VISITORS to the 400 year-old Lissan House in Cookstown will soon be able to enjoy a welcome cup of tea or coffee, thanks to a funding boost from the National Lottery.
A grant of £50,000 to Lissan House Trust will provide for the refurbishment of the dining room to a coffee shop.
The money was awarded under the Big Lottery Fund’s Village SOS scheme, which supports rural communities across the UK to come together to improve facilities, services and opportunities for local people.
The money generated from the cafe and catering for local community events will go back into covering the running costs and the upkeep of the stately house.
The house, in the hamlet of Churchtown, is almost four centuries old, and was occupied by the Staples family until the last descendant, Hazel Dolling, died in 2006.
In 2003 the house came to prominence when it reached the national final of the BBC’s Restoration programme.
“Before Hazel died she stipulated that if we could secure funding to refurbish the House and open it as a viable tourist attraction she would bequeath it to the Trust,” said chairman Kieran Haughey.
“The roof has since been replaced and the building re-rendered, and this year Lissan House opened to the public for the first time.
“The house is just the way Hazel left it. It has been used for meetings, weddings and conferences and local people often come to walk around the estate.
“But we have no catering facilities and we want to refurbish the dining room to open up a coffee shop for all visitors, whether they are with a touring group or just someone local out for a walk.”
Kieran continued: “Talking to tour operators and our visitors we are being told we need to have a shop for coffees and lunches. It is a vital part of the visitor experience.
“At Lissan House we are continually thinking of new ways of boosting income. We let land to local farmers, we have hosted a gardening festival and intend to organise musical events. In our first summer of opening, from April to November this year, we had almost 6,000 visitors.
“We are hoping that with the new cafe these figures will be even higher in future. It is very important that we are able to look after our guests and make their visit as pleasurable as possible.
“Once the cafe is in place, we’ll also be able to hire out the venue for conferences and events. The money we make from this venture will go back into looking after this historic old venue which is part of the rich heritage of Northern Ireland.”
A community group near Magherafelt, meanwhile, is also celebrating after being offered a Lottery grant of £50,000.
Curragh Hall Community Development Association plans to use the funding to renovate part of its community venue so they can develop a luncheon club and meals-on-wheels service for local older people, including those with dementia and their carers.
The money people will pay for the meals on wheels service and the luncheon club will go back into covering the costs of the business and running more activities in the centre including hairdressing and advice sessions.
Chairman, George Shiels, explains: “This is a very rural area, with no facilities and no meals on wheels service or luncheon club. Many older people live alone and feel really isolated - isolated yet living amongst us - and this project is about making sure they eat well and are looked after and once more become part of the community.
“The money is being used to create a room in our centre where we can hold the luncheon club and offer activities for local older people. We’re also linking in with the Northern Health and Social Care Trust and the Out and About rural transport group to deliver the meals on wheels service for people who can’t get out of the house because of a disability or illness.”