The Heritage Angel Awards 2024 have officially launched. Founded by Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber in 2011 this is the fifth year that they have taken place in Northern Ireland with the ceremony being held in Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena on March 27.
Funded by the Andrew Lloyd Webber foundation, the Department for Communities and led by Ulster Architectural Heritage, the programme aims to highlight the work of both volunteers and communities who are preserving historical sites and buildings across Northern Ireland.
This mission was emphasised at the awards launch, which took place in the Gracehill Old School. Gracehill is the only complete Moravian settlement in Ireland and the first designated conservation area in Northern Ireland. As a result, it is also currently in a bid to become Northern Ireland’s first Unesco World Heritage Site.
Speaking at the event, chairman of Ulster Architectural Heritage, Dr David Johnston, said: “The awards seek to celebrate the fantastic efforts of people right across the country who are so often unsung but who do so much to preserve our heritage for the benefit of everyone.
“This is the fifth time that we have held the awards in Northern Ireland. We have been to Belfast twice, to Derry and to Armagh with the awards evenings, so we are really delighted to now be bringing the awards ceremony to Mid and East Antrim and to be holding the awards ceremony in the Braid Centre in Ballymena at the end of March.”
The awards span six categories, from large scale restoration and regeneration projects to volunteers helping to promote local landmarks.
Robert Stewart, who won the Heritage Angel Award for best contribution to a heritage project by a young person in 2018 was interviewed by former BBC journalist and broadcaster Wendy Austin during the launch.
Robert won the award for his work at Lissan House in Cookstown.
“I first went to Lissan House on a tour with my family and I just fell in love with it and at the end of the tour I asked the tour guide where I signed to become a volunteer,” he explains.
“I’ve been there for nine years now and I’m trying to work out where the time has gone. It’s just been great to see the house go through the different stages of restoration, from cleaning out drains to polishing the staircase to treating the 400-year-old woodworm.
“It’s a big ask but we still have a long way to go and hopefully that will continue.”
Built in 1620 Lissan House originally belonged to the Staples family until 2006 when the last descendant Mrs Hazel Dolling passed away and left the property to the community.
“The passion that Hazel had for the house was incredible, the Staples family lived in the house for 400 years which I think it the longest time a family has been in one house,” Robert added.
“Being the last of the Staples, she wanted to start up a charitable trust and she was massive force behind the restoration.”
The house was a runner-up on BBC’s Restoration Programme in 2003 and following this exposure it was comprehensively restored in 2011 and opened its doors as a visitor and community centre in 2012.
All the work and maintenance done on the property is completed through community and voluntary work, with all the money made from the house going towards its upkeep.
Therefore, the Heritage Angel Awards provide an opportunity to thank volunteers who are often doing thankless work.
For example, Robert was nominated for his Heritage Angel Award by former business manager of Lissan House John Paul Coyle.
“It was a real surprise. The first time I heard I was getting the award was the day that the film crew turned up to make the video.”
Ulster Architectural Heritage is now calling for nominations for this year’s awards and Robert hopes to encourage more people who are interested or already involved in the conservation and restoration of built heritage to apply.
“There’s a lot of unsung heroes out there who have done amazing work to preserve our heritage and history and without them doing that it would be completely lost.”
The mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Alderman Gerardine Mulvenna, also attended the launch, adding: “I am absolutely delighted to be part of the launch of this year’s Heritage Angel Awards and very much looking forward to the ceremony at the Braid Arts Centre.
“Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has developed an excellent working relationship with Ulster Architectural Heritage, and I know that planning for this year’s event has been underway for some time.
“The Heritage Angel Awards help to highlight the significance of our local heritage throughout Northern Ireland and offer us the opportunity to celebrate the many unique and wonderful curated and cared for heritage assets that we have,” she continues.
“Most importantly, the awards provide an opportunity for us to formally recognise the people who dedicate their time to the conservation and protection of the historic buildings and places that we all love so dearly.
“I can’t wait to see all the wonderful applications that come forward.”
Applications for the Heritage Angel Awards are now live and can be accessed and completed through the Heritage Angel Awards website. Nominations must be for projects specific to Northern Ireland.
The webpage also offers additional information about previous winners as well the opportunity to sign up for a workshop and Q&A session on January 16 to find out more.
Applications will close on February 1 and those shortlisted will be invited to celebrate their success at the awards ceremony on March 27.