Belfast Telegraph

£30k appeal to save church in Belfast's Sailortown

By Brett Campbell

Residents living in one of Belfast's oldest communities are frantically appealing for help to save one of the city's most historic buildings which could soon be demolished.

Volunteers at Sailortown Regeneration Group (SRG) had been making significant progress in their long-running campaign to transform St Joseph's Church into a centre which showcases the district's rich maritime and industrial heritage.

"The men who ventured off to sea brought back so many stories and ideas from all over the globe, long before the internet was around," fundraiser Terry McKeown told the Belfast Telegraph.

"The social history of this community is absolutely incredible and worth remembering."

An application for a full restoration grant from the lottery's heritage fund is in final stages of the assessment process - but all could be lost if they don't come up with funding soon.

"The timing is devastating. We need people to step in whether it's with guidance, support or financial backing," Terry said.

"We also need political backing in order to get a stay of execution."

After overcoming resistance from the Catholic Diocese of Down and Connor, SRG successfully acquired the lease for the landmark building in 2008.

In March, £10,000 was spent repairing the roof of the de-consecrated church which celebrated its last Mass on Sunday, February 11, 2001.

Now, in a major setback, Building Control has issued a Dangerous Buildings Notice after a marble column fell from the spire of the 140-year-old structure, damaging the new roof and the balcony of an adjacent apartment.

"We had been extremely optimistic, but now we need £30,000 just to secure the building - and that's a very conservative estimate," Terry explained.

In the absence of divine intervention or a generous benefactor, the 'Chapel on the Quays' could be razed to the ground.

In November 1972, two of the youngest members of the concregation were buried from the church after they were killed when a no-warning bomb exploded outside nearby Benny's bar. Clare Hughes (4) and Paula Strong (6) had been playing in their Halloween costumes on October 31 in the street outside the packed pub when the bomb went off at around 8pm. A plaque dedicated to the children remains just above the entrance of the dilapidated building.

A social evening will be hosted tomorrow night in Church Hall, 174 Antrim Road and a crowdfunding page has been set-up in a desperate attempt to raise cash.

Terry said: "It's also an opportunity for the people of this community to come together."

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