Open House Festival Bangor is taking the next step in its quest to turn the town’s former Court House into a permanent venue, by launching a public crowdfunding scheme.
The iconic listed building is one of the few remaining Victorian structures on Bangor seafront. Empty for nearly five years, it is in urgent need of repair, and the non-profit charity wants to transform it into a thriving arts and entertainment hub at the heart of a new ‘creative Bangor’. But they need to raise £30,000 for urgent works.
“Our plan is to get into the building on a short-term lease, do the basic repairs, and start using it as soon as possible for regular events and activities,” says Festival Director, Kieran Gilmore. “After an initial 18-month lease, we aim to acquire full ownership through Community Asset Transfer and continue restoring the building to its former glory. If it goes ahead, this will be the first full transfer of a building at nil cost since the launch of the CAT policy in Northern Ireland in 2014. But we need at least £30,000 to get the building into a functioning state.”
The campaign has already received its first donation – a cheque for £2,500 from local business, The Dunlop Group. Presenting the cheque, Edwin Dunlop OBE, former Chairman and co-founder of the Dunlop Group of companies with his brother, Alan, said: “This is a hugely significant move towards the regeneration of Bangor. We’ve already seen Open House Festival achieve tremendous change for the town, and I hope the entire community get behind their extremely worthwhile campaign.”
“The Dunlop Group heard about our plans and immediately made an extremely generous donation to kick-start the campaign,” says Kieran. “Hopefully it will be the first of many. We’ve built up a strong presence in the town over the past five years, and hope that lots of people who buy tickets, attend our events and generally support the festival will donate something, however small, towards our new venture.”
Built in 1866 as a branch of the then Belfast Bank, the Court House became Bangor’s magistrates court in the 1950s, and has been empty since its decommissioning by the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Service in 2013. Open House Festival first announced plans to acquire the building in April of this year when it applied to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for a grant of £3.1million to restore and extend it. Whilst that initial funding application was unsuccessful, the NI Courts Service remained keen to progress the project and has continued to work with Open House to secure access.
“Not securing the initial funding from HLF was disappointing, but it allowed us to focus on what we knew would really work in the space,” said Kieran. “We are still proceeding with a follow-up application, but in the meantime, we just need to get the door open, and literally stop the roof from falling in. The longer the building is left empty, the more run-down it becomes. We can’t wait to bring it back to life and provide the people of Bangor with a really special permanent Festival venue.”
Development Trusts Northern Ireland (DTNI) Chair Nigel Kinnaird said: “This is a great example of a small but committed community organisation using imagination and local goodwill to save a public asset and help change their town for the better. DTNI is delighted to be working with Open House Festival on this project, and hope that this will provide a template for other similar projects in the future.”
The August Open House Festival will still take place, but a re-purposed Court House will enable the charity to programme regular music, film, theatre, comedy and other trademark hand-crafted events all year-round.
Donations can be made via the Open House website, with a range of incentives being offered for various amounts. Anyone donating £25 or more will be listed on a special Thank You Wall once the initial work has been completed, whilst donations of £250 or more will receive an invitation to an exclusive dinner party in the Court House once it opens.
“As with many such crowdfunding initiatives, we have created several remuneration ‘scales’,” explains Kieran, “however all donations, whatever the amount, will be gratefully received. We hope that the biggest reward for people will be the chance for them to help save a cherished seafront building and turn it into a thriving permanent festival venue we can all be proud of.”
The campaign goes live today. To make a donation, go to openhousebangor.com.