The Wool Store was constructed in 1823 and once provided storage facilities for Caledon Mill. Originally a flour mill, this massive building was converted for woollen production in the 1880s. The woollen mill was the main employer in the area until its closure in 1931.
Located at the heart of the Conservation Area, the Wool Store has been essentially vacant for 70 years. While the structural elements remained surprisingly robust, the front and rear facades suffered considerably.
Caledon Regeneration Partnership (CRP) decided to convert the Wool Store into a childcare facility, allowing it to become eligible for the ‘Village Catalyst’ pilot – an innovative partnership programme between the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and the Department for Communities (DfC), the Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF) and the NI Housing Executive. The pilot sought to address issues arising from rural poverty and social isolation through underused historic buildings, and the childcare facility was identified as the service the community needed the most.
The Wool Store employs 15 people and provides 36 childcare places for children (0-5 yrs) and 16 afterschool places and was developed to Southern Health and Social Care Trust specifications and regulations.
The new annexe, designed by award-winning architect, Mark Hackett, allows the original building to connect to the raised south-facing garden on the sloped site, and adds a fourth classroom to allow adaption for use as a nursery school. This successful fusion was recognised by the Architects’ Journal, which featured the building in The Irish Issue in July 2022.
The conversion has sought to reduce the use of concrete construction, with all new floors and roofs being formed in timber using deep sustainable insulation. These timber floors are child-friendly and allow underfloor heating to be incorporated, heated by an air source heat pump. The stone walls have been left exposed in places and new timber linings backed with sheep’s wool insulation form warm and robust surfaces at child play level and surrounding the renewed sash windows. Natural linoleum, timber and stone are used as hardwearing natural floors. The new classroom and circulation areas have glazed areas, picking up solar gains but set deeply into the frame to achieve summer shading.
A Project Viability Grant, advice and support from the Architectural Heritage Fund helped CRP to engage with the community and arrive at a viable use; develop their business case; and successfully bid for capital funding from the Village Catalyst pilot programme. This unlocked further capital funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the private owner of the building, the local council, and DfC’s Covid Recovery funding, via a Capital Works Grant administered by the AHF. Caledon Regeneration Partnership is now turning its attention to the reuse of the empty Grade A listed sheds opposite the Wool Store, demonstrating the truly catalytic effect of the Village Catalyst programme.