Northern Ireland news

Homeless boxing club seeking new site at Belfast Zoo

Hillview boxing club members (L-R) Órfhlaith Nig Oireachtaigh, Laochra Geraghty and Conor Reid. Picture by Declan Roughan
John Monaghan

A BOXING club has temporarily closed as its search for a permanent home continues - with a site at Belfast Zoo now a possibility.

Hillview ABC, based in north Belfast, had been seeking to relocate from temporary premises in St Gerard's Hall on the Shore Road, but has decided to stop all activity until wrangling over a new home is resolved.

The club says it has a total fund of £150,000 for a move, including more than £53,000 from Sport NI.

However, plans to renovate two classrooms at the former Ballygolan PS on nearby Serpentine Road, which closed in 2013, have fallen through.

It is believed the Department of Education has been considering various options for the sensitive interface site, which has also attracted the attention of housing associations, since before Christmas 2014.

Hillview has now turned its attention to a site at Belfast Zoo and is seeking agreement from Belfast City Council.

It wants to renovate the former gatekeeper's house at the entrance to the visitor attraction, which has been vacant for four years.

Hillview secretary and coach Stephen Geraghty said the club took a decision at Christmas to suspend its activities.

He said: "We are nowhere at the moment. We thought that if we suspended the club temporarily we could see if we can force the issue. We can't continue like this.

"A lot of our boxers have moved on; we told them to go to other clubs. Some of them are a really high standard. There are probably a few of them now standing about street corners when they shouldn't be."

Mr Geraghty added: "The roof of the former Ballygolan PS site is so badly damaged that Sport NI had said they would not be prepared to invest the money in that site. We don't agree with that but they are the funders."

The club secretary said he believes a move to Belfast Zoo would benefit all involved, including Belfast City Council.

"We have told the council that there will be an income provided. We have told them this is the opportunity to provide something.

"In this area over Christmas there were many complaints about anti-social behaviour, and yet this is a practical way in which the council can promote boxing and also get kids off the streets."

Hazelwood Integrated College along with Hillview is hosting the finals of the the Ulster boys and girls championships tomorrow, with Mr Geraghty saying that organisers have indicated a desire to return to north Belfast on an annual basis.

He said: "This is one of the most prestigious amateur boxing competitions in Ireland, and these are the boxing champions of the future. They are prepared to take this competition to Belfast and we need support here."

A Sport NI spokesman said: "The funding offer is available and transferable. Sport NI remains committed to helping Hillview Boxing Club secure a suitable location and providing them with the right facilities."

Asked about the facility at the Belfast Zoo, a city council spokeswoman said: "There are no plans for this site at present."

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