£1.2m boost to help open new chapter in the Portaferry tale
In its heyday more than a century ago the picturesque town of Portaferry was a thriving port on the shores of Strangford Lough.
Over the years it fell into decline and many of its beautiful Georgian and Victorian buildings today lie derelict.
This is all set to change with a £1.2m injection of funds to restore the picture-postcard charm of the town and revive its economic prospects.
The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) announced yesterday that it has awarded the Co Down town a £1.2m grant through its Townscape Heritage Initiative, which supports the regeneration of conservation areas.
Head of HLF Northern Ireland, Paul Mullan said: "This investment is fantastic news for Portaferry and the Ards Peninsula and we are delighted to be involved in supporting the restoration and preservation of the town's historic heritage.
"The initiative will boost community pride, create additional employment and training opportunities and enable the town to capitalise on its huge tourism potential.
"It will help to re-establish Portaferry as an attractive, prosperous town and will improve the quality of life for all those who live, work or visit there."
The award came as a result of the hard work and belief of Portaferry Regeneration Limited, which put together the business case.
"This is not just about giving these premises a facelift, but ensuring they become sustainable businesses that will regenerate the town," said Will Brown, project manager at Portaferry Regeneration Limited.
"The scheme will get these buildings back into use again.
"The most obvious use is accommodation, for example, above shops or office space."
The next step is appointing conservation consultants to work with property owners on how to restore derelict buildings or those that have fallen into disrepair.
"We are trying to create a fund of up to £1.8m," Mr Brown explained.
"Ards Borough Council has agreed to give us £150,000 and we are hoping to get match funding from a number of other agencies.
"The property owners will also have to invest in the buildings so the total could come to £3m, which will make a big impact on the townscape."
There is a new optimism about Portaferry which has pre-empted the investment.
A number of cafes and tea rooms have opened in the town, as well as a new cancer charity shop in the Square called ReNew - a name the whole town could share.
A number of recent changes in Portaferry are a taste of things to come. A prominent building in the town - once the Northern Bank - is now reopened as the offices of the Strangford Lough and Lecale Partnership. The Barholm Hostel, a self-catering facility on the shorefront, has been leased to independent operators and, under new management, has opened a new restaurant. The Portaferry Marina is being managed by a new operator, which has taken over a vacant building in Ferry Street in the town.