Funding has been provided by The National Lottery Heritage Fund to help secure the future heritage of an East Belfast site that was once the largest flax tow spinning mill in the world. A grant of £221,200 has been awarded to Portview Trade Centre on the Newtownards Road, formerly the site of the Strand Spinning Mill, which in the 1930s was a key feature within a vibrant East Belfast community sustained by thriving industries such as ropeworks and shipbuilding.
Marrying traditional skills with technologies that were world-leading and very advanced for their time, the Mill also led the way in regard to social issues such as employment for women.
The National Lottery Heritage Fund grant will fund the development of a sustainable masterplan to maintain the Mill’s heritage and make it a key feature in the area once again, reflecting how Belfast and Northern Ireland once led the way on a global industrial stage.
From now to October 2020, plans will be drawn up to on how best to secure and retain the site’s heritage and, crucially, to ensure that it is sustainable and self-sufficient. This long-term vision will be achieved by transforming Portview into a creative social hub in the area, with Heritage at its core but also running across running across a number of key themes including Tourism, Education and Training, Resilience and Employment.
Proposals for the redevelopment of the 17,000sqm site include the creation of a physical and digital ‘Spinning Archive’ that will tell the story of Strand Spinning Mill and enable visitors to relive this golden era through the experiences of local residents, supported by stories and artefacts from the time. Members of the community wanting to engage in the project or share their stories of bygone days can do so on www.portviewstories.com.
Other exciting features proposed for the site include a satellite heritage exhibition centre, a state-of-the-art urban rooftop park for agricultural and tourism purposes, and designated Artist and Cultural spaces.
Portview Trade Centre Chairman Brendan Mackin said the National Lottery Heritage Fund award would not only secure the site’s heritage but also transform East Belfast into a vibrant tourism, business, education and training hub.
“The Strand Spinning Mill is steeped in Belfast’s industrial heritage and it is vital that we retain this and develop it for a modern-day audience, so we are delighted to receive this National Lottery funding said Mr Mackin.
“The site’s current half-occupied state has come about in a very ad hoc and unstructured manner and is now at a critical turning point, with its heritage at risk and in need of supporting intervention to sustain its future. So this significant award of money from The National Lottery Heritage Fund is vitally important to help us grow the site and achieve our long-term goals.
“To do this, the Centre needs to be sustainable which we believe is achievable by developing the site, bringing the buildings into full occupation and creating an innovative hub for tourism, business, education and training – while at the same time celebrating, conserving and connecting people to the rich heritage of the building’s past.
“So, as well as preserving and maintaining the heritage of the Mill, we believe that the development of Portview Trade Centre will play a transformative role in the community by providing support, employment, education and training, and facilities – particularly to groups suffering from social and economic disadvantage,” he added.
“Young people, many of whom have fallen through the net in the current education system, will be able to learn and create their own opportunities in a creative project-led environment, working in tandem with more than 100 on-site businesses, all of whom will work together in a spirit of collaboration and cooperation.
“From a tourism perspective, our Spinning Archive, rooftop garden and exhibition spaces will bring visitors into the area – whilst our innovative sustainability plans to create a thriving and largely self-sufficient business community will be a model that we hope will be followed around the world.
“In a city famous for shipbuilding, we firmly believe that Portview will be a vessel for positive change – not just in Belfast, but for the rest of Northern Ireland and beyond,” concluded Brendan.
Paul Mullan, Director NI, The National Lottery Heritage Fund, added: “We were delighted to support this resilience project, seeking to explore the historic value and potential of the historic mill complex.
“This exploratory phase will develop an overarching masterplan for the future of the site, whilst exploring the associated spinning memoires and intangible heritage. The co-creation approach offers great potential to meet our strategic outcome of engaging a wider range of people with heritage – connecting people to the rich industrial heritage of the past, whilst bringing its relevance into modern day”.
COVID-19 Recovery Plan
“The development of a strategy and sustainable master plan couldn’t be delivered at a better time,” said Mr Alwani. “If there is a positive to be taken from COVID, it’s the ability for communities to rally together over a common cause and help those at a time of crisis. A perfect example of this was the offer of three months rent free to existing Portview tenants, reflecting the social values and ethos of the Portview Board.
“As we emerge out of this pandemic, there are some clear themes to address our recovery and how we build back better. Portview will be at the heart of that opportunity in Belfast.
“Particularly in response to a green recovery, part of our masterplan will look at sustainable tourism that benefits the area and the city, and how we create a carbon neutral centre of excellence within a heritage building, including urban agricultural opportunities and the use of Portview’s substantial rooftops for utilizing spaces for wellbeing and social activity.
“With the vision of the Portview Board and welcome funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund , our collective long-term goal within this important heritage project is to enhance the spaces to create a bustling business, education and training hub with emerging new technologies, specific social objectives and innovative development in line with our aims of creating employment, education and training outputs.
“Underpinning all of this will be the fact that every use will be of benefit to the local community,” he added.