Belfast’s titanic renaissance

Paul Mullan, Head of HLF Northern Ireland
As HLF announces £4.9million to transform Belfast’s historic Harland and Wolff HQ – birthplace of HMS Belfast and RMS Titanic – into a 4 star hotel, Head of HLF Northern Ireland, Paul Mullan, explores how investment in the city’s shipbuilding heritage is sparking regeneration.

By the first half of the 20th century, Belfast was one of the world’s most dynamic industrial centres.  It was within the walls of Harland and Wolff’s HQ where the leading minds in ship design and engineering broke new ground to produce ships that were the envy of the world. 

Sadly, the decline of city’s shipbuilding industry was mirrored in the steady decline of Harland and Wolff’s HQ.  Once a symbol of Belfast’s international importance, just over a decade ago it was placed onto Northern Ireland’s buildings at risk register.

But that memory of a dynamic shipyard has awoken in recent years. Today, Titanic Belfast is an incredibly successful tourist attraction. The SS Nomadic, which was built to ferry passengers to and from the Titanic, has been brought back to its former glory and is the highest rated tourism attraction in Belfast.  Close by, HMS Caroline is undergoing a transformation from being a forgotten piece of naval heritage into a museum which will tell a story of sea battles from both the First and Second World Wars.

“This isn't just a nice to do but something that has a strong economic and revitalising value.”Paul Mullan, Head of HLF Northern Ireland

The result is more than one million visitors to the Titanic Quarter each year. With this success comes a return to fortune for the derelict Harland and Wolff HQ.  £4.9m from our Heritage Enterprise programme will convert the building into an 83 bedroom hotel, with the potential to create over 100 jobs. 

The £27m development will bring much wider economic benefits by bringing more visitors and investment to Belfast.  This unique hotel will gives new purpose to an important part of Northern Ireland’s built heritage, building on the Titanic theme of the Quarter whilst providing a stunning setting for visitors.  

It also shows how we can use historic buildings creatively, in a way that helps people fully appreciate its past whilst enjoying its present uses and harnessing the collective resolve of both the private and public sector for the benefit of everyone.

We now need to bring this sense of purpose to our many other buildings at risk by challenging not-for-profit groups to partner with commercial operators to bring back into use those buildings which provide us with a direct link to our past. 

This isn't a nice to do but something that has a strong economic and revitalising value. Over two years ago a report on the economic value of Northern Ireland’s historic environment marked out this opportunity, making a strong case for this type of investment.  Today, in the Titanic Quarter and across the UK, Lottery money is helping people to realise the untapped potential of our vacant and underused historic buildings.

Back to top of page