A former Co Down bank and courthouse has reopened as Northern Ireland’s newest live music venue.
The Victorian era magistrates’ court on Bangor’s seafront was decommissioned in 2013, when campaigning began to turn it into an arts venue.
Bangor’s latest freeman Gary Lightbody, from the band Snow Patrol, is among the project’s supporters – though community groups ultimately made it happen.
Bangor Shared Space started the campaign to bring it into community use, before the Open House took up the baton, securing crowd and government funding to realise the dream.
Local band The Florentinas are set to be the first to grace the stage of The Court House, alongside Lemonade Shoelace, another local band.
Future acts set to perform there include Dana Masters, Camille O’Sullivan and Jesca Hoop.
Open House director Kieran Gilmore said the response from local people and businesses to the crowdfunding appeal was “phenomenal”.
“Alongside a charity fundraising ball organised by Barclays Bank, who also donated £15,000 match funding, that campaign raised over £70,000, triggering an eventual £1.7 million of funding from several sources,” he said.
Extensive work has been carried out to the building, including the removal of walls and internal remodelling.
Original features, like sash windows and cornicing, have been restored.
Installations include a sound, lighting and audio/visual system, kitchen and bar, lift, toilets and automatic doors.
Mr Gilmore described “wonderful discoveries” during the revamp, including an original tiled floor – uncovered in the banking hall turning court room – which will be the main performance area.
Two bars and a slate fireplace from the neighbouring Royal and Windsor Hotels, both due for demolition, were saved and reused.
The venue will also host a regular classic film club, literary and spoken word events, comedy, theatre, and talks, as well as pop-up food and drink events.
Mr Gilmore added: “It has taken us seven long years and a great deal of trial and error to get to this stage.
“We want to thank every single person who has played their part in making this project a reality and in bringing The Court House to life.”
The equivalent of 15 full-time jobs will be created once the venue is at full capacity.
Contributions also came from the Garfield Weston Foundation, Arts Council NI, Ards and North Down Borough Council, Foyle Foundation, Swire Charitable Trust, Ulster Architectural Fund, Esme Mitchell Trust and Ulster Garden Villages.
Dr Paul Mullan, director for Northern Ireland at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said the conservation-led repairs have “successfully preserved this important heritage, meaning the building is no longer at risk and creating a much-needed cultural venue to be enjoyed by locals and visitors from further afield”.
Justice Minister Naomi Long also welcomed the project.
She said: “It is great to see the former courthouse being brought back into use through the Community Asset Transfer process.
“I am sure it will become an iconic arts venue that will make a significant contribution to the city of Bangor.”
The venue was built in 1866 as a branch of the then-Belfast Banking Company before becoming a magistrates’ court in 1952.
Key funders of the renovation include The National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Department for Communities.