A stunning new Youth Complex is to be built in north Lurgan by Clann Eireann, investing almost £2m into the community.
The building - which is to run across two floors - will be a state-of-the-art facility to cater for upwards on 700 young people involved in the club.
On the ground floor there will be changing rooms, toilets, disabled access, reception area, offices, kitchen and a main sports hall with a stage for the drama group.
Upstairs will have youth provision with a large social area where young people can watch TV, chill out, play pool as well as training rooms for group work and running workshops. The upstairs facility will allow for health and safety and child protection. It means if members of the public are playing football in the main hall, they will not have access without being monitored.
In one of the most socially deprived areas of Lurgan, Clann Eireann Youth Club has been a haven for generations of young people across 50 years. However their building at St Colman’s hall has become increasingly dilapidated and, in this modern era, not fit-for-purpose.
Dee McKerr, former Chair of Youth Club now Acting Leader in Charge, who has been spearheading the project, explained that the idea of a new building was first mooted around six years ago. Initially there were talks on refurbishing the current building. “It had been built by blood, sweat and tears of local people, all volunteers, and eventually opened in 1953, with additional facilities added on over the years. The current building is spread over a number of levels, is extremely cold and there are disability access issues with the number of stairs. It was decided that refurbishing the current building would not be value for money.”
After exhausting other avenues, they approached the Department of Education. “As a result of a lengthy engagement Minister John O’Dowd announced two years ago that his department was prepared to provide funds for a new development. Mr McKerr said they worked with Paul McGilton, senior architect with the Education Authority, and it was decided that, for the next generation, there would need to be a purpose-built centre.
Taking over part of the pitch proved somewhat controversial to some members, however the vast majority agreed that it was needed in order to provide state-of-the-art facilities for the youth of the future. “There were a lot of people with such a stake in the facilities here. They put huge efforts into building it over the years. People had to be reassured that it was going to be of serious benefit to the local community and to everybody who uses the club,” said Youth Club Chairman Martin O’Neill.
“Many members of Clann Eireann have had a lifetime association with the Youth Club, the GAA and St Colman’s Hall, and we wanted to respect the legacy made by the people such as Alf Murray, Ambrose Lavery, Pat Mc Mahon, Brian Curran, Danny Mc Kavanagh, Sean Lenehan, all our Youth Leaders past and present and many others,” said Mr O’Neill. Once people were reassured, they set about instructing architects Isherwood and Ellis from Belfast. Now it is out to public tender and it is hoped a contractor will be appointed before Christmas with work due to start in January and finished in one year.
Mr O’Neill paid tribute to Dee McKerr who was a driving force behind the project, going to every political party in the country north and south to gain support.
Dee said: “It was very much a team effort. Everyone has made a contribution from the young people, the management committee, the leader in charge, our part time youth workers, various sections of Clann Eireann, our membership, our trustees.”
Clann Eireann YC is one of the largest in the country with around 700 members, 200 volunteers and running seven days a week, 48 weeks of the year. “We are the main youth provision in north Lurgan and that is something we have held for the best part of 50 years.”
He paid tribute to those who built the current youth facilities. “We want to pass on a legacy to the young people of the area. The founders of this organisation left us a legacy. Those people were at the very heart of the organisation. They were the trail blazers. Now it is our turn to give the young people a new legacy. We are very proud that after a lot of hard work from everybody we are on the cusp of delivering that.
“We are going to have a first class facility that this area hasn’t had. This place started off first class but soon we will be back to having a first class service.
“It is an investment in our youth, in the club, in the north Lurgan community and it is a legacy for future generations.”
Mr McKerr thanked the club chairman Donal Mc Carthy, the committee and trustees and all the members and staff for their support.
“We are indebted to DENI, EA, their respective officials and political representatives across all parties, local MLAs and councillors for their assistance and ongoing support.”
Meanwhile Sinn Féin Councillor, Keith Haughian welcomed the news. “The Clann Eireann committee have worked tirelessly to secure a state of the art youth facility for the young people of North Lurgan.
“During John O’Dowd’s tenure as Education Minister he approved funding for this project and in the days since assisted the club in the final design and plans.”
SDLP Cllr Declan McAlinden wholeheartedly congratulated Clann Eireann YC. “They have been fighting for many years for this development and have had a great vision for the area,” he said.