Context 153 - March 2018

C O N T E X T 1 5 3 : M A R C H 2 0 1 8 31 One of the series ‘Gigs in Unusual Spaces’ brought an audience to Peel Lifeboat House CATRIONA MACKIE Island of architecture The Isle of Architecture initiative and the work of a number of independent heritage trusts have brought the Isle of Man’s architecture to a new audience and generated much debate. In 2016 the Isle of Man became the first island nation to be designated as a Unesco biosphere reserve, an endorse- ment that highlights the interconnectivity between the island’s communities, natural environment, heritage and culture. In recognition of this, in 2018 the Isle of Man is celebrating a Year of Our Island, promoting the Isle of Man as a special place to live and work. Part of what gives the Isle of Man its unique character is its built environment. From farm buildings to boarding houses to bunkers, the island’s architecture contributes to its sense of place, and makes it attractive to locals and visitors alike. In recent years, a number of developments have highlighted the important work done by organisa- tions and volunteers to help support and promote the island’s built environment. For example, the island boasts a number of inde- pendent heritage trusts, some of which are very active indeed. A few years ago Ballaugh Heritage Trust was instrumental in redeveloping an old railway goods shed that was deteriorating. The shed was built on the northern railway line in around 1879. The Heritage Trust acquired a temporary lease on the building from the parish commissioners and raised money to carry out essential repair work.The renovated goods shed was opened in 2014 and holds regular exhibitions relating to the village. The work of the Heritage Trust has not only created an additional community space in the heart of Ballaugh, it has also repurposed one of the island’s at-risk historic buildings. The island’s railway heritage remains extensive. A vibrant Steam Railway Supporters’Association works to preserve not only historic engines but also buildings associated with the railway. Last year saw the completed restoration of a crossing gate hut, built in 1874, and the group has prepared detailed building registration propos- als for 11 railway stations and associated structures. Without the dedication, skills and knowledge of these volunteers, many of these buildings might deteriorate or be lost. The Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society (IOMNHAS) has worked for over a century to fulfil a broad remit, which includes promoting and protecting the island’s built heritage. In 2012 the society established the Traditional Buildings of Mann project to encourage the recording of the island’s vernacular architecture.The public was encouraged to get involved through training sessions and site visits. More recently, in 2015, IOMNHAS brought together representatives of the island’s heritage organisations and conservation groups to form an Alliance for Building Conservation. The aim of the alliance is to raise awareness of the island’s built heritage, and to promote improvements in the planning and building registration systems. Since 2015 it has produced a fortnightly two-page spread in one of the island’s newspapers, focusing on buildings at risk and examples of good conservation practice. Earlier in 2015, the Building Conservation Forumwas established under the auspices of CultureVannin, a chari- table organisation founded in 1982 (as theManx Heritage Foundation) to promote Manx culture.The forum brings together representatives of a variety of organisations to identify ways of promoting and protecting the island’s historic built environment. Although sharing broadly similar aims with the Alliance for Building Conservation, the two groups have rather different approaches. The forum invites political representatives and government officers to its meetings, with a view to ascertaining how the forum might best support politicians and officers who share their aims. In contrast, the alliance prefers to eschew political involvement in its meetings. Indeed, a number of its Buildings at Risk newspaper articles have been critical of the island’s planning system. In the two-and-a-half years since it was established, the forum has undertaken a number of initiatives. The most significant of these has been Isle of Architecture. One of the issues identified by the forum was a lack of awareness among the general public and politicians of the importance of the island’s built environment. This was seen to be particularly important in the run-up to the House of Keys elections in 2016. Funding of £10,000 was secured from the trustees of Manx National Heritage (MNH) and the board of Culture Vannin to set up the year-long Isle of Architecture initiative, which would run from July 2016 to July 2017. Isle of Architecture engaged the services of a PR company (Revel) to organise a series of events through the year and to market them.The steering group com- prised Catriona Mackie (trustee of MNH), Breesha Maddrell (director of Culture Vannin) and Martyn Thomas (chair of the Isle of Man Society of Architects). Isle of Architecture was intended not only to help raise