The future is our past - restoration and conservation celebrated at Heritage Angel Awards 2024

Everest legend Dawson Stelfox received a lifetime achievement award whilst The Court House in Bangor won the public vote

The Court House in Bangor. Picture by MeetDean
The Court House in Bangor won the public award in the Heritage Angel Awards (MeetDean)

The people and groups behind restoration projects at some of the north’s most culturally important and historic buildings have been celebrated.

One of the most enthusiastically received honours at the Heritage Angel Awards was a lifetime achievement award for Dawson Stelfox, whose legend extends from Everest to conservation architecture.

“When I first started out in conservation 40-odd years ago, people like us were seen as dangerous, eccentric cranks who were standing in the way of progress,” he reflected.

“Of course, that’s changed and about half of all construction spends in Ireland and Northern Ireland are spent on repair, maintenance and restoration so we’re no longer a small sector – we’re growing.

“The future is our past; it is about the conservation of our built heritage, and that is what the Heritage Angel Awards are all about.”

The Court House, Bangor, Kieran Gilmore and Alison Gordon, Open House Festival with host Wendy Austin and presenter Anne Sykes, Director of the Irish News
Kieran Gilmore and Alison Gordon from The Court House, Bangor, won the public vote in the Heritage Angel Awards. They are pictured with host Wendy Austin and Irish News director Anne Sykes

A public vote in association with The Irish News allowed people to choose their favourite project from among the 18 shortlisted projects.

This was won by Kieran Gilmore and Alison Gordon who led the regeneration of The Court House in Bangor, a B2 listed former bank and courthouse which dates back to 1866 and was previously on the at-risk register.

It has been transformed into a thriving non-profit music and arts venue. “We’re obviously a very public facing organisation,” said Alison upon accepting the award.

“We have thousands of people coming through our venue at the old Court House and I think they’re really proud of what we’ve done, and I think they feel part of it and they show up to vote which is brilliant.”

Irish News director Anne Sykes said it had won by a “landslide”. The honour is the latest recognition for The Court House, which won the National Lottery Project of the Year in 2023 as the first ever winner from Northern Ireland.

Primark Bank Buildings reopening
The restoration of the historic five-storey Bank Buildings in Belfast took four years and cost £100 million (Liam McBurney/PA)

The Heritage Angel Awards are delivered by Ulster Architectural Heritage with the backing of the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation and the Department for Communities: Historic Environment Division. They aim to celebrate the efforts of those who dedicate their time and effort to preserving buildings and places of historical significance across the north.

As part of the celebration, held earlier this month at the Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena, musicians Brigid O’Neill and Anthony Toner with their choir entertained guests by performing tracks from the Buildings in Song project, including Six Inches of Water, which was inspired by a visit to Templemore Baths in Belfast, itself a fine example of conservation.

Church of the Immaculate conception Strabane
Church of the Immaculate Conception, Strabane

Winners were named in six categories. Joseph O’Connor, who managed the team responsible for restoring the Primark Bank Buildings in Belfast after it was destroyed by fire, won the award for the ‘best rescue of a historic building or place over £1 million’.

Dawson Stelfox, Consarc Design Group with host Wendy Austin and award presenter Marcus Patton
Lifetime achievement winner Dawson Stelfox, pictured right, of Consarc Design Group, with awards host Wendy Austin and visual artist Marcus Patton

Dr Paul Logue and Ciara MacManus were presented with the award for ‘best research or interpretation of a historic building or place’ for their work researching the archaeology and History of 10 High Street in Carrickfergus.

The ‘best maintenance of a historic building or place’ prize was granted to the church restoration team at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Strabane, led by Fr Declan Boland. Members of the community began a huge fundraising effort in order to secure the future of the majestic church, which was built in 1866.

Roy McKeown won ‘best rescue of an historic building or place under £1 million’ for his work on Raceview Mill, Broughshane.

The schools, children and their families who participated in the Lough Erne Landscape Partnership scheme project on Fermanagh’s vernacular heritage and associated social history were honoured for the ‘best contribution to a heritage project by young people’.

And for his work on Fisherwick Farmhouse in Doagh, Bernard Cunningham of BCS Plastermouldings won the Best Craftsmanship or Apprentice on a Heritage Rescue or Repair Project category.