AFTER many months of discussions, Saintfield is to get a new community centre.
Down District Council announced this week it has purchased the former BJ Caraher site on the Belfast Road, Saintfield, for a new community and leisure facility.
Down District Council Chairman, Rowallene Councillor Maria McCarthy, said she was absolutely delighted, and added: “The need for a community facility has been recognised for some time and was recently highlighted in the Community’s Town Plan.
“Down District Council started developing proposals for this facility almost a decade ago. While it has taken a long time for the dream of a new centre to be realised, the location is quite central with easy access for public transport and for those on foot. With its close proximity to Saintfield High School, this fabulous new facility means that a better site could not be found.
“We are also delighted to announce that the new community centre will be delivered through a structured partnership approach with the Department of Education, the SEELB Youth Service, Saintfield High School and the Saintfield Development Association (SDA) together with other local community and sports groups.
“All of the partners will have dedicated facilities within the new building. The partnership ensures that funds will be released from both central and local government and this means that the final construction costs of the building will not fall solely on the ratepayer of the district.”
The new partnership approach also heralds a new approach to conceptual design and project development. The detailed design through to the construction and future management of the new facility will be the shared responsibility of all key stakeholders ensuring the long-term sustainability of the project into the future and will serve as an exemplar of best practice across the whole of Northern Ireland.
Down District Council and the SDA are also pursuing further grant applications and funding opportunities with Sport NI and a number of other sources. So not only will this development see a new building with potentially four court and three court sports halls, boasting a stage for community arts performances and local talent promotion, community and youth rooms, fitness suite, associated changing facilities, entrance foyer and communal areas, it will also have dedicated facilities for the local high school and other schools in the area. It will house youth workers for SEELB, Council Sports Development, Culture and Arts Officers, who will for the first time develop comprehensive community, sports, culture, arts and youth development plans for the town.
Councillor McCarthy added: “This is a great day for Saintfield and most importantly for all of the people in the district as a whole. The community centre will become the hub of Saintfield, and it was always part of the Council’s vision to revitalise the town of Saintfield and ensure this much needed facility is in a central and accessible place for all residents of the Rowallane district. The new hub will complement our existing community infrastructure in the district and help us serve the needs of this growing area.”
David Kennedy, spokesman for Saintfeld Development Association, said: “It has been a long and fruitful journey. The old Saintfield Town Regeneration Committee eventually morphed into Saintfield Development Association and we now address key issues in Saintfield. We have a number of sub-committess such as for Main Street regeneration, Saintfield Green, infrastructure and a separate committee to look after the community centre development.
“We are just delighted with the progress that the Council has made on this and certainly the work has all be done on a very professional and sound basis. At last we will have the facilities in our community and for sport that has been lacking in the past. Now we have an excellent site and funding will be in place to move it forward to completion by 2015.
“It is a very exciting project. We plan to have a footbridge over the main road so that pupils from Saintfield High School can access the new centre safely. They will be able to use it in the mornings. There will be plenty more meetings ahead with local groups as we further shape what is going into this new facility. These are exciting times for Saintfield.”
Also commenting on the progress of Down District Council, Rowallene area Councillor Billy Walker said: “After a long hard struggle Saintfield is now on track to getting a new community leisure facility. This is largely down to the efforts of our Director of Recreation Michael Lipsett who has excelled himself. We owe a great debt of gratitude to himself and his officers who at times took some flak where progress was slow, but they should all be commended.
“The SDA have been patient with us and at times I could feel their frustration when things were stalling and running slow. But they held their nerve and we are now in a great position to deliver a fantastic new centre for Saintfield.
“The Rowallene councillors worked as a team and although it may have been difficult at times, we got there in the end. We took collective action by all councillors and it paid off. We lobbied the wider community for backing and the funding is now looking secure. The various groups will now sit with the consultant and design this project to accommodate the community as best it can.
“It is a great and happy day for Saintfield,” added Councillor Walker.