Lifeline for disabled kids could be cut

Rosalind McKinley and daughter Alison.  INLM40-203.
Rosalind McKinley and daughter Alison. INLM40-203.

THE proposed closure of a youth club for disabled children has left parents in shock and has been described by one local MLA as a ‘body blow’.

Goal Line Youth Centre which is based in Chambers Park in Portadown looks set to close at the end of the month.

Dollingstown woman Rosalind McKinley said the service was a lifeline for her severely autistic daughter Alison.

16-year-old Alison, who goes to Donard Special School in Banbridge, has been attending the service on Tuesday evenings and Saturday afternoons for the past two years.

Rosalind said: “It’s a really important service. It’s brought Alison on so much.

“She would tend to want to stay in the house on her own in her bedroom, but Goal Line has helped her with her social life and her health.

“It lets her be a normal teenager. She’s made lots of friends through Goal Line.”

She added: “Although the group is based in Portadown it caters for children and teenagers from all over the area.

“To Alison it’s a lifeline. There’s nothing comparable to it in the area. There are other youth clubs who cater for young people with disabilities, but not at the same level.”

Bleary woman Colette Douglas is in a similar position to Rosalind. She too has a disabled daughter who attends the service twice a week.

Her 17-year-old daughter Nicola, who has cerebral palsy, has been attending Goal Line since she was 12.

Colette said: “She goes on a Monday and Tuesday and absolutely loves getting out and meeting people her own age.

“The staff there are brilliant. Without it she’d be stuck in her bedroom.”

Goal Line Youth Centre is unique in that it is attended by disabled as well as able-bodied children.

It caters for around 200 children and young people, half of them with disabilities.

One full-time member of staff and 10 part-time workers will also lose their jobs if the planned cuts go ahead, as will volunteering opportunities currently enjoyed by around 35 young people.

Funding difficulties are behind the decision with £60,000 needed a year to cover staffing and running costs.

There are no plans, however, to close the building, based in Chambers Park, with the trustees planning to keep it open for continued use by Portadown Rugby Club.

A meeting for concerned parents was to be held at the centre on Tuesday evening and the cause has been taken up by politicians Jo-Anne Dobson and David Simpson.

Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson said the loss of the Goal Line Youth Reach project would be a ‘body blow’ for youth services in Craigavon. She has written to four ministers asking them to take urgent action to keep the youth centre open.

“It is impossible to put a financial figure on the fantastic work which the staff and volunteers at Goal Line have done and are doing in our community,” she said.

MP David Simpson said he had also been contacted by a number of parents whose children attend Goal Line Youth Centre and that he would be doing ‘everything possible’ to see that sufficient funding was sourced to keep the centre’s projects running.

He added: “I hope to meet with the trustees to see what needs to be done to save Goal Line and I will be meeting with parents on Tuesday evening.”