By Storybeat, 0203 026 3780
TV historian Sir Tony Robinson this week bestowed a unique honour on an NHS finance officer for playing his part in keeping the UK’s heritage alive all year round, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the form of a night-time installation, Stonehenge was lit up with the faces of eight individuals who, with the help of National Lottery funding, are supporting heritage projects across the UK. This includes William Colvin and his work to save the deconsecrated Cushendun Old Church from dereliction.
The historic takeover of Stonehenge is the first time the 5,000-year-old sarsen stones of the world-renowned site have been dedicated to individual members of the public.
A video projection of Sir Tony acted to first illuminate the historic stones and introduce the momentous display.
The Church opened as a community arts and cultural venue in July 2019 and is at the heart of community activity in this isolated rural village of Cushendun, county Antrim, in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Over the years, William has worked ceaselessly for the group, his IT skills being essential for things such as setting up the website, e-mail system and document sharing.
However he is being honoured for his work in bringing the community together, which has proved vital, and has seen the Church become a thriving arts space over the past 18 months.
“There’s nothing else like it. Cushendun has remained unchanged for probably the last 120 years, and this building is slap in the middle of it. It would become an eyesore if it came to ruin, so it has therefore been very important locally that this doesn’t happen.
It was given a new lease of life as a community arts and cultural venue when it finally opened after 13 years of work in July 2019. The project, which received support from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, also featured on BBC’s Restoration Village where it was voted a regional winner.
“Apart from a pub and a tea-room there is no central meeting space in the village for people to get together. Since opening last July, we’ve had non-stop bookings – most of whom had lived their whole life in the village but had never been over the door.”
Lockdown however forced the church to close.
““The bit that I found hardest was having to shut the gate and hang the closed notice on the door. I felt quite depressed about that, particularly as it has taken 13 years to get to where we are. However since we’ve re-opened, it has been very widely used by the local community.”
With lockdowns and travel restrictions becoming the new normal, green spaces and historic sites have played an increasingly pivotal role in people’s lives.
The homage comes as the results of new National Lottery research announced today highlight that 70% of people in Northern Ireland credit visiting outdoor spaces with having a positive effect on their mental wellbeing this year, and over a third say visiting heritage sites makes them feel more relaxed and less anxious in difficult times
However William knows none of what they have done would have been possible without the support of The National Lottery Heritage Fund.
“The National Lottery has been the principle funder throughout and we’d be lost without it. It really has been invaluable. It also gives you credibility when seeking outside help,” he added.
“Part of the application process is making sure that the group is resilient enough to see it through to the end and beyond. Yes, we couldn’t do without the financial support, but to have the safety blanket of somebody on the other end of the phone was incredible.”
Heritage sites across the UK are being supported by the National Lottery through the COVID-19 pandemic with some of the £30m raised each week for good causes by National Lottery players.
Sir Tony Robinson said: “I love the fact that Stonehenge is being lit up as a tribute to some of the country’s key project workers and volunteers, letting the public know about the hard work they’ve been doing to keep our heritage accessible to everyone using National Lottery funding.
“Without the graft and tireless effort of these wonderful people, our much-loved heritage would be more at risk than ever this year.”
Ros Kerslake CBE, chief executive of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “The National Lottery is playing a crucial role in supporting heritage sites and projects during the crisis, but it’s the important role of that the thousands of amazing individuals, some of which we are celebrating and honouring today, that keep these places going and make our visits memorable.”