This week saw the first sod cut at the launch of a £400,000 refurbishment scheme for Culmore’s Victoria Hall.
The scheme, which will be overseen by Culmore Community Partnership, will transform the derelict former Orange Hall into a fit for purpose multi-services hub for the local community.
Culmore Community Partnership (CCP) was established to address the general lack of community services in the immediate area.
Located on the periphery of the city and adjacent to Donegal, Culmore is unique. Its topography is both urban and rural; its people are a mixture of long-time residents and a growing number of new residents and it has long-standing cross-community traditions. It also stands to be impacted significantly in the event of Brexit.
Cathal Crumley, Secretary of Culmore Community Partnership, said: “Perhaps because of its geographic location, Culmore has historically been overlooked in terms of the provision of services, exacerbated by the absence of a venue for such provision.
“A significant start in addressing this legacy begins with the £400,000 refurbishment scheme of Victoria Hall.”
Following a series of consultations with local people who raised the need for community services and facilities, CCP identified the vacant Victoria Hall as a potential venue for the proposed multi-services hub and began an engagement with the hall’s owners, The Honourable The Irish Society. Like CCP, the Irish Society was keen to see the building used for the betterment of the Culmore area.
CCP worked with the Greater Shantallow Area Partnership to develop a Business Plan for Victoria Hall and succeeded in bringing together a unique partnership of funders who have agreed to provide the capital for the project.
The funders are The Honourable the Irish Society (HIS), Derry & Strabane Rural Partnership, Derry City and Strabane District Council (DCSDC), the Department for Communities (DfC) and Northside Development Trust.
CCP Chair, Neil Doherty, said: “The refurbished Victoria Hall will become the base for a much-needed multi-service hub. Culmore’s geographic location and limited public transportation mean access to amenities is challenging. Social isolation is a serious issue.
“Children and youth, lone parents, the elderly, and the disabled are just a few of the groups on whom the lack of local facilities and services impacts greatest in terms of community life, inclusion, health and wellbeing, and overall quality of life.”
He continued: “The newly refurbished hall will also help Culmore build a connectedness with the other urban electoral wards and residents within the Ballyarnett DEA, and cross border organisations such as Muff Community Development Co-op based at St. Mary’s Community Hall. In addition, this development will help provide a platform for Culmore to play an active role in the development and delivery of the DCSDC’s Ballyarnett DEA Strategic Growth Plan.”
These sentiments were echoed by the hall’s owners. Edward Montgomery, Secretary of The Honourable The Irish Society: “The Irish Society is delighted to play its part in seeing the Victoria Hall project come to fruition. Through the Culmore Community Partnership, the local Culmore people have highlighted a clear need for a community hub which can be used by all age-groups and especially the most vulnerable and isolated. As a significant project funder, we will continue to work with all the partners in this important project to ensure that is delivered at the earliest possible date.
“Victoria Hall is an important building historically and it will be very pleasing to see it developed into a resource which will benefit the local and wider communities around this part of Derry-Londonderry.”
CCP’s plans for the hall have received positive feedback from both the community and its other main funders. Mary Hunter, Deputy Chair of Derry & Strabane Rural Partnership commented: “Derry & Strabane Rural Partnership is delighted to fund this new facility - one of the first large capital projects to be funded under the Rural Basic Services Scheme in the council area.
“The purpose of the scheme is to support the delivery of absent services in rural areas and this project will make a significant contribution to addressing the lack of community facilities in a village which has grown considerably in recent years and is still expanding. Our grant of £244,749 will also help breathe new life into the derelict Victoria Hall as well as creating a vital hub for the local community.”
DfC concurred at the launch. A spokesperson said: “The Department for Communities welcomes the development of this multi-service community facility that will help to meet the need for accessible services for the residents of Culmore village and the wider Culmore area. The redevelopment of Victoria Hall is a good example of Community Planning in action with Central Government working in partnership with the council and the community to deliver a better quality of life for local residents.”
CCP have appointed a Capital Project Team consisting of funders as well as the Architect led team (Gravitas Architecture) and contractor (W Doherty Construction Ltd) to oversee the refurbishment.
Further down the line, a range of service delivery organisations will contribute to the development of the multi-services hub which will provide inclusive, accessible, integrated, shared services for all local people but particularly for those most vulnerable and isolated.
Mr Crumley said: “The delivery of outreach services to the hub by a number of delivery partners operating within the Ballyarnett DEA will help meet the multi, varied and cross-community needs of residents; and the new facility will enable existing groups to develop and expand their social, recreational, heritage and culture programmes and activities which will help mitigate social isolation, improve the mental health and wellbeing of residents, combat rural poverty, build good cross-community relations, improve quality of life, and build social cohesion.”
It is hoped that the newly refurbished Hall will be open before the end of the year.