Former police station turned arts centre wins top award for Mid Ulster Council

Seamus Heaney Homeplace in Bellaghy
Seamus Heaney Homeplace in Bellaghy

Mid Ulster District Council has won an ‘Excellence in Planning’ award at the Royal Town Planning Institute’s (RTPI) awards for its £4.25m transformation of Bellaghy police station into the Seamus Heaney Homeplace.

The new arts centre in the village of Bellaghy, where the poet grew up and from where he drew much inspiration in his poetry, won in award in the Built Heritage category at a ceremony held last night at Milton Court at The Barbican, London.

Councillor Kim Ashton, accepts the award for Excellence in Planning in Built Heritage for Seamus Heaney HomePlace  with Council Planning Manager, Dr Chris Boomer

Councillor Kim Ashton, accepts the award for Excellence in Planning in Built Heritage for Seamus Heaney HomePlace with Council Planning Manager, Dr Chris Boomer

The project was driven and mainly funded by the Council which worked closely with Heaney’s family and the local community.

At the centre’s core is a permanent exhibition documenting Heaney’s life and poems, with many personal artefacts. An elevated viewing platform gives visitors views across the south Derry countryside that inspired much of his work.

Nick Raynsford, former planning and housing minister and Chair of the Judging Panel, said: “Turning a once heavily fortified police station and what to many was a bleak symbol of political division to a welcoming and inspirational place is no small feat. The judges were impressed with how this project re-conceptualised heritage in the broadest possible sense.

“It is as an example of how planning can deliver imaginative and sensitive schemes to share culture and heritage. The project embraced the new planning powers in Northern Ireland to deliver a project that shows how councils have their communities’ interests at heart.”

The Awards for Planning Excellence are the most established and respected awards in the UK planning industry. Running for over 40 years, they celebrate exceptional examples of planning and the contribution planners make to society. This year saw a nearly 40% increase in entrants and the judges shortlisted 90 finalists across 13 categories.

Accepting the award, Chair of the Council, Councillor Kim Ashton, said: “To have been shortlisted from entries across the UK was in itself quite a feat.

“To be named as winner is a fantastic achievement for Mid Ulster District Council, for our planning staff and for all those involved in the design and development of a scheme which would suitably honour one of our greatest writers and Nobel Laureate.

“The project has been truly transformational, creating an arts and literary centre on a derelict site, refreshing and enhancing the small rural village of Bellaghy, and creating a place which is now attracting local, national and international visitors.

“I’m delighted to have accepted the award on behalf of the Council and all those involved, from contractors to the local community, who have all contributed to this success”.