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Ulster Folk Museum development plans set to be unveiled

Reawakening Industry Zone Architect Drawing
Ulster Folk Museum
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National Museums NI has submitted a Proposal of Application Notice to Ards and North Down Borough Council ahead of revealing plans to reinvigorate the Ulster Folk Museum as a dynamic heritage and environment resource. 

Expected to cost in the region of £50 million, the project has already attracted just over £1million support from The National Lottery Heritage Fund to help progress the development stage of the project. The plans prioritise the creation of learning facilities which will enable more people to get involved in heritage and environmental conservation in new and different ways. 
First opened in 1964, the museum was founded to preserve a way of life distinctive to the people of Ulster which, despite altering little for centuries, had started to disappear due to rapid changes to society. Now, almost 60 years later, the newly revealed plans seek to ‘reawaken’ the significance of these forgotten customs, skills and knowledge as resources for promoting new ideas and actions in response to the issues we face in today’s world including cultural diversity, wellbeing and environmental change.   

Artist's concept of a welcome hall in a new interpretative centre

The scheme includes two new, carefully located buildings – a ‘Culture Hub’, creating a greater sense of welcome and orientation for visitors, and an ‘Industry Zone’, telling the story of industrialisation and unlocking the potential of a unique collection that is currently inaccessible to the public. Plans also include the repurposing of currently inactive and underutilised spaces to create dynamic learning facilities to enable greater participation in activities such as heritage craft skills and environmental volunteering.  

Chief Executive of National Museums NI, Kathryn Thomson, said there has never been a more appropriate time for investment. She explained:

“At National Museums NI we want to ensure inclusive access to our museums and maximise the learning, wellbeing and economic benefits they bring to wider society. We have a fantastic opportunity to reawaken the Ulster Folk Museum and encourage people to reconnect with its heritage and environmental assets in new ways.” 

Kathryn continues:

“The rich cultural landscape and diverse collections preserved at the Ulster Folk Museum have never been more relevant to our lives today. With co-ordinated investment, we can help to bring people together through heritage and inspire new thinking about our shared and sustainable future.” 

The role that the museum can play in protecting the planet and educating people about the environment and biodiversity will be a key part of the wider plans. Ulster Folk Museum already has a successful partnership with The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) who have relocated their Native Tree Nursery to the museum. Working with museum staff, TCV have access to a plant collection containing more than 100,000 specimens, many of which are native flora, supporting planting programmes and biodiversity conservation. The partnership also introduced a Green Gym offering people the opportunity to better their physical and mental health by planting fruits and vegetables at the cottage gardens within the museum.  

Dianne Keys, Operations Leader at The Conservation Volunteers said:

“We are living through a climate crisis. The Ulster Folk Museum can become a real focus for people who want to make a new and different way of creating a sustainable future, and we’re really looking forward to continuing to be involved in its development.” 

Throughout the development of the project, National Museums NI will engage with a range of user groups to understand their diverse needs. A period of Pre-application Community Consultation will commence on 13 April and members of the public will be invited to provide feedback on the proposals online at from Friday 24 March and at a drop-in community consultation event scheduled to take place at Ulster Folk Museum, Cultra, on Thursday 20 April from 4pm to 8pm. An additional drop-in session will take place at Ulster Museum, Belfast, on 21 April from 11am to 3pm. 

Ulster Folk Museum will be taking part in this year’s National Lottery Open Week #ThanksToYou campaign offering free entry to Lottery players on Saturday 25 and Sunday 26 March. Children will also go free on these two days.