Historic Environment Fund Repair Stream
There are only 145 known thatched buildings with an exposed historic roof remaining in Northern Ireland - a very significant loss from the estimated 30,000 such buildings in the 1950’s. All of the remaining historic examples, with the exception of three significantly altered or extended buildings, are listed buildings. This protection, combined with enhanced grant aid from the Department over many years has largely halted their decline. The buildings tend to be private homes, small by modern standards and significant rethatching work (around £20,000) is required every seven years on average. Apart from areas where they might find an economic use as tourism lets, they are therefore unlikely to be sustainable as a building type without outside support. These buildings are a key but vulnerable part of our heritage which the Repair Stream has helped to sustain.
The bar chart shows investment in the three priority categories of the stream over the six years of the Historic Environment Fund (HEF). Some of the buildings that were on the Heritage at Risk register where owners had eligible benefits were also thatched.
All of this investment has maintained listed buildings for the future and ensured that the historic character they provide to their surroundings has been sustained.
Less money than in the past has, however, been available to support private owners to carry out ongoing repairs. That is why maintenance is so important. While this has always been the case, in an era where less support is available, early intervention is key to minimising the costs associated with managing a historic building.
Historic monument repairs
Repair work to historic monuments has proven less easy to encourage through the framework of the Historic Environment Fund than work to listed buildings. Even when 80% support was offered for repairs, only four schemes applied to be supported over the initial four year period. Unlike listed buildings, there is often no economic value to be derived for private owners from investing in repairs to historic monuments.
Those that did proceed often had significant community interest. The £7,400 conservation scheme at Holywell Church in Co Tyrone necessitated the phased removal of ivy before undertaking works to stabilise the masonry. It received excellent feedback from the local community who were concerned at the potential for loss of fabric at this scheduled site.
In more recent years we have reverted to an historic approach of direct engagement with owners of the most at risk monuments. In 2021 we supported the conservation of the Abbacy near Portaferry. The only example of this type of structure in Northern Ireland, it had suffered a significant collapse in the previous year.