(Case study by Thrive 15/11/2023)
Community Asset Transfer (CAT) has been successfully utilised across the UK, yet Northern Ireland has seen only one major success story so far – the Open House Festival’s ownership of the Bangor Court House, which saw the transformation of a disused courthouse into a thriving community arts venue. Its triumph prompts an important question – if this worked so well in Bangor, why aren’t more Northern Irish communities trying out asset transfers to revive cherished local buildings?
We’ve all been there. Taken a stroll down the street and seen a beautiful building laying in ruins and thought, “What a shame.” And that is usually where it ends.
In 2022, 762 historic buildings (around 8% of Northern Ireland’s listed buildings) were placed on the Heritage at Risk in Northern Ireland register. This was an increase of 142 buildings – or almost 20% – from 2020/2021. We see evidence of these abandoned buildings across Northern Ireland: from the Crumlin Road Court House, Belfast to the Ballymagorry Railway Station in Co. Tyrone. These buildings are often in disarray or can even prove hazardous to visit. What should be done with them? Should they just be torn down or left to rot? Both options are exceedingly bleak and unappealing. But, perhaps, there is a third solution: one with a much brighter outcome. This is where Community Asset Transfer comes in.
Community Asset Transfer (CAT) is a UK policy that involves transferring control of land or buildings from public bodies to community groups, like non-profits or co-ops. It is implemented in Northern Ireland by the Development Trust NI. This is a regional network that promotes public ownership of assets for community benefit. CAT can apply to a diverse range of community assets which include parks, libraries, and museums. The benefits of CAT are impressive. They can protect key local services and facilities; generate income for local reinvestment; provide jobs, training, and business opportunities. They can also reverse economic decline and attract investment to an area.
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