A NEW £1.7 million heritage visitor centre and café has been officially opened at Ballycopeland Windmill by Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey and Edwin Poots, Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.
Works to the site also include a new access road with car parking and refurbishment of the existing miller’s cottage and kilnman’s house.
The visitor centre also includes a ‘Changing Places’ facility which will be open to the general public, improving access for those with limited mobility not just to the site itself but to the wider Ards Peninsula.
The Department for Communities invested £1.2m, with a further £500,000 coming from Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs’ Rural Tourism Fund and £30,000 from Ards and North Down Borough Council.
Ms Hargey said: “I know how important this windmill is to the local community and I am delighted my department has been able to support this project to conserve this historic site.
“Protecting and investing in our historic environment is essential to creating a better future for us all, because it supports our prosperity, strengthens our society and shapes our character.
“Our investment in this site will strengthen its links to the local community and encourage visitors, both locally and from overseas, to the area for years to come.”
The new heritage visitor attraction and café will be operated by the Ulster Supported Employment Ltd (USEL), which will run a branch of its Ability Café from the site.
USEL is the NI’s largest supporter of people with disabilities or health conditions to find or sustain employment and operates a social enterprise business model.
The Minister continued: “I am also delighted that USEL will be operating this site on behalf of my department.
“This partnership will allow them to support more people with disabilities into sustainable employment and the installation of a ‘Changing Places’ type facility will provide an essential resource allowing those with limited mobility access to suitable facilities.”
Mr Poots said: “It is great to see this important heritage site refurbished to a high standard assuring its presence well into the next century and placing itself not only as one of the ‘must visit’ attractions but also as an educational resource for pupils across Northern Ireland.
“This is an excellent example of partnership working between my department, Historic Environment Division, Department for Communities and Ards and North Down Borough Council and I commend all those involved in bringing this ambitious project to fruition.
“Tourism is one of the key economic sectors for Northern Ireland, providing jobs and supporting many local businesses and I have no doubt that the new Ballycopeland Windmill Heritage Attraction will provide a much needed boost to the local economy.”
The Mayor of Ards and North Down Councillor Mark Brooks said: “It is thanks to substantial funding from both the Department for Communities and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Rural Tourism Fund, as well as Ards and North Down Borough Council, that has made this refurbishment possible.
“Ballycopeland Windmill now offers a fantastic experience for an increased number of visitors to this wonderful heritage site.
“This investment in the local tourism infrastructure will greatly enhance the tourism potential of the Ards Peninsula and wider borough.”
William Leathem, USEL Chair, said: “As Northern Ireland’s largest supporter of people with disabilities and health conditions Ability café provides job opportunities within the hospitality sector.
“Adding Ballycopeland Windmill to our portfolio will allow us to create more job opportunities within the local area of Ards and North Down Borough Council.”
n Information on the Visitor Centre, including on how to book guided tours, is available at www.ballycopelandwindmill.com/
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