Gracehill Village Shop Project
GhOST (Gracehill Old School Trust) has taken ownership of the Old Village Shop and now wishes to develop a sustainable future for the building, which has been empty for a number of years.
The old shop is a large detached stone building on the village square with a basement, two main floors and a substantial attic. It is a Grade 1 listed building with a number of unique features, the listing relating to elements of the exterior and interior.
The property incorporates the Village Store/Post Office, which is largely unchanged from the 1800s, storage space and substantial residential accommodation.
The intention is to convert the property into one residential holiday unit offering 8 to 10 bed spaces and to refurbish the Old Village Shop and stores as a visitor attraction, portraying a village store at the end of the 18th century.
The village shop/post office takes up a substantial proportion of the ground floor and retains its original cabinets and counters. An adjoining store room provides access to a further first floor store and above that to most of the main attic (the remaining attic is a bedroom accessible from the main living accommodation).
The attic is unusual in having a large wooden winch wheel which has been used for drawing stores up to the attic and, while largely open plan, is broken into smaller areas by structural timbers.
The old shop is probably unique in Northern Ireland and when completed the new facilities will add to the tourism and educational value of Gracehill Village and the greater Ballymena area as a whole.
More details about the project and how to help are on the GhOST factsheet.pdf at the start of this article.
Village School Project – complete
Gracehill Village Association was aware that when a new primary school was erected the existing primary school, a grade B listed building dating from the late eighteenth century situated in the centre of the Conservation area, would become vacant. A new Gracehill Primary School had been discussed over many years and Gracehill Village Association (then Gracehill Environmental Improvement Association) wrote to the North Eastern Education & Library Board (NEELB) in September 1996 outlining their hopes that should a new school be constructed the old building might be retained for the benefit of the community.
Subsequently Gracehill Primary School did occupy a fine new purpose built building on the third of May 2000. Initially NEELB proposed to use the old building as a “Library/Heritage Centre” however these plans failed to progress. As a result a group was formed drawing membership from Gracehill Village Association, Gracehill Moravian Church and the local community in an attempt to take forward suitable plans for the old school. This group initially called the scheme “The Cennick Hall Project”. (Cennick was a famous Moravian who travelled extensively in Ireland).
The initial discussions of the “Cennick Hall” group were based on these ideas. The group made a presentation to Ballymena Borough Council Development and Leisure Services Committee on 9th. October 2000 and subsequently were provided with technical support by Council.
Having explored the options and after taking legal advice the group decided that the best way to achieve their aims was the establishment of a Building Preservation Trust. As a result the group became Gracehill Old School Trust (GhOST) and was legally constituted as a company limited by guarantee and accepted as a charity by the Inland Revenue under reference XR59054.
The company’s Objects are
“to preserve and protect for the public benefit buildings or structures of particular beauty or of historic environmental architectural industrial or constructional merit or interest in and near Gracehill in the County of Antrim and to restore renovate and conserve gardens parkland planned landscapes and other open spaces and land related to such buildings or structures”.
Following a competitive tendering and interview process GhOST appointed Consarc architects in April 2002 to provide architectural services. Ballymena Borough Council funded Locus management consultants to undertake a feasibility study and prepare a business plan. The results were presented to Ballymena Borough Council Economic Development Partnership meeting on 9th.October 2002. Subsequently Council agreed to support in principle the project as presented.
GhOST have demonstrated that the proposals for Gracehill Old School are viable and sustainable. In addition they have the support of the wider community and while there will certainly be local gain the potential for regional benefit is significant.