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“We’re Quite A Resilient Bunch”

1st Rhagfyr 2020

William Colvin, Volunteer, The Old Church

Thirty-five-year-old volunteer William Colvin worked tirelessly to save a deconsecrated church from becoming derelict - and then to keep it functioning over lockdown.

The Old Church is the centrepiece of the conservation village of Cushenden village, one of the jewels of Northern Ireland in an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

It was given a new lease of life as a community arts and cultural venue when it finally opened after 13 years of work in July 2019. The County Antrim project, which received support from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, also featured on BBC's Restoration Village where it was voted a regional winner.

But lockdown presented an altogether different challenge.

“It hasn’t been easy to adapt,” William says. “The bit that I found hardest was having to shut the gate and hang the closed notice on the door. I felt quite depressed about that, particularly as it has taken 13 years to get to where we are, so it felt like the rug was just pulled from beneath our feet.”

However, William says the local preservation society has proved to be ‘quite a resilient bunch.’

“We’ve moved all of our meetings from taking place in the hall once a week to going online.

“We also applied for the Covid-19 grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, which allowed us to buy a few laptops and iPads for our members who weren’t set-up at home to allow them to continue to take part.

“It has been challenging for some of them, but I’ve tried hard to make sure everybody feels involved.

“I work for the health service, where there’s a policy and procedure for everything, so I’ve also spent the last couple of months writing guides on how to do things, which has helped.

“We have been able to open up on weekends and we’ve got extra hours for our cleaners who come in and sanitise the place. We couldn’t really do it without our volunteers who come in and sit and spend a couple of hours at the weekend meeting our visitors.

“We’ve also got beautiful travel posters which have been kindly donated to us as an exhibition.

William says: “The demographic here is older, so lots of people have been shielding in Cushendun, but getting people into the building was very much a highlight. It’s a very lonely place when nobody is in it, even to have three or four people here lifts your heart and mind. To be able to open and welcome people safely has been really worth the effort.”