Project gives Belfast’s built heritage a new lease of life

A Grade B listed former primary school is being transformed into an impressive £5 million residential development comprising 30 stylish apartments for social housing, in a challenging project at Mersey Street, Belfast.

Now nearing completion, the project is being carried out for Connswater Homes by Main Contractors Connolly Fee, and will result in the creation of 28 two bedroom apartments and two one bedroom apartments.

The project has presented a number of challenges in that the entire site is grade B listed and located in one of the development control zones in relation to the George Best Belfast City Airport.

The association and its design team liaised with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA—Historic Buildings) and the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society to develop a sensitive design solution that resulted in minimal intervention to the historic character and fabric, ensuring that all the main elevations remained intact.

The design of the project allows most of the old classrooms to be directly converted into apartments with minimal internal reconfiguration. Agreement with NIEA Historic Buildings allowed the development of the existing roof space of the building to accommodate apartment bedrooms on a mezzanine level, which fronts into an internal courtyard, thus allowing the original historical façade to be retained.

The apartments have been designed with advice from the PSNI Crime Prevention Design Advisor, to ensure that residents feel safe and secure. All apartments are built to Eco Homes specification with high levels of energy efficiency.

Given the nature of the building, many of the other original features have been retained, including the assembly hall, which was converted partially into offices for Connswater Homes, with the remaining area forming community space.

The works include the replacement of the windows in the style of the originals, the refurbishment of the original slate roof, the installation of all new building services and apartment fixtures and fittings, and complete re-decoration.

External works include the creation of a new road to serve the building, together with the creation of two parking bays and the extensive landscaping of the building’s courtyard to provide an attractive communal space.

The scheme is excellent news for the people of East Belfast – an area of high housing need – and will deliver a housing solution that will give this part of Belfast’s built heritage a new lease of life.

Connswater Homes has served the housing needs of the residents of East Belfast since 1976 providing quality homes at affordable rents. They have continued to grow over the years and their services now expand much further than their roots in the East of the city.

The history of Connswater Homes started on 4 April 1976, when, following a meeting in the local community centre, a committee was formed to examine the possibility of regenerating the Connswater area of East Belfast. A chairman was elected and Connswater Housing Association was subsequently formed and registered in 1977.

The Association was allocated an Action Area and the initial task was to turn the derelict houses into homes once again. The first new build scheme did not materialise until 1983 but this was quickly followed by additional schemes including the building of the Association’s office in Severn Street in 1994.

1997 saw changes in the way social housing including its provision and maintenance would be managed in Northern Ireland. The regime required a remodelling of internal structures and greater emphasis on accountability and efficiency. The Association appointed its first Chief Executive in 1999 and the organisation under the governance of a committed board of management continued to go from strength to strength.

With much of the local regeneration now completed, the Association in 2003 made the decision to move outside its traditional boundaries and actively seek development opportunities province wide.

In recognition of this wider area of operation Connswater Housing Association re-branded to Connswater Homes and relocated to a more prominent and accessible location in 2006.

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