THE Barron Hall - the historic cross-community venue in the heart of Glengormley that was destroyed in an arson attack two years ago - officially reopened at the weekend.
The hall, which was completely renovated and refurbished earlier this year at a cost of around £200,000, is once again a hub for peace building and reconciliation work in the local area.
During the reconstruction process, the former school and courthouse was stripped to its bare walls and carefully rebuilt as a modern facility to host a range of educational programmes and organisations, including the Community Relations Forum. The project was supported by the International Fund for Ireland and Newtownabbey Borough Council through the European Union’s Peace III Programme.
Community representatives, user groups, church leaders, local business owners and politicians from all the main political parties were among the guests who gathered at the hall on Friday afternoon (September 28) to mark the official reopening of the Antrim Road facility.
Seamus Kelly, Chair of the Community Relations Forum, welcomed everyone to the event and thanked all those involved in helping bring about the restoration of the building.
The newly formed choir from Glengormley Integrated Primary School, making their first public appearance, wowed the crowd with an inspiring recital before Kathy Wolff - Community Relations Forum Coordinator and a major driving force behind the refurbishment project - gave a brief history of the building and the man who built it in 1884, the Rev Robert Barron - a man committed to ‘non-sectarian’ community work.
She went on to talk about the devastation of the building being destroyed by fire in July 2010, and the hope she felt as the local community rallied round in the wake of the attack, recalling the words ‘Following heartache there is always hope’.
“The fire left us all totally devastated. The hall is an outstanding facility and we’ve worked hard to build it up so it is a place that everyone can use. We’re grateful for the support our funders have provided, but also for the outpouring of support from individuals, organisations, groups and businesses in the community.
“During the rebuild we’ve received generous donations of equipment, time and the use of facilities. The community has inspired us to keep going and we look forward to sharing this wonderful centre with them for a very long time,” she commented.
International Fund for Ireland Board Member, David Graham OBE, who unveiled a plaque to mark the official reopening, added: “The Barron Hall reflects the strong spirit of peace building that lives in this area and the commitment to overcome all adversity. Established by a visionary peacemaker, the hall was first funded and built by the community, and almost 130 years later they rallied in support when it was seriously damaged.
“The venue provides a valuable cross-community facility that respects the history and backgrounds of those who use it and underpins efforts to create a shared future. The Barron Hall will have an important role in building secure and sustainable relationships that will benefit local communities for years to come.”
Mayor Victor Robinson, a founder member of the Community Relations Forum, praised Kathy, Seamus and the Barron Hall committee for their “courageous and ground-breaking work” and wished them well for their community relations projects in the months and years ahead.
The official reopening kicked off a weekend of celebration, which also included music and dancing, the ‘F Word’ Forgiveness Project exhibition and a ‘Meet the Neighbours’ event.
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