Breathing New Life into Glenarm: A Council-Community Partnership Success Story…

Deb Biddleston is a Northern English native who moved to NI 20 years ago

We often see lots of criticism of local councils in news items, none more so than Mid & East Antrim, whose recent history has been fraught with some difficulties, including having their offices raided by the PSNI. I think that often councils don’t blow their own trumpet enough, or maybe the press just chooses to ignore them, as we know bad news and scandal sells papers. So, I’m going against the tide a little in praise of my local council, Mid & East Antrim.

It all started 4 years ago. Well, it really started 25 years plus ago, but for me this starts 4 years ago when I took over the running of Glenarm Community Market after Covid. If you’re familiar at all with Glenarm, you’ll know its sits on the Antrim coast about 14 miles north of Larne. You’ll maybe know it has a castle, the family seat of the Earls of Antrim. I suppose over the years its suffered, like many other places, from under-investment. The main street is all but devoid of the shops, bars and hotel it had 50 years ago.

What you may not know about Glenarm is, it has a very proactive village committee, who meet monthly, discuss village issues, and pursue solutions. The committee encompasses other groups, such as the Glenarm Building Preservation Trust, Community Market, Glenarm in Bloom etc and has engagement with 3 of our councillors Andrew Clarke, Maureen Morrow & Gerardine Mulvenna, who have been hugely supportive of village objectives. The committee isn’t elected but open to anyone who wants to get involved and come to meetings.

Mid and East Antrim Council (and its predecessor, Larne Borough Council), own quite sizeable land tracts around the harbour and village outskirts. Land that has been on the market, on and off, for 25 years. Interest has come & gone. There were always obstacles to potential investors. The harbour has seen developers want to build housing, retail & a distillery (which eventually went to Ballynahinch). After all the disappointments, the residents finally had enough. We believed we could do it better. 3 years ago, the Village Committee presented council with a plan to recentre the village onto the harbour, creating a community hub within the former Lime shed and yard which were long derelict. Glenarm is a conservation village, and these buildings were seen as village “heritage”. The hub would house the Community Market, which has run since 2012 but has been nomadic with no permanent home and no space suitable for expansion, as well as other community ventures.

Like a lot of people, the first mention of consultants and my eyes glaze over. However, at the direction of senior managers, AECOM came to the village, met with the committee, listened and took onboard everything we said. The proposals then passed planning. During this time, other money was being spent on Glenarm. After refurbishment of the children’s play area and the old playpark changed to a MUGA, Glenarm had a new pontoon in the marina, to increase visiting boat capacity. The public toilets were refurbished, and a Changing Places disabled facility, new sluice and outdoor shower added.

The harbour shed & courtyard, Eglinton Yard, turned out to be a bigger project than first thought and took about 9 months longer than projected. The limestone walls had to be completely rebuilt in places as well as removal of the asbestos roof and replacement with a purpose-built roof with skylights. The derelict offices were demolished. The dedicated officers within the Capital and Regeneration team at Mid & East Antrim Council consulted with the village representatives all the way through the project. Phase one is now completed and the Community Market has its permanent home. The cost has been around £500k. Money that was found by MEA Council from savings made on other projects that received grant funding. After waiting 25 years for development of this area, the community has a fantastic space both indoor and outdoor. Glenarm & the renovation of Eglinton Yard is proof that any community can positively collaborate with their local council to improve their surroundings. Phase 2 of the project has just been passed by planning…. but that’s another story.

If you’re interested in seeing the results, the Community market, in Eglinton Yard, is open on the 1st Saturday of each month from 10.30am til 3.30pm. The parking is free. We are family & dog friendly.

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