A disused pub in Co Down that had been lying vacant for several years has been given a new lease of life.
The old McFadden’s bar in Dromore – formerly the Wellington House Hotel – has been transformed into a bustling multi-purpose community hub by local charity Via Wings.
This Monday will see the official opening of the faith-based organisation’s new social enterprise shop at Wellington House on the town’s Princes Street. But that is just one aspect of an ambitious multi-phase redevelopment project at the site.
“The building had been lying empty for about five years and we are now turning it into a new facility to house everything that the charity does under one roof,” explained Via Wings founder Gail Redmond.
Having previously rented premises in the town, the charity worked hard on fundraising projects for several years and received two significant financial gifts which allowed it to buy a building.
In 2016 an offer was put in to purchase the former pub, and in September last year they finally moved in to the charity’s new home and began renovations to turn the building into a community facility.
“Mrs McFadden would have done a lot of work for charity within our town and in the local community so we really have brought that sense of community back in here,” Ms Redmond explained.
Over the past six months charity staff and volunteers have been busy turning the run down pub building into a vibrant community hub which now houses a food parcel distribution project, a catering and education programme for vulnerable adults and those with learning difficulties and a senior citizens’ lunch club.
Via Wings at Wellington House also provides space for after schools and parent and toddler groups, a monthly supper club and games nights, as well as volunteer and employment opportunities for many isolated and vulnerable members of the local community.
Yesterday the charity held a special event to mark the opening of its new shop Wings ‘n’ Things, which will sell shabby chic and new craft items made by local crafters.
Among the guests at the celebration were representatives from the Halifax Foundation, which has provided funding for Via Wings to help it expand its Dare 2 Care project, which distributes food parcels to people in need.
Thanking the Halifax Foundation for providing £5,000 towards the salary of a project manager, Ms Redmond said: “Their funding has enabled us to run the project much more efficiently because it has grown from a cupboard-sized project into a three-centred project.
“We now provide food parcels to around 65 families every month, which averages out at about 350 people.
“As the number of people using our foodstore increases month-on-month the manager’s role is essential and the funding from the Halifax Foundation ensures that we can continue to expand and develop the foodstore.”
Gillian Boyd, trustee of the Halifax Foundation NI, commented: “The Halifax Foundation for Northern Ireland is delighted to support the important work of Via Wings. This particular award will enable the organisation to help those who are most vulnerable in their local community. We wish them every success in the future.”
So far half of the old pub building has been renovated and Via Wings at Wellington House now boasts new offices, counselling rooms and a conference room. But that’s not the end of the redevelopment work.
The charity is in the process of constructing a new coffee shop with a sensory garden and play area, which should be open within the next few months. And it also has long-term plans to redevelop another section of the building and create a wellbeing centre.
“The wellbeing centre is going to be phase four,” Ms Redmond continued. “It would be our passion to have it up and running by the end of the year, but that will depend on fundraising and securing the necessary funding.
“We hope the centre will help people – men and women – learn to live with their mental health. We want to provide things like reflexology, aromatherapy, breathing techniques, helping people learn about self care.”
Praising the charity’s staff and volunteers for their dedication and hard work, she added: “Without them we couldn’t run this project. We have a team here that have a passion to serve this community, to walk in unity with them and see change happen.”
• About the charity and its work...
Founded in 2009 by Gail Redmond, Via Wings was set up to help people in need in Dromore and surrounding areas.
The faith-based charity’s aim “is to show God’s love in a loving, caring, practical, non-judgemental way.”
It runs a range of projects designed to tackle problems such as poverty, loneliness, isolation, deprivation and more.
The charity provides food parcels to people in need, operates an after schools scheme, runs social events for older people and offers counselling and support services.
It also provides a service to help people furnish and renovate shells of houses and turn them into comfortable homes.
Via Wings has grown considerably over the past 10 years and now has 15 part-time staff and more than 80 volunteers.
For further information about the charity, its work and volunteering opportunities log on to viawings.co.uk