SNOW Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody made a welcome return to his home town to crown the Court House team winners of the 2023 National Lottery Project of the Year.

As one of Bangor’s favourite sons, the talented musician was full of praise for the award winning arts and music venue, hailing it as the ‘North Star for music’.

The Court House beat off stiff competition from across the United Kingdom – a total of 4,000 projects were nominated for this year’s award – to become the first ever project from Northern Ireland to lift the prestigious trophy.

Local people in their thousands voted in support of the Court House when they were one of the competition’s 17 finalists to face a public vote.

As well as their iconic National Lottery trophy, the Court House received a cash prize of £5,000 which will now go towards the further redevelopment of the rear yard.

Since opening its Quay Street doors the Court House has welcomed 38,000 people across its threshold and hosted over 400 events showcasing more than 1,000 artist performances in its first year of business.

Congratulating the Court House team, the Snow Patrol lead singer said directors Kieran Gilmore and Alison Gordon and all their team had created a place where creatives could ‘play their songs and make their art with freedom and abandon’.

He said he had watched this project ‘thrive with much admiration’, that he was ‘in awe of what they have created in Bangor’ and he was ‘grateful’ they had breathed new life into the Court House.

Said Gary: “The transformation of the old court house into an exciting, electrifying and energetic live music venue has meant so much to the city of Bangor and beyond.

“The fact that people voted in their thousands for this project to win this award is a testament to the dedication and vision of all those involved in bringing this building to life.

“Bangor seafront has been crying out for regeneration for a long time. I don’t think anybody wanted to be the first (to begin the regeneration) but Kieran, Alison and the team are the first and thank goodness for that. Hopefully this will be an incentive for more people to start building in our home town.”

The global music star has a big heart for helping his home town, having previously supported a number of local charities including North Down and Ards Women’s Aid.

He said: “I have always wanted it to be more than about me, or more than the band.

“It is about the community, it is about the collective, it is about people. I don’t want it to be about how many album sales. I like to support local artists and that is why we set up the record and management company Third Bar and the foundation.”

The singer described as ‘amazing’ the transformation of the former branch of the Belfast Banking Company that had been built in 1866 and gone on to serve as a Magistrates’ Court from 1952 until 2013, when it fell into disrepair.

In 2015, Open House began campaigning to save and redevelop the building and after seven years of fundraising, lobbying, planning and refurbishment, made possible with a major grant of almost £1m from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, the new music and arts venue finally opened its doors just over a year ago.

Now, as well as providing a much-needed home for the local arts community, the venue is helping to drive economic regeneration in the city.

Accepting the award Kieran Gilmore, Open House Director, said: “We are absolutely delighted to be the 2023 winners of the National Lottery Project of the Year Award, especially as this is the first time a project from Northern Ireland has lifted the trophy, and we’re beyond grateful to every single person who gave us their vote and helped make it happen.

“Back in the summer of 2013, when we held our first annual Open House Festival in Bangor, we had no idea that the Court House would become both our home and the only dedicated music and arts venue in the town, now city.

“But when we launched a crowdfunding campaign to save the old, empty building in 2017, the public support we received from our festival audience assured us we were doing the right thing. Those same people supported us through years of fundraising and renovation and have now become our Court House audience too.

“They voted for us in their thousands to receive this award, and it belongs to them just as much as it does to us. We’d also like to thank The National Lottery Heritage Fund for nominating us for the award, and for all the support and encouragement we receive from them.”

Dr Paul Mullan, Northern Ireland director at the National Lottery Heritage Fund, said the passion and commitment from the Open House team has ensured the revival and rebirth of the building into a dynamic and modern cultural venue.

“It is our mission at The National Lottery Heritage Fund to not only invest in heritage but to invest in communities,” he said. “The regeneration of Bangor Court House is a living, breathing example of this in action.”

North Down MP Stephen Farry congratulated the Court House team and everyone who gave them their support in the public vote.

“This is a clear and popular endorsement of the work that has been done in redeveloping Bangor Court House and sparking the regeneration of Bangor town centre through the arts and culture,” he said.