The Court House
Bangor Court House is an iconic Victorian listed building, in a prime location on the seafront of Bangor, County Down, that has been empty since March 2013 when it was decommissioned by the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Service.
The building dates back to 1866, the year after the railway arrived in Bangor, when it was built as a branch of the Belfast Banking Company, with accommodation for the Bank Manager’s family.
Over the last 150 years, the building has charted the town’s changing fortunes, and in recent years has become a stark symbol of Bangor’s economic and social decline.
Where we’re up to
Good news wasn’t really a thing in 2021, especially for the arts sector. But we ended the year on a high as, after a seven-year journey and plenty of false starts, we finally started work on restoring the Court House.
In 2014 Festival Director Kieran Gilmore joined up with local voluntary group Bangor Shared Space who were campaigning to save the building, but the group eventually passed the baton to us at Open House Festival. As of Monday 14th December 2020, Open House became the new owner of this beautiful B2 listed building. After raising £1.5m to fully restore it and turn it into a much needed venue, building work began at the start of September 2021.
We are aiming to open the doors in Autumn 2022.
The Court House
As part of our ambition to support the regeneration of the town through festivals and events, we plan to transform the building into a permanent home for the Festival, and a much-needed multi-purpose venue serving the town.
Contactors went on site in September 2021, and are making great progress. We expect the work to take around 12 months. We plan to restore the building to its former glory, creating a venue with three flexible indoor performance spaces, and potential for open air events in the rear yard.
As part of the Belfast Region City Deal, Ards and North Down Borough Council have submitted a bid to enhance Bangors seafront and re-connect the town centre with two miles of coastline from Skippingstone Beach to Ballyholme. Included in this bid, called the Bangor Waterfront Masterplan, there is a plan to develop into the rear yard of the Court House, building a major extension that will house a much larger multi-purpose venue.
Community Asset Transfer
It’s been a long and complex process to raise the money and secure the ownership of the building, with many setbacks and disappointments. But we’ve done what no other organisation has done before. This is the first transfer of a Government owned building in Northern Ireland under the Community Asset Transfer (CAT) scheme. The former Court House is valued at £180,000 but we’ve been given the building forever for just £1 under this CAT scheme. We hope that, with the difficult lessons learned and relationships established with Government departments, this will unlock the process for other transfers to take place.
The transfer was confirmed by Justice Minister Naomi Long on 14th December 2020, who popped down to Bangor make the handover in person. She said:
“I am delighted that the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Service has been able to ensure a building of such architectural significance like this can be transferred and contribute to the regeneration of Bangor’s iconic seafront. I have no doubt it will be a real asset for the festival and also the people of Bangor and North Down.”
The Court House team (left to right): Clyde Markwell, Michael Dunlop, Kieran Gilmore, Paul Watson, Alison Gordon
Kieran giving volunteers Ros and Mary a tour of the Court House pre-renovation
Thanks to a crowdfunding campaign, we raised an initial £70,000 from local people. This was the springboard to secure the rest of the £1.6m which we needed towards the restoration and redevelopment, as follows:
National Lottery Heritage Fund – £949,900
Dept for Communities – £310,838
Garfield Weston Foundation – £135,000
Arts Counil NI – £99,563
Ards and North Down Borough Council – £50,000
Swire Foundation – £24,950
Architectural Heritage Fund – £13,750
Ulster Garden Villages – £5,000
Crowdfunding and public donations – £70,000
Among the organisations who contributed to our crowdfunding campaign were Barclays Bank, who organised a Court House charity ball in April 2018, which was supported by many local businesses and individuals. Thanks also go to North Down Athletic Club, Flatliners MCC and Bangor Community Kitchen who all organised fundraising events. Heartfelt thanks to the many local businesses who contributed to the cause either through cash donations or sponsorship support.
Donations large or small are gratefully received. If you would like to know more about our campaign before you make a donation, please feel free to contact Festival Director, Kieran Gilmore at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Bank Managers Son
Originally built as a branch of the Belfast Banking Company, the building contained a banking hall and a family home for the Bank Manager and his family. It was only converted to a court house in 1954. Watch our interview with Peter Osborough, the son of the last bank manager, who recalls living in the building as a teenager.
Interview with Open House Founders Alison & Kieran
Kieran and Alison founded Open House 23 years ago and here they sit down with Chairperson Stephen Dunlop to talk about the Court House, how it’s progressing and their plans for the next 12 months.
The Court House Sessions
Thanks to support from Arts Council NI, we recorded a series of video performances showcasing some of Bangor’s very best musical and literary talents – including The Florentinas, The Darkling Air, and Colin Bateman.
This was a chance for us to show you the interior of the building before the full restoration project began, and to celebrate the wealth of talent we have on our doorstep, something we haven’t been able to do for a while!
Court House Sessions - The Florentinas
Opened on 1st January 1866 to accommodate the expanding population resulting from the arrival of the railway in 1865, the original building was the third largest branch in Northern Ireland of the Belfast Banking Company. It is a two-storey, five bay building in the Italianate Classical style.
History Through Postcards
Alan McMullan is an avid collector of Bangor postcards and has amassed a collection of over 2500 in the past eight years. Working with other collectors and museums, including the North Down Museum, he has also compiled the only photographic index of Bangor postcards which currently stands at 3900 cards and their variations [Nov 2021]. From this collection he has compiled a history of the Bangor Court House from 1890 to present day.