Giant Step Forward for New Saintfield Community Centre.
Plans for the new Saintfield Community Centre took a giant step forward as Newry, Mourne and Down District Council received the Letter of Offer from the Local Action Group and the construction process began on 10 August 2018.
The new Centre will be located at the former BJ Caraher site and will cost just under £1.3 million, with Newry, Mourne and Down District Council providing £800,000. Other financial support of £500,000 comes from Mourne, Gullion and Lecale Rural Development Partnership, which is responsible for the delivery of Priority 6 of the Rural Development Programme.
Newry Mourne and Down District Council Chairman, Councillor Mark Murnin said, “As Chairman of the Council I am delighted to formally launch the development of this new Community Centre and indoor 3G pitch.
“We hope that the scheme will be complete in the early part of 2019 when the Council will enter in a Facility Management Agreement with Saintfield Development Association to manage the facility on the Council’s behalf.
“One of the Council’s key aims is to provide high quality community facilities and to explore partnership opportunities in joint provision to ensure the sustainability of Community Services. We are also keen to build community capacity to empower local people to effect change within their communities. This project is an excellent example of partnership working between statutory and voluntary groups and the empowerment of local people in developing much needed provision for community facilities.”
Chairperson of the Local Action Group, Councillor Rosin Mulgrew said: “The Local Action Group is delighted to be able to provide £500,000 of grant assistance towards the development of the Saintfield Community Centre.
“The application received by the Council was of a particularly high standard and I look forward to seeing the project come to fruition over the coming months. The members of the Local Action Group have continued to work towards the implementation of the Rural Development Strategy and positively impact on the lives of the rural dwellers of Newry Mourne and Down District Council, and the award of grant assistance reflects this.”
Ganson UK Ltd has been appointed as the lead contractor on the project by the Council.
SDA Delighted With Progress On Saintfield Community Centre
Martyn Todd, Chairman of the Saintfield Development Association, said his group was delighted to have reached this key stage and were now looking forward to the works moving ahead and the project being completed in six months.
He added: “It is fantastic that everybody in the Saintfield area will have a new shared space for indoor sports and community activities. We are delighted that funding from the Rural Development Programme and Peace IV were added to the money committed by Newry, Mourne and Down Council to make this happen.
“Over the years of the project, many different people, council officials, councillors and organisations have contributed to the project. Without their input and support we would not be where we are today with the reality of a community centre just a few months away.
“I hope this long-awaited amenity will bring new heart to our village where people of all ages, backgrounds and interests can interact and enjoy a variety of activities in a shared space.”
Pictured above examining the plans for the community centre are (l-r) Saintfield Development Association members Damian Scarlett, (Saintfield Bowling Club); Chair of the Saintfield Community Centre Working Group, Barbara Graham, Brian Gamble SDA Treasurer, Paul McGeown, and Martyn Todd, SDA Chairman.
Background to the Saintfield Community Centre Project.
This project started on Monday 25th June, 2007 when the late Gerry Lowe as Chair of Saintfield Town Regeneration Committee (since renamed as the Saintfield Development Association led a presentation to Down District Council to request a feasibility study for a community centre for Saintfield. Present that evening in the council chamber were some people who have been supportive of the project for all of the 11-year intervening period. Former Councillor William Dick proposed that legact Down District Council should commission such a study and this was seconded by Councillor Billy Walker. The proposal was agreed with no objections.
Also present that evening, representing the community with Gerry Lowe were Lindsay Ross of Saintfield United Football Club, Lawrence Murphy representing Saintfield Hockey Club and the then Saintfield Town Regeneration Committee and Susan Walsh representing Saintfield Community Estates Partnership. Martyn Todd, current Chair of the Saintfield Development Association, was then the Director of Recreation and Community Services in the Council and was also present.
During the remaining tenure of Down District Council, the project progressed steadily, if slowly at times. A suitable site was difficult to find and three possibilities were rejected before Michael Lipsett (Director of Recreation) who succeeded Martyn Todd on his retirement organised the purchase of the Belfast Road site on behalf of Down District Council. The site is ideally located, being near the centre of the village and opposite Saintfield High School. The existing buildings on site, three well built and well-maintained warehouses, lend themselves to many possible uses.
Following extensive public consultation (over 950 local people completed questionnaires) the facilities for the centre were agreed and Down District councillors unanimously approved funding of £3.4million to refurbish the premises. However, the merger of Down District Council and Newry and Mourne Council resulted in a moratorium on all previously agreed capital projects and so the Down District Council plans for Saintfield were shelved.
The new Council comprised many new councillors and council officials who were not familiar with Saintfield or its need for a community centre. This resulted in the Saintfield Development Association having to demonstrate the need once again. Further public consultation and additional studies resulted in the production of a business case that was accepted by the new council, though the council had now limited the funding to a maximum of £1.5m. This sum was not sufficient to refurbish all three buildings on the site and it was agreed that the current project would refurbish the largest building and half of a second one. It is planned that the remainder of the buildings will be developed at a later stage as funds become available.
The priority needs and wishes from the public consultations were used to decide what facilities should be provided. The largest building (some 60m by 30m) will be an indoor training space for large ball sports. The artificial grass surface will be ideal for soccer and Gaelic football and is very much welcomed by Saintfield United Football Club and St Mochai’s GAC, both of whom have had to hire pitches outside Saintfield for their extensive youth training programmes. The new facility will provide a safe and dry space for training in all weathers, a boon for young players and their parents.
Half of the second building being refurbished will comprise a large hall, meeting rooms, a studio, a small kitchen and a welcoming entrance area. This space will have large windows looking out over the landscaped surroundings, which will include, in time, a modern play area. The building will be very energy efficient and the goal is to make it carbon neutral. Half of the large roof area faces South and will have photo-voltaic panels. There will also be heat pumps and a rain-water catchment system to reduce running costs.
Saintfield Development Association has been the prime mover for the project for most of the eleven years. However, to widen the involvement from the community, a separate organisation, the Saintfield Community Trust, has been established to oversee the management and running of the new centre. Damian Scarlett, secretary of Saintfield Bowling Club, chairs the working group for the new Trust and has worked closely with Barbara Graham, Brian Gamble, Paul McGeown and Martyn Todd as the project team liaising with Newry Mourne and Down Council since its formation three years ago.
Public consultation revealed that there are over fifty school, church, sport and community groups in and around Saintfield. Some of these are having to use premises outside Saintfield for their meetings as all the available halls in Saintfield are busy most nights of the week. The new centre will provide facilities for these groups to return to Saintfield and also allow new groups to form and use the shared spaces being provided.