Charity sets out new plan for Blue House

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 January, 2008, 12:00am

A charitable organisation hopes to engage residents who want to remain in Wan Chai's Stone Nullah Lane buildings - including the Blue House - in its attempt to revitalise the cluster of historic buildings.

St James' Settlement is devising a plan that will allow the residents to keep renting their homes at affordable prices, and at the same time balance the need for financial self-sustainability.

'It is, of course, much easier to revitalise a building when it is empty,' a senior officer with the charity, Laurence Lam Kwok-wai, said.

'But the concept of people is important in the passing on a community's heritage.'

The government, which plans to redevelop the area, earlier announced that the 80-year-old Blue House and the nearby Orange and Yellow Houses would be included in a revitalisation scheme spearheaded by the Development Bureau. The buildings are so far the only sites in the scheme where residents are allowed to stay.

Previously, the Housing Society and the Urban Renewal Authority had intended to transform the Blue House into a tourist attraction with a theme of tea and Chinese medicine - a scheme under which residents would not be permitted to remain.

Mr Lam said St James' Settlement would co-apply for the right to revitalise the buildings with the residents' association, which it hoped would give its input on the scheme.

He said the preliminary idea was to turn the buildings into a base for local artists to promote community art and cultural tourism in Wan Chai.

'We hope to link the Blue House with the characteristics of the Wan Chai community,' he said.

'Preserving and revitalising historic buildings is not just for nostalgia's sake, but to use the place as a focal point to build up the community.'

The group now runs a heritage museum in the Blue House, supported by the sustainable development fund.

Mr Lam said the Blue House example was a 'healthy' precedent undertaken by the government, reflecting a shift of mindset that heritage protection was not just about keeping the 'hardware'.

About a dozen of the present 40 households in the buildings are expected to stay behind. Most of the residents are either old people or have lived there with their families for many years.

Under the government's revitalisation scheme, non-government organisations are invited to submit proposals on revitalising selected historic sites.

A Development Bureau spokesman said the Blue House cluster would not be included in the first batch of the seven historic buildings open to applications starting next month due to time constraints. But it would work hard to include the site as soon as possible.