School sports funding boost
£1.28m for local facilities

PE and sport facilities at three projects in West Belfast are to be transformed thanks to a £1.28 million lottery windfall announced today.

Willowbank Park, Grosvenor Recreation Centre and St Francis de Sales Special School are among 19 projects across the North to receive a share of more than £3.3 million awarded by the Big Lottery Fund, ensuring hundreds of children and the wider community will benefit from new and improved sports facilities.

The grants, totalling £3,329,692, have been awarded under the Big Lottery Fund’s New Opportunities for PE and Sport programme which aims to revamp existing facilities, build new outdoor sports facilities for pupils and encourage young people to stay involved in physical education.

Briedge Gadd, a Northern Ireland Big Lottery Fund Board Member, said, “These awards show how investing money in sports facilities available both to schools and local residents can transform the quality of life in communities.

“This programme is already having a major impact on tackling disadvantage and bringing positive changes to people of all ages across Northern Ireland.
Today’s funding will bring greater access to physical activity to many more.”

A grant of £634,614 will allow a partnership involving Belfast City Council, Grosvenor Community Development Association and St Joseph’s Primary School to transform a dust pitch at Grosvenor Recreation Centre into a floodlit, state-of-the-art multi-sports pitch.

Project development officer Danny O’Connor said the facility would have a huge impact. “Six primary schools will benefit, as will the community sports club and centre users including the Chinese Sports Association, a Turkish group and the Travelling community,” said Mr O’Connor.

“The schools have free use of it during the day and it will be available for community use 40 hours a week.

“For the first time this part of West Belfast will have a quality surface for both the primary schools and local clubs who otherwise have to travel to alternative facilities. For the schools it means less expense in hiring facilities and paying for transport, and more time for PE.”

Margaret McQuillan, principal of St Joseph’s Primary School, welcomed the news. “We don’t have a decent pitch so we have to hire buses to travel out of the area for home matches. We are trying to encourage more children and adults to become involved in healthy living and exercise. This is a major, major investment for our community.”

In partnership with Gaelscoil na bhFál and local community groups, Belfast City Council also receives a grant of £593,949 to build a new floodlit games area at Willowbank Park.

Liam McStravick of Sport Belfast has been involved in the project. “This is going to make a huge difference in terms of sports development in this area, opening up opportunities for children as well as junior and senior sports clubs,” he said.

“At present most local clubs are limited in the number of teams they can develop due to lack of facilities – they have very limited choice and demand is ten times that of supply.”

Schools involved in the partnership – Gaelscoil na bhFál, St Kevin’s and St Paul’s – will have free use of the games area during the school day, while it will be available for community use in the evenings.

“It will enhance the school curriculum and open up new activities they would not have had the option of trying before. This is a very welcome investment from the Big Lottery Fund. It will leave a definite long-term legacy and is a fantastic project,” said Liam.

Roisin Brady, chair of the Board of Governors at Gaelscoil na bhFál, said the funding was a great boost in an area with very few sporting facilities.

“Gaelscoil na bhFál does not have a big sports ground and has to hire somewhere, which is difficult as one teacher cannot take an entire class out.

There will be an entrance to this new games area straight from the school. It will be ideal for developing physical education within the school,” Ms Brady said.

St Francis De Sales Special School has been awarded a grant of £58,105 for a purpose-built play area in the school grounds. Principal Geraldine McGuinness said this would be a great benefit for the school’s 25 pupils who have speech and language and some motor skill disorders.

“The play area will have a safety surface and will be marked for activities appropriate to the children’s needs.

“It will help them improve their language and motor skills and also to communicate with their peers. At present they are confined to the gym, which also doubles as a dining hall, and the time they spend running around is virtually nil,” she said.

“We will create a play environment outside linked with developing their bodies, delayed speech and other disorders, and will link it with the personal communication system we use to help the children.

“It is really going to mean a lot to these children, they will have outdoor opportunities they might otherwise not have had.”

Journalist:: Staff Reporter

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