PERMISSION is being sought to transform Downpatrick’s disused Convent of Mercy into residential units.
An application seeking consent to carry out alterations to the Folly Lane listed building – to retain it for residential accommodation with the provision of new en suite, kitchen and communal facilities – was recently submitted to council planners by applicant Stream Street Limited. The proposal also includes the conversion of an on-site private chapel into a columbarium – a building in which funeral urns are stored – and the demolition of a laundry/residential building, which will be replaced by car parking and bin storage.
A design and access statement notes that the original convent building was erected in 1873 and sits adjacent to other ecclesiastical buildings, including St Patrick’s Church and the adjacent parochial house. It comprises of a three-storey residential block and a two-storey chapel – this particular chapel is not part of the proposal – and an extension, which was built in the 1970s and is stated to be ‘of no architectural merit’.
‘Both parts of this building – older/listed and recently constructed – have, by necessity of their former residential use, cellular accommodation with some large communal rooms, which will all form part of the refurbishment,’ the statement reads. ‘It is intended that there will be minimal disruption of the original fabric. ‘The proposed development will represent a much-needed and significant investment in the future of the listed building and surrounding area in general. ‘It is hoped the redevelopment of this important listed building, retaining its original residential use, will secure its future, and help meet the demand for accommodation, not only within the immediate Downpatrick urban area, but also within the general south-east Down area.’
The document highlights that, whilst the property has lain vacant since 2011, it has been well maintained, is in relatively good condition and retains many of its original details. The proposed development ‘endeavours to retain the structure and fabric’, and, where practical, ‘the works will be of a repair nature as opposed to replacement’.
‘The general external condition of the building is relatively good, considering it has been unused for over 10 years, mainly thanks to the Church who have undertaken a caretaker role to include regular maintenance,’ it reads. ‘Whilst the existing roof would appear to be sound, it is anticipated slate repairs will be required where necessary and some lead flashing replaced. ‘Internally, there would appear to be considerable wet/dry rot, and woodworm treatment will be required to all timbers.
‘The existing main staircase seems also to be sound.’ The applicant, it is said, has ‘explored a number of options to provide a commercially viable solution to bring this property back into use, resulting in the decision to reinstate the residential use and provide a columbarium within the former private chapel’. ‘The refurbishment of this currently vacant building will help resurrect and enhance this historic part of Downpatrick, as well as helping to provide accommodation for those in most need due to various circumstances, most often outside of their control,’ the statement concludes. ‘Indeed, providing shelter and succour, providing assistance and support in time of hardship and distress from the surrounding area is reminiscent as to why the convent was established some 170 years ago.’