Designation of Randalstown as a Conservation Area
The first mention of the plan to apply for Conservation Area status for Randalstown appears in ARCHES’ minutes of 4th July 1995 although approaches had already been made to the Department of the Environment through the Randalstown Historical Society.
In September a DOE representative visited the group and indicated that the Department looked favourably on the application and would be happy to work with the group to achieve conservation area status for Randalstown as a typical 19th century small Ulster town. It was unanimously agreed at the meeting to proceed with the designation.
In the following months much background work was done to progress this and in May 1996 confirmation was received that Conservation Area status had been granted.
An official designation ceremony was held on 3rd June at Neillsbrook Community Centre where the then Secretary of State, Sir Patrick Mayhew, conferred Conservation Status on the town. Signs to denote this were placed on the main approach roads to the town.
ARCHES is grateful to the late Hugh McKay of DOE, who was the officer in charge of the designation, and to members of Randalstown Historical Society who contributed greatly to the process and to the Designation booklet, copies of which can still be seen in ARCHES office. Hugh McKay remarked at the time that the Randalstown designation process was the quickest and least troublesome in his experience.
After ARCHES was formed in 1995, it was agreed that a visible sign of their plans for local improvements should be implemented as soon as possible. Money needed to be raised quickly so there was no time to make application to funding bodies in the usual way as that process tends to take considerable time.
Antrim Borough Council was approached and agreed to provide half of the £10,000 required if ARCHES came up with the rest. Thanks to local donations the £5,000 was raised and the lighting was installed.
Arches Outlook community newsletter was created to keep the residents of the town and district informed of what ARCHES was doing.
This was started in late 1997 and the first issue was ready for distribution by late November/early December. The printing, as so much of ARCHES’ documentation at that time, was done on the Dorma photocopier and 2,500 copies of the black and white, four page, A4 newsletter were produced.
The newsletter is still being produced today and not a single issue has ever been missed, no matter how busy the office can be.
Closing the Gap – Moore’s Lane
Moore’s Lane was hit by the first bomb attack of ‘the Troubles’. A number of shops had to be demolished and the resulting space gradually became bleaker and rougher and was used mainly as a car park, though it was nigh on impossible to avoid potholes! The private development, Glenravel House and its adjoining car park, was built in 1996 and covered most of the site, housing the Supervalu store and other smaller businesses. ARCHES dealt with the rest of the site and this became their Closing the Gap project to landscape and improve the remainder of this derelict area, the project being managed by George Graham.
In January 1998, the contract for the work was awarded to F.P. McCann & Co., the architect being John McKeown. The Scout group granted free use of their Hall for fortnightly site meetings which was very much appreciated as the weather was cold in those winter months. We were also able to use the Scout Hall kitchen to make tea which was very welcome.
One of the elements of the development was the new, high spec toilet block which was much needed and which is still in use today. A new road layout was introduced which dispensed with the little old curved bridge making traffic flow better and simpler and also provided some disabled parking adjacent to the supermarket and Ulster Bank. Ownership had always been disputed by Council and Roads Service but after completion Roads Service adopted the Lane. The whole area was landscaped and has been maintained since by Council.
To complete the project a historical, industrial feature was added at the Main Street end comprising an original turbine from the Old Bleach site backed by a picture of workers in the factory taken, it is thought, in the 1940’s. The project was officially opened in May 1998 by Jim Dougal who was European Commissioner for Northern Ireland at the time.
Bridging the Divide
This project involved the reinstatement of the railway bridge and the creation of a public footpath along the former railway line.
The total cost was £196,000 and the main funders were DOE SSPPR, Antrim Borough Council, Northern Ireland Electricity, Northern Bank.
Lower Main Street
A tree-lined area at the riverside had remained neglected for many years and just as the century drew to a close ARCHES completed an environmental improvement project which tidied and landscaped the area, provided a paved path and seating and constructed a viewing platform at the riverside from which the road and railway bridges can be seen in safety. This area also leads on to the riverside path by the River Maine and so out into the country.
The project cost £60,000 and the main funders included – Lower Bann LEADER, Enkalon Foundation, BT Countryside for All, Shell Better Britain, Randalstown Chamber of Trade.
Youth Drop-in Centre
One of the key proposals in ARCHES’ strategy was to do something for the young people of the area, a commendable but challenging task. There were flourishing uniformed groups in the town but little other youth provision, especially since the closure of Randalstown High School in 1994. The aim was to establish a cross-community facility in a neutral venue to keep young people off the streets and involve them in meaningful activities. An amount of funding had been secured from Peace and Reconciliation money administered by Antrim Borough Partnership to set up this facility.
With help and advice from a number of sources including the project manager, Ronnie Pedlow, a group of about 40 people interested in helping was assembled and a meeting was held at which a committee of 10 was elected to progress the project. Originally the old Drummaul Parish Hall in New Street, which at the time was for sale and which the group hoped to rent, was the chosen venue. Unfortunately this did not materialise and the group turned their attention to the vacant flat above 41 Main Street which they eventually rented with funding from BBC Children In Need. The P & R funding was used to make necessary alterations to the premises which was done by Samuel Fry.
The Drop-In Centre opened in January 1999 and was open for 4 evenings per week. Volunteers attended on a rota basis and organised a variety of activities for the young people who attended and who came from both Catholic and Protestant backgrounds. In addition, in 2000, a suite of 8 computers was purchased with funding from the Rural Development Council and installed in the Drop-In Centre providing much-needed extra facilities.
Townscape Heritage Initative
As early as 1999, ARCHES started the process which led to them securing £400,000 of funding from Heritage Lottery to administer and co-ordinate a Townscape Heritage Initiative in Randalstown. The THI scheme targeted Conservation Areas and its aim was to enable “partnerships of local, regional and national interests to preserve and enhance the distinctive character of historic areas by:
- repairing the fabric
- restoring authentic details and materials
- securing the continued use of historic buildings
- bringing vacant floor space in historic buildings back into use
- facilitating a high standard of design and materials in filling gap sites and key frontages”
The town was visited by Heritage Lottery personnel who identified 20 buildings they felt were eligible for funding. ARCHES’ role in THI was to liaise with the property owners on the list to explain the scheme to them and encourage them to take part.
Manor Architects were enlisted to help and advise with the scheme and here I must mention in particular Keith Gilmour and Patsy McShane who spent much time on the scheme in Randalstown and also Lawrence Manogue and other Conservation architects who acted as Heritage Lottery mentors. ARCHES facilitated all meetings at which proposals and plans were considered and funding decided.
This was a five-year scheme and as such was quite different from most of the projects which ARCHES had done so far. Dealing with a significant number of property owners who were mostly local business people meant that progress was necessarily slow but the scheme did progress and in the end a total of 10 buildings out of the original 20 identified by HLF were completed. We believe this compared favourably with similar schemes in other areas of Northern Ireland and was apparently a big improvement on progress in other parts of the UK where the scheme was administered by local authorities.
At the end of the scheme a booklet about the Randalstown Townscape Heritage Initiative was published. Copies of the booklet are still available from ARCHES office.
A computer suite was installed in the Drop-In Centre at 41a Main Street in 2000. The computers were for use in the centre but also and primarily to deliver adult training courses. Around this time ARCHES was approached by the Northern Regional College to join in a partnership application to the Lottery New Opportunities Fund for funding for training courses. This was successful and we were granted £48,000 spread over 3 years which we used to subsidise the costs of the training.
The first few courses were based in the Drop-In Centre and had to take place in the daytime as the centre was used by the young people in the evenings. We targeted adults who had not had the opportunity to use computers at school and who were finding it more and more necessary to be computer literate for everyday living.
When we were able to move the computers into ARCHES House, things became more flexible and we were able to offer day and evening courses to suit our students. Over the years we have delivered a variety of computer-based courses – beginners, CLAIT I and II, Internet and Email to begin with and then adding Digital Photography and Family History as demand arose. More recently courses on the use of tablets and iPads have been introduced as technology moves on.
Gradually over the years ARCHES have expanded the training programme to include a variety of craft and language courses including British Sign Language.
In 2004/5 we obtained funding from the Antrim Borough Partnership Peace II fund for our Peace Train project which allowed us to replace and update our computers. ARCHES was also able to replace the computers for a second time from their own resources in 2009/10.
Community Property Development Scheme (Arches House & Arches Lane)
It had always been ARCHES’ intention to obtain their own premises with a view to achieving future sustainability. This process was commenced in 2000 when the group obtained funding to purchase and renovate two empty shops in the village centre. ARCHES House, which replaced and combined the original Library and Old Forge projects, was completed and occupied in 2001 and comprises ARCHES’ office, community hall and training/Board room as well as commercial units and residential apartments.
The project cost £600,000 and the main funders included – International Fund for Ireland (IFI), DSD SSPPR, National Lottery Charities Board, Antrim Borough Council, Lower Bann LEADER, Antrim Towns Development Company.
Launch of Townscape Heritage Initiative
The aim of the Townscape Heritage Initiative was to improve properties within the designated conservation area in Randalstown. This project was funded by Heritage Lottery Fund, DOE Planning Service, Antrim Borough Council.
Closure of Drop-In Centre
The Drop-In Centre closed in 2002 as it became more and more difficult to access funding to pay the rent. In addition ARCHES came to realise that in order to run the facility successfully and most effectively it would be necessary to employ a professional youth officer and that was not possible at that time.
Youth Development Project
After the opening of ARCHES House, a problem developed with groups of youths congregating in the Lane who became a nuisance to people using the businesses in the Lane and the facilities in ARCHES House. It also became an issue for the staff in ARCHES office who began to feel threatened by the youths’ behaviour.
A solution came in the form of Peace II funding which ARCHES applied for to carry out a Youth Development Scheme to keep the young occupied. Before the funding was granted two workers from a scheme run by Antrim Borough Council and NEELB Youth Service started a course of DJ-ing workshops alongside personal development sessions in the Pneutrol building which ARCHES had just purchased. These were a great success and had the desired effect of getting the youths off ARCHES Lane.
Another plus of this initiative was to have one readymade group to start working with as soon as the Peace II funding was granted. This group continued to meet for the duration of the funding under the guidance of Youth Service and PSNI personnel and formed a very successful football team who played on land kindly lent by the late Stewart McCartney with generous input from George Barkley. This arrangement lasted long after the end of the funding period and some of the young lads involved became leaders themselves of other younger groups.
At the same time work was initiated with young people in Neillsbrook, again under the guidance of Youth Service and PSNI – an activity group for girls and football for boys which was mainly under the supervision of the late William Beggs and which has evolved into the Neillsbrook Cross Community Soccer School which still flourishes today.
ARCHES Peace Train
This project involved the replacement of the computers in the computer learning suite. It cost £16,000 and was funded by Antrim Borough Strategy Partnership.
ARCHES Means Business
This project enabled the provision of photocopying, fax, laminating and other services to Randalstown Arches Association to assist local business and the community. It cost £7,000 and was funded by Antrim Borough Strategy Partnership.
Second Community Project – ARCHES Mews
Following on from the success of the ARCHES House project we were encouraged to embark on a second community project. With funding from IFI and Antrim Borough Council we purchased and developed 9 John Street into our second community building, ARCHES Mews which provides 4 commercial units and 4 residential flats. This development also greatly enhanced a fairly derelict area of the town and led to the provision of an extension to the car park by DOE Roads Service and also the Council’s community playground, both of which are very beneficial to and much appreciated by the local community.
The project cost – £400,000 and the main funders included – International Fund for Ireland, Antrim Borough Council.
After the completion of ARCHES House the group applied again to the International Fund for Ireland for funding for a second Community Project. This was granted and in 2004 ARCHES purchased the Pneutrol building in John Street and the old Mace store beside it. The first plan was to devote the entire first floor of the building to a day nursery to be let as a private enterprise with the ground floor converted to commercial/workspace units. The day nursery plan unfortunately did not work out so it was decided to adopt the more viable option of residential accommodation.
Donnan and Ward drew up plans and the work was carried out by local builder, WMK Builders Contractors. Starting in 2004, ARCHES Mews was completed by early 2005 and the building was ready for occupation. As in ARCHES House, there was steady demand for the accommodation. With one exception the commercial units have been less successful with a succession of tenants staying a short time and then moving on. However, ARCHES has been able to use any empty space for their other projects and only the smallest unit remains unoccupied. Its appeal may be improved when the car park extension opens and a new entrance is created.
Inter generational Project
In 2008 Arches facilitated a good relations programme funded through the Local Strategy Partnership. It lasted one year and included an Intergenerational photography project and a talent competition. The intergenerational programme was jointly facilitated by ‘Belfast Exposed’ and involved 10/11 year old children from 6 of the 7 schools in Randalstown and district getting together with senior citizens from the local ‘fold’ to explore lifestyles past and present. Through a series of crafted questions the two groups learned a lot about each other, including how they each socialised – the senior citizens talked about dance halls they would have gone to, often walking miles through country roads to get there, and the younger generation talked about going bowling and to the cinema. They also discussed what school is/was like and what kind of things they do for entertainment at home – the children talked about their computers, Wii’s and various video games, whereas the ladies and gentlemen spoke of crafts they learned at home like knitting, dressmaking and baking.
The children also took photographs of the town, creating a photographic map of Randalstown and recording the project as it progressed. At the end of the 3 month programme, the many images were mounted and we had an exhibition in the ‘Long Gallery’ in Stormont. The event was attended by local politicians as well as representatives from the schools and the participants themselves. The talent competition was also designed to bring young people of different backgrounds and cultures together to learn new skills and have fun. Over a period of 6 months, there were classes on drumming, piano lessons, guitar and singing lessons as well as voice coaches to prepare the group for their big night. As part of the project, each participant recorded a CD of their song, and were presented with these when they sang on the Wednesday night of the 2008 Arches Festival.
The Talent Show itself, jointly organised by ARCHES and the Ardan Theatre Group, was a night of glitz and glamour in the Parish Centre, with each nervous participant singing their heart out to an enthusiastic crowd.
Community Pharmacy Project
In 2009 our Senior Citizens Project began, funded by the ‘Community Development Health Network’. For 3 of the last 6 years, the project has been co- facilitated with the Randalstown Pharmacy, who gave advice and guidance to the participants. Approx 25 or so ladies who meet each week, also explore a very wide variety of health topics by invited health professionals and these topics include ‘Good Mental Health’, ‘Osteoporosis Care’, and a range of Cancer Awareness programs to name but a few. As part of the project, the group has also spent time at the gym and for 8 weeks on two of the years our ladies, aged from late 50’s to mid 80’s, could be seen running and tread-milling their way to fitness finishing off with a relaxing time in the spa. The project, which is free to participants, has recently seen the ladies create various works of art, from printing on fabric to acrylic painting as part of an 8 week mental health project, funded by South Antrim Community Network.
IFI Community Relations Project
In 2009, ARCHES was granted funding from the International Fund for Ireland to carry out a 3-year Community Relations Project. This project, known as the Bridges Project, was managed by Ann McGuinness and was based in one of the units in ARCHES Mews. The aim of the project was to improve the capacity of local residents and groups in Randalstown and district to address sectarianism and build positive cross community relationships and stimulate positive community activity. A total of 22 local groups were engaged in the programme which included women’s groups, men’s groups, youth groups, sports groups, churches, etc and representatives of the groups came together to take part in activities and discussions to explore their differences and misperceptions and to build a better understanding of each other’s background and culture. Sessions were facilitated by a number of delivery agencies and individuals including Antrim Borough Council, NEELB and TIDES.
Training and discussion sessions were held in the Bridges Project premises and educational visits were made to key locations important in our shared history where guides explained the history of the place which in many cases had previously been imperfectly or partially understood. During the last year of the project a Youth Forum was set up in conjunction with NEELB Youth Service and a group of up to 50 young people benefitted from involvement with the project. The whole project was extremely successful and much positive feedback was received from participants.
Development of Former PSNI Site to New Street Park & Ride
In 2013, work began to purchase the former PSNI site in New Street. Work began to demolish and level the site in February/March 2014. Plans were then made and a collaboration between ourselves, ANBC and Roads Service was undertaken to provide a Park and Ride car park which was operational from 2016 when the lease was signed to Road Service within Department for Infrastructure for 999 years!
This extra parking has been a godsend to the town as, even with the opening of the Ballygrooby Park and Ride to accommodate commuters to Belfast, some motorists still occupy spaces all day in the town centre. The additional parking facilities has also helped local traders who have noticed a positive increase on trade since it’s completion.
We also added in a new shop front to the unit in Arches Mews – previously this had been a hard unit to let as it was tucked away and didn’t get much passing footfall. Since the addition of a new shop front onto the new car park the unit has been successfully let to a barber shop who is doing a roaring trade and hopes to stay for many years to come.