A GLITTERING celebration of community volunteering marked the official re-opening of the newly-restored Larne Town Hall.
The £3m project which brought the prestigious building back to its former glory and made it more than fit for modern use has ensured that the vision of Charles McGarel, the generous benefactor who funded the construction of this building in 1869, is as relevant now as it was back then.
He established a trust that would ensure the town hall, its library and reading room would be available for use by the people of Larne regardless of their denomination.
Although a Grade B listed building, the town hall’s condition deteriorated over the past 140 years to the extent that many stonework and other features were feared lost, the gallery had became unstable to the point that it was permanently closed some years ago and the condition of the electrics was so poor that permanent closure was once a realistic option.
On Thursday evening, Larne Borough Council chief executive Geraldine McGahey explained that there were many failed attempts to secure funding from various bodies and a raft of various conversion schemes proposed.
“Council agreed that the importance of this building was such that it was critical that money be found from our own resources to ensure that it wasn’t lost forever,” she said, paying tribute to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency Historic Buildings Branch for £250,000 received, as well as guidance and support.
Mrs McGahey praised all those involved in the restoration work, explaining that it had become a very passionate project for a number of those involved.
The Mayor, Cllr Gerardine Mulvenna, said that when Charles McGarel bestowed the original building to the people of Larne in 1870, a similar event was held in August of that year.
“Tonight’s event some 142 years later marks the official re-opening of this fantastic building right at the heart of our community and it is fitting that this occasion also provides an opportunity to celebrate community volunteering throughout Larne Borough.”
The following were recognised for their outstanding contribution to community volunteering across Larne Borough;
Anne Murray (Oxygen Therapy Centre)
Antiville and Craigyhill Community Forum (received on the night by Clifford Gordon, William Ferguson and Louanne Gordon)
Elma McCalmont (Millbrook Community)
Glenlough Community Centre Management Committee (received on the night by Patricia Abram, Kate Magill and Bernard Black)
Islandmagee Community Development Association (received on the night by Frank Graham and Dr Steve O’Direain)
Kim Smith (Women’s Aid)
Larne Child Contact Centre Volunteer Team (received on the night by Beth and Alan Rodgers)
Liz Ford (Larne Community Care Centre)
Elma McCalmont, who received an overall award, was invited to unveil a plaque to mark the re-opening of the building.