Context 140 - July 2015

18 C O N T E X T 1 4 0 : J U LY 2 0 1 5 PRIMROSE WILSON Buildings to delight The Follies Trust was formed by a group of people who share a passion for a motley collection of unusual buildings that enhance and enrich Irish landscapes, towns and cities. Follies are part of the intricate fabric of our history, but because they serve no obviously useful purpose they are too often regarded as expendable.The FolliesTrust encourages the appreciation and conservation of Irish follies, promotes traditional construction and building skills, and encourages the appreciation of Ireland’s artistic and cultural heritage. Follies can be grottoes, garden buildings, ruins, bridges, hermitages, shell houses, towers, mausolea or monuments and much else besides. Follies have been described as statements of style, passion, eye-catchers and buildings to delight. This suggests that they are merely frivolous structures but this is not so.They were often built to provide employment in times of famine and hardship. After its formation in 2006 the trust felt it was impor- tant to establish its credibility by undertaking a project as soon as possible. In the early days we thought it would not be difficult to raise funds for smaller projects. So we decided to tackle three listed mausolea in Knockbreda churchyard, Belfast. They are amazing structures, well written up by architectural historian James Stevens Curl, and described by him as ‘sumptuous, yet refined; ostentatious, yet delicate’. Early success with funding applications to the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and the Pilgrim Trust reinforced the view that fundraising would be straightforward.Then, in late 2007, the trouble started. Major funders we had applied to pointed out that we did not own the structures and the project was not considered regenerative.The final insult came when a trust with the word monument in its name told us; ‘We don’t like mausolea’.We were rejected by 10 major funders within 12 months and were in despair. To further add to our problems, the pessimists asked where we were going to acquire a loan from to get the project started, even if we did receive funding. Even before the global financial crisis began, banks were unlikely to be enthusiastic about providing loans for three structures that we did not own, located in a graveyard that did not belong to us. The Architectural Heritage Fund does not lend to projects where there is no change of use, or change of ownership, and we did not wish to own the mausolea. The trust subsequently embarked on a variety of fundraising activities to provide it with sufficient working capital. The trust was fortunate to have an excellent profes- sional adviser, Chris McCollum, who kept revising the figures for the project and encouraged the trust to keep going. In 2008, our first stroke of luck occurred: the Northern Ireland Environment Agency revised its grant policy and offered 35 per cent grant aid for eligible repairs (previously they had been offering 20 per cent). Then rumours started to circulate that tender figures were coming in at lower than expected levels as contractors were struggling for work.The trust went out to tender for two mausolea (instead of three) and discovered that the rumours were true. Soon afterwards,VAT was reduced from 17.5 per cent to 15 per cent, and the work could finally progress. The FolliesTrust’s first project to restore the Greg and Rainey mausolea was completed in 2009.We celebrated our first success with the launch of an accompanying Knockbreda churchyard, Belfast.The mausolea were transformed from ivy-covered structures with plants growing out of them and broken urns lying nearby to fine architectural set pieces.