Gracehill Old School Trust (GhOST) have officially launched their project to restore the Old School, a listed building that dates back to the late eighteenth century, which is situated in the centre of Gracehill, Northern Ireland’s first designated Conservation area and the only complete Moravian settlement in Ireland. The award-winning village has received many accolades over the years including a European Europa Nostra award. More recently the village has been involved in a joint bid for World Heritage Status with other settlements from around the Globe and last Autumn the old school featured in the popular BBC Restoration Village series.
GhOST have purchased the building and plan to restore and ultimately reopen it for use by both visitors and the local community. Significant funding has already been raised and planning permission and all necessary consents granted. Plans for the building include an after school activity club, a tearoom and a “Space for learning” area in addition to an historical exhibition detailing the history of the village and the School and the international connections. The Trust is also planning a series of events and activities to encourage schools and members of the public to learn more about the history of this unique village. An exciting programme of heritage open days, tours and educational activities is also being developed.
The Heritage lottery fund are the main funders of the project and so it was fitting that Jane Williams, Member of the Heritage Lottery Fund Committee for NI officially launched the project.
Many members of the local community as well as visitors from further afield attended the event. Those present included representatives of local community groups, heritage bodies and politicians. Speakers also included Dr Ian Paisley( First Minister of NI), Mr Joe Mc Kernan (Ballymena Borough Council) and Mr Michael Coulter (Environmnet & Heritage Service).
The local “Country Markets” group provided tea at the conclusion of the evening which was greatly enjoyed by everyone present.
Speaking after the event, David Johnston, chairman of the trust said
“ It is a great pleasure to welcome so many people here tonight to celebrate the start of this exciting project. It is hard to believe that it is over 10 years since we wrote our first letter about the old school. However during those years we have developed a project that not only has the support of the community but one that is also viable and sustainable. Gracehill has been a good news story for 200 years and we believe our project will help continue that good news not just for Gracehill, but for Ballymena and Northern Ireland as a whole.”