Old Mill Court receives Top Prize at Northern Ireland Planning Awards

Rural Housing Association’s Old Mill Court scheme in Sion Mills has received its second industry award placing it as one of the most professionally recognised social housing schemes in Northern Ireland. The scheme, which was awarded a Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors Social Impact Award in May, has been named winner of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) Northern Ireland Award for Planning Excellence 2020.

The RTPI Awards for Planning Excellence are the most high-profile awards in the industry. They recognise and reward talent in the planning industry that has helped transform local economies, environments and communities in Northern Ireland.
Old Mill Court is a flagship example of a housing proposal that combines innovative architectural design rooted in the history of its surroundings, with a commitment to improving the economic, social and environmental conditions of the village in which it sits. From project inception Rural Housing Association and GM Design Associates worked to develop a scheme that would blend into the surrounding community, whilst reflecting the rich historical context of the village. Rural Housing and GM Design Associates have achieved a scheme that reflects the history of the village whilst fitting unobtrusively into the surrounding community.

Old Mill Court received funding from the Department for Communities and Danske Bank to develop the scheme. As a ‘Housing for All’ development DfC and the NI Housing Executive also fund Rural Housing to produce a comprehensive five-year good relations plan for the area. This will see the long-term delivery of a range of community focused programmes for the residents of Sion Mills, aimed at encouraging more inclusive and connected communities.

This holistic approach to promoting cohesion between the new development and the surrounding community places Rural Housing at the forefront of building sustainable rural communities.
Rural Housing Association’s Chief Executive, Stephen Fisher, said, “In 2014 Rural Housing published its Rural Design Guide for social housing in Northern Ireland. Old Mill Court in Sion Mills is the first embodiment of that design guide and reflects many of the unique aspects of the guide.
We are delighted that the Royal Town Planning Institute have chosen Old Mill Court as the winner of their Planning Excellence Awards NI 2020 reinforcing the hard work in developing the scheme by our in-house development team, the architects GM Design Associates, and Kevin Watson Group who built the scheme. Many thanks to them all.”
Director of RTPI Northern Ireland Roisin Willmott FRTPI said: “Old Mill Court is a worthy winner of the RTPI NI Award for Planning Excellence 2020, having regard to local social and economic culture and the landscapes and environments that have shaped distinct places.
“Sion Mills is a designated conservation area and a village rich in architectural heritage. The judges were particularly impressed that Old Mill Court’s design, by GM Design Associates, was part of a wider regeneration masterplan which took this heritage into account.

Ciaran Smith, Architect at GM Design Associates who were responsible for the design of the scheme commented “We are delighted to hear that Rural Housing’s Old Mill Court, Sion Mills has been recognised and chosen as the winner of the 2020 RTPI NI Award for Planning Excellence. We are thankful for the design freedom afforded by this forward thinking association to allow us to deliver a public housing scheme has been now been recognised on multiple occasions, as a well-planned, high quality, thoughtful response to a Social Housing scheme, that is both forward thinking and yet fully respectful of the already attractive and historic village of Sion Mills. We are proud of both the finished scheme and its associated delivery, which included the skill and dedication of the entire GM Design Associates Architect led Design Team and Rural Housing Contracting teams. This collaboration has been crucial in achieving the excellent standards delivered at Old Mill Court. This however has only been made possible by willingness of Rural Housing to invest into the narrative of the importance of high quality, well planned, individually designed and site specific spaces and homes for people to live. Their continually growing experience and understanding of the needs of rural communities, twinned with their investment of their Rural Design Guide, which was fundamentally the catalyst for Old Mill Court, has undoubtedly benefitted the quality of the scheme, the community of Sion Mills, and ultimately the lives of the end users who reside in Old Mill Court. We would like to wish the tenants at Old Mills Court the very best with their new homes.