving examples of Jackson’s work.
The bank has been a facility for the citizens of Maghera and surrounding districts for over 150 years, with the original main beneficiaries being the local business and farming community and workers of Clarke’s linen factory at Upperlands. However, in May 2022, the Ulster Bank announced the closure of the Maghera branch.
MHS Heritage and Culture was established to promote the local history, heritage, and culture of the area to the people of Maghera and surrounding districts. Keen to ensure that the former Ulster Bank continues to be of direct benefit to the local community, the group is now seeking to acquire the building and work with partners in order to address core community needs, identified through extensive stakeholder engagement. The overall vision of the project is to bring together people of all ages, religions, social and cultural backgrounds in this landmark building, thus also attracting a wider range and number of people to the Bank Square and giving the town a new lease of life.
The current proposed mix of uses includes an ATM and one day banking facility; a Money Advice and Budgeting Service; a citizen's advice and information centre; a mother and toddlers’ group; dance, yoga and keep-fit classes; a corporate events facility; domestic science classes on baking and nutrition; craft classes; residential/holiday accommodation; and a drop-in Tourist Information Centre on the gateway to the Sperrin Mountains. Through the provision of key services such as these, the project also seeks to reach out to members of the community with poor mental and physical health, and to assist in the alleviation of loneliness and depression.
The AHF grant will help to establish community needs, explore how these can be accommodated within the listed building, and to estimate overall costs for the project.
This grant was awarded as part of the Village Catalyst programme, which is an innovative partnership initiative between the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, the Department for Communities, the AHF and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. The programme aims to target rural poverty and social isolation by helping charities, social enterprises and other not for profit groups to develop sustainable uses for disused historic buildings in rural villages of less than 5,000 people.
If you would like to learn more about the Village Catalyst programme and the grants available, please visit: Northern Ireland | The Architectural Heritage Fund (ahfund.org.uk)