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Boxing club fears closure of school move delayed

Paul Norton from Hillview ABC spars with young Jake McAlinden outside the vacant Ballygolan Primary School Picture Hugh Russell
John Monaghan

A BOXING club fears closure if agreement on moving into a vacant school cannot be reached - jeopardising opportunities for young people on a peace line.

Hillview ABC, based in north Belfast, is seeking to relocate from temporary premises in St Gerard's Hall on the Shore Road, but claims government delays have threatened the switch.

The club has an offer of more than £53,000 from Sport NI to renovate two classrooms at the former Ballygolan Primary School on nearby Serpentine Road, which closed in 2013.

However, Hillview has recently received a letter warning that the funding may be withdrawn "due to pressing issues regarding budgets" if no plans to move can be presented by September 30.

Club president Anne-Marie Norton told The Irish News there is "a strong possibility the club could close" if the move does not materialise.

She said: "We came in to St Gerard's Hall in June 2011 and it was only supposed to be for about a year, that was our thinking at the time.

"We are working with Greater Whitewell Community Surgery (GWCS) which is hoping to take on the school site. The intention is for the building to be used as a community hall with all sorts of activities.

"However, departments are not sitting down to agree this. Eight of these community asset transfers are on hold."

It is understood the school was facing demolition before the community group stepped in with plans to use the site.

Despite meetings over the past two years, no written confirmation has been forthcoming from Stormont departments to allow the GWCS to start work.

It is believed that the Department of Education has been considering plans for the sensitive interface site, which has also attracted the attention of housing associations, since before Christmas last year.

Mrs Norton said: "There are houses being built all the time but there is nothing for the children. This is right on a peaceline here and there is nothing in Whitewell for the kids."

A spokeswoman for Sport NI said: "Sport NI has been working with Hillview ABC since January 31 2014 in order to progress the boxing project to a stage where a firm financial commitment can be made. Sport NI is pro-actively working with the Department of Education and Hillview ABC to ensure a satisfactory outcome is reached."

In a statement, the Department of Education said it was "working closely" on the project but did not outline the reasons for the delay in progress.

A spokeswoman said: "An economic appraisal has been prepared by the community group wishing to acquire the former school premises and has been submitted to the department for consideration."

She added: "This is the first Community Asset Transfer project to reach this stage so the department are working closely with DSD and DFP (departments of social development and finance) before reaching a decision."

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