A look back at Lissan during the Covid 19 pandemic!
As COVID-19 restrictions start to ease and disappear, the full impact on Lissan House is now being assessed. The pandemic took its toll on many of us and we reflect on how life for many has changed. However, a positive from this period was that it granted us the time to stop and reflect on what has been happening at Lissan House. As a team, we’ve looked at what has worked for the house, in line with our aims and purpose as a charitable business and of course Hazel‘s dream. This has been invaluable in helping us focus on where we can go next.
But before moving into a (fingers crossed) Covid free 2022, let’s look back at the past two years.
When the impact of COVID-19 became apparent in March 2020 and the country went into lockdown, a re-assessment of the year’s plan was needed. Weddings were postponed, house tours stopped, and events cancelled. All usual income streams of the property were drying up. Maintaining a country house like Lissan comes at a huge cost. Insurance for the property alone is nearly £1,000 per month.
Luckily in 2019 a review of Lissan’s business model, future, and financial situation were conducted. By the time lockdown was announced, a series of measures to make spending more efficient and improve property income sources was already underway. While this was necessary for the future of the property in 2019, it proved lifesaving come March 2020.
Nevertheless, an appeal to the public was necessary to ensure a continued flow of cash into the property. And we were amazed by the response. It was great to see so many people enthusiastic about Lissan. Additionally, the property was lucky to be awarded funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to cover some of the running costs. These two things combined kept Lissan House afloat for 2020. This appeal also contributed to a small surge of new volunteers at the property, and their help has been invaluable in carrying out a lot of the work that has taken place.
This band of dedicated volunteers carried out jobs that had been long delayed or not possible during busy periods. The house was given a deep clean, areas painted, archiving completed, objects treated and cared for, areas of the grounds cut back, and paths improved.
One such project was the restoration of the portrait of Catherine, Lady Staples. This careful restoration was carried out by our volunteer, Jayne Greer and what a wonderful job she did. A blog piece on the restoration of Kitty will appear her in the future.
As lockdown restrictions eased in May 2020, the grounds were opened for walkers again. A coffee cart was set up to sell takeaway coffee and treats on-site. With rent from the coffee cart and donations collected from walkers as they bought coffee, a new and consistent income source helped add to the great support already shown by the public.
It became quickly apparent that access to public toilets on the grounds was necessary. There were many walkers on the estate but with the house closed, nowhere to go to the loo. A plan was designed for public toilets in our car park and a planning application to Mid Ulster Council was successful. Work began in late January 2021 on installing public toilets on the Lissan estate.
A polytunnel was established in the 4-acre walled garden in early 2021. Work was then carried out to return this area to its original purpose, offering new allotments to the local community. A vibrant community started to form in Spring/Summer 2021. So successful this has been that not only are all current allotment holders returning in Spring 2022 but we are extending the community allotments with a second polytunnel being installed and an additional 14 plots created.
In December 2020, we decided to create and build an interactive heritage trail in the grounds for children. Brilliant Trails designed the trail that included the heritage, nature and ethos of the Lissan estate. Work was completed on the trail in July 2021 and opened to the public in August 2021. This trail will bring more visitors to the Lissan estate and add yet another income stream to aid the development of the house and estate.
In Winter 2021 once again, another project was started this time to repair the roof of one of our many outbuildings. The Corn Store in the Stable Yard was identified as requiring necessary work to maintain it. Work was carried out on this in January 2022. This creates weather proofed rooms for us to develop and use.
One such room is the old Steenson’s workshop (just under the corn store arch). This room is currently undergoing restoration work to allow it to be rented out to a local Blacksmith, who will be running blacksmith workshops in this space.
In November 2021, on a cold winters day, our volunteers planted over 14,000 crocus bulbs in our front lawn. The purpose of planting these is to establish a large bed of crocus flowers to provide necessary winter/spring food for pollinators.
You may have noticed the Lissan House website has been updated after years of much-needed modification. Through Mid Ulster Council we were able to benefit from their Digital First programme and had a new website designed. Work to develop and improve the website will continue so that you can always stay updated with the latest news and events at Lissan.
Lissan has also been selected to appear in the ‘Island of Ireland’ edition of Top 100 Destinations as a unique place to visit. A wonderful tribute to ‘this Golden Place.’
Lissan House would like to take this moment to thank everyone who volunteered over the last two years. No matter how big or small your role has been, we cannot thank you enough for your hard work and dedication to the house and estate.
We also want to thank the Heritage Lottery Fund and Live Here, Love Here for their continued support during the last two years.
Thank you also to everyone who donated to the property during the pandemic. Without your generous contribution, we are not sure how Lissan would look today.
There still remains a long list of projects for Spring 2022 onwards which will further develop the house and estate. Wedding bookings are filling up – it’s great to see so many people see Lissan as the perfect venue for their intimate wedding.
As we immerge from the uncertainty of the last two years Lissan House can look positively towards 2022.
Watch this space!