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Townscape Heritage Initiative preserving the Walled City for future generations

15 October 2018

A heritage led regeneration project, responsible for the repair and restoration of over 30 historic buildings in the city centre has been nominated for the Best Major Regeneration of an Historic Place at this year’s Northern Ireland Heritage Angel Awards.

The Walled City Townscape Heritage Initiative is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and was founded by the Foyle Civic Trust to help create a unique sense of place in the city centre and an appreciation of the city’s built heritage.

The Heritage Angel Awards seek to celebrate the efforts of people who go to extraordinary lengths to protect, save and share their local heritage and will be held in the Guildhall on Tuesday November 6th.

A carefully selected panel of judges are deciding on the winners in each category and members of the public can cast their vote for their choice from the shortlist online until Friday October 19th at www.heritageangelawards-ni.org.uk.

Ronan O’Donnell, Project Officer at the initiative explained the historical context of the formation of the initiative at the turn of the millennium.

“Derry is synonymous with its 17th century historic walls and siege however today’s Walled City reflects much more than a single event or point in time,” he noted.

“As a city with a clearly defined sense of place, the role of the buildings in and around the city walls are critical in defining who we are and how we have grown as a community.

“Imagine the context of the city of Derry in the late 90s, the legacy of the recent troubles had been the destruction and loss of many of the historic buildings which formed the streetscapes in and around the Walled City of Derry.

“Repair works to buildings did not always take cognisance of architectural style and detail nor respect the historic origins of the city.

“Repairs were perceived to be a short term measure with owners always aware of the possibility of further damage or destruction. It was against this backdrop that the Townscape Heritage Initiative scheme emerged.”

Keen to preserve the city centre for future generations and to develop a longer term strategy for the regeneration of the city centre, the Foyle Civic Trust successfully secured the funding that allowed the initiative to be formed.

“The Foyle Civic Trust were a group of committed individuals who recognised the distinctiveness of our built heritage and the need to preserve and pass this on to the next generation,” Ronan continued.

“They became aware of the opportunities arising from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Townscape Heritage Initiative grant scheme and after countless hours of voluntary labour and sweat, they prepared a submission and were eventually awarded a grant of £1 million to deliver regeneration within the Historic Walled City Conservation Area.

“Initial success in securing the grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund led to the development of the Walled City Partnership Limited, comprising the Foyle Civic Trust, the former Derry City Council and the City Centre Initiative along with support statutory bodies, all working together to create a fantastic city centre to visit, work and live.

The first scheme ran from 2002 to 2010 and benefited 15 properties to the tune of £4.5m, including the former Northern Counties Hotel Premises in Waterloo Place.

A second Heritage Lottery Fund award of £1.67 million was secured in 2010 leading to the repair and restoration of a further eighteen properties and a further investment into the city centre of £5.85 million.

“The THI scheme has been an exemplar of conservation led regeneration and is recognised by many as the standard for the careful, considered approach to the repair, restoration and regeneration of historic properties within and around the Historic City Conservation Area,” Ronan added.

“Facts and figures disguise the true impact of the projects upon individuals and community building.

“One impact of the scheme, which has probably gone unnoticed by most, has been the removal of external shutters from all Townscape Heritage Initiative properties.

“Not only does this action improve the appearance of the properties but also enhances the animation and vitality of the streets beyond normal working hours presenting a more welcoming feel for both visitors and citizens alike.

“The first external shutter was removed in 2004 and since then all projects through the scheme have been completed without external shutters influencing other projects throughout the city to do likewise”.

A carefully selected panel of judges are deciding on the award winners in each category and members of the public can cast their vote for their choice from the shortlist online until Friday October 19th at www.heritageangelawards-ni.org.uk.

Tickets for the awards ceremony are free and booking is online at www.uahs.org.uk/events.

The event will also celebrate ‘Heritage in Song and Word’, where local artists including Brigid O’Neill; Glenn Patterson; Eilidh Patterson and Eoin O’Callaghan will perform material around the heritage theme.

The Awards are funded by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation; Derry and Strabane District Council and the Department for Communities.  An overall UK winner will be selected and celebrated at the London ceremony on Tuesday 27th November.