The impact of the Historic Environment Fund Regeneration Stream

The Regeneration Stream was set out to ‘facilitate heritage led regeneration’ in Northern Ireland. £855,450 was invested in 17 regeneration projects over six years between 2017 and 2022. The majority of this was in five strategic projects while the rest related to one off projects to prepare heritage assets for regeneration.

Growing Community Enterprise Though Heritage

This strategic project was put forward by the Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF) in 2017 and has been supported for five years. It is focused on funding sustainable community-led uses in underused historic buildings. The Department is providing 50% support with partnership funding from the Pilgrim Trust, Garfield Weston Trust and AHF. The idea is to increase delivery of the AHF’s project viability and development grants in Northern Ireland via the recruitment of a project officer and investment in the related AHF reserve. This person would then seek out and work with social enterprises and charities to bring projects with historic buildings to a level where they would be viable enough to obtain funding from others - or, potentially, a loan from the AHF (the AHF was set up by the UK government in 1976 for this purpose). A key objective is to seek projects from groups who have not previously engaged with heritage. As a social investor in heritage, AHF’s focus is on areas of deprivation and vulnerable groups, thus maximising the social impacts of the funding awarded.

A key output has been the use of this work to support the development of the Village Catalyst Grant Scheme where engagement with village communities has led to projects supported by DAERA’s rural development team.

Over 32 communities have received support from the project to date.

The Heritage Development Officer Pilot

The Heritage Development Officer Pilot was a three year partnership with Derry City and Strabane District Council, who contributed 50% of its costs. The results will be shared with all of Northern Ireland’s District Councils.

The role was to act as a facilitator and catalyst for a wide number of initiatives and issues in the council area. A key lesson that emerged was the benefit of a dedicated heritage development voice within council outside of either the museum or planning divisions. Important links were developed with tourism, arts, environmental and climate change teams as well as with planning and museums. The post holder played an important role in supporting the development of major heritage conferences in the city in 2018 and 2019 and in developing a stakeholder group and, with their input, a dedicated heritage plan for the council area.

District Council heritage development support

Following on from this investment, we developed a scheme in 2021 to support and encourage all Northern Ireland’s district councils to undertake heritage development activity. This resulted in a wide range of proposals from eight councils including: funding research into the development of heritage skills; promoting public awareness of the heritage associated with municipal graveyards; and supporting heritage trails and signage. The scheme, capped at £10,000 per council, is supporting further projects throughout 2022.

Heritage at Risk project

A strategic project has been delivered in partnership with Ulster Architectural Heritage since 1993. In 2016 a 10 year milestone set down in 2006 was reached. The project aimed to remove 200 buildings from the Heritage at Risk register over the period. The target was nearly met with 192 buildings removed. The Ulster Architectural Heritage (UAH) delivered a review by 2017 and following that, HED developed a business case to consider the best way forward. This resulted in an open procurement process under the Historic Environment Fund (HEF) in 2018/19. The UAH were successful and in the following years have continued the work to record, add, monitor, and remove entries to the HAR list. They have also carried out advocacy work to highlight the issue, work with listed buildings owners, groups, Building Preservation Trusts and local authorities to develop solutions to the issues faced.

Places of worship capacity building project

This project has supported the National Churches Trust (NCT), to extend their work to Northern Ireland. It has resulted in research work, the development of a Places of Worship Forum, and the delivery of seminars and workshops. The work was well received and enabled the Trust to be successful in a bid to the National Lottery Heritage Fund in 2019. This allowed them to employ a project officer in Northern Ireland and to develop a small grant scheme. The project was also utilised to deliver £270,000 of COVID-19 Heritage Recovery funding for DfC in 2020 using the grant framework established. The Department was also able to utlise the partnership to deliver a further £200,000 of support to repair churches in 2021/22.

Other regeneration projects

Other regeneration stream projects supported individual heritage assets. St Joseph’s Church, Sailortown, Belfast, was supported in 2017 to undertake holding works to this long term building at risk including vegetation removal and the cleaning of gutters. This facilitated repair works to be undertaken in subsequent years (with the support of the Belfast Regeneration Directorate of DfC). The Follies Trust was supported to conserve and present the Murland Tomb in 2019, a longstanding building at risk with no economic value. A structural assessment of Knockdhu Southerrain was supported in 2017 to enable a community group to assess if it could be opened for tours.

Vegetation removal and research on Cappagh Church, Co Tyrone, was also supported to allow consideration of future conservation works as well as to aid future interpretation. 

Management Agreements were used up until 2016 to support owners of Scheduled Historic Monuments to undertake work to protect and maintain them. The HEF replaced this but two continued into the period and were funded under the Regeneration Stream. At Copney Stone Circles, an owner was supported in 2017 to maintain fencing around a Monument in State Guardianship. This support, which related to agreements when the site was brought into State care, has subsequently been delivered by the Division’s State Care team. At Kiltierney Abbey, an agreement providing support to an owner was honoured to maintain fencing around a scheduled monument from 2013 to 2018. This year a small funding stream has been reopened to support such management work at scheduled monuments.

The key benefit of most of this investment has been to stimulate partnerships, support the development of strategic approaches to key issues and stimulate extra funding for key aspects of our historic environment.

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