Work to transform one of the most historic buildings in Derry’s city centre into a new luxury hotel is expected to get under way this summer.

The 31-bedroom hotel and restaurant at the former Northern Counties Club building at 24 Bishop Street is expected to be completed within a year and opened in 2015.
 
The hotel will be a minimum of 4 star and renowned architect Karl Pederson has been drafted in to restore the former gentleman’s club.

The project, which will cost over £2million, will be expanded to the rear and several buildings which front on to London Street, including the former London Street Gallery and former Flip clothing store.
 
The Grade B1 listed building has been empty for many years but retains many of its original features, including classically sculpted ceilings, archways and ornate fire places.
 
Inner City Trust recently purchased the building and will undertake the massive regeneration and extension project.

It is one a number of ambitious city centre projects involving historic and listed buildings, with an artistic studio complex, printing press and Garden of Reflection complex off Pump Street already partially completed.

Work is also ongoing to transform the second oldest building within the walls into a major fashion and textile hub and exhibition space for local budding artists and trainees.

The 1631 building spans across much of the left hands side of lower Shipquay Street, above Downey’s Bar and Nightclub complex.

Original features which will be retained and refurbished include detailed metallic art and scroll work along staircase banisters, corniced ceilings and sash windows.

The 19th Century Northern Counties Club was restored in the early 1900s in lavish style to reflect Derry’s arrival on the international stage.

Inside it is loaded with original, period details, including a carved wooden revolving door entrance, a ground floor bar with hatch and plush lounge area and a stunning first floor ball room.

The Trust has secured £784,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund towards the massive restoration project.

Close by, through an archway in Pump Street, a row of tiny, sharp-angled art shops are in line for an upgrade, with tenants to date including a local iconographer.

Next door to these, the recently established Derry Print Workshop is leasing the ground floor of another Inner City Trust building.

A group of local artists came together 15 years ago to try and secure such a facility for the city but it wasn’t until last summer that the investment was secured to purchase the specialist machinery needed to produce high-quality, fine art prints based on limited editions of woodcuts, etchings, reliefs, photographic work and more contemporary, digitally-created works.
 
The world-class, not-for-profit venture offers local artists the chance to have their artworks reproduced by being pressed into a limited number of individual, hand-crafted pieces, before the template is destroyed.
 
Individual artists pay a nominal £25 per month to use the facilities at the Workshop. 

One of those artists, Paul Barwise, said they now plan running a series of courses to train local people in the community to use the equipment over the coming year.

“It wasn’t until the City of Culture that we were able to put the proposal in for this. We needed people with vision to say yes and they did.  Inner City Trust were instrumental to bringing this about as were Creative Village Arts and the City of Culture.

“There also 15 artist studios here in this area that have been created and there is a waiting list for these. That is all coming from the City of Culture.”

The artist’s studios upstairs are currently a hive of activity, while directly outside a courtyard is now set to be transformed into a Garden of Reflection, with landscaping, seated performance space with an extendable canopy, three tier amphitheatre and a poetry wall.

There is also a story booth, an overhead oakleaf trellis, water features and a variety of artwork, with the garden being accessible from Bishop Street, London Street and Pump Street once finished. 

Landscape architect, John Eggleston of MWA Partnership Ltd said: “One of the central features of the design is the blue paving which winds its way through the garden. This represents a river and a ‘journey’ through the garden will be symbolic of life’s journey from youth through maturity to old age.”

The final part of the £5 million investment within the walls will be the Inner City Trust’s Textile and Fashion Centre at 31-33 Shipquay Street.

It is expected to open later this year and will feature equipped work and incubation stations, host workshops, exhibitions and fashion shows. There will also be a retail space for designers to showcase their work, a research facility, and office space.

Knitwear designer and St Johnston native Deirdre Wild has been appointed business development manager for the project.

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