Boxing

St John Bosco coach Gerard McCafferty left frustrated as club roof leaks amid improvement works wait

A puddle forms on the floor of the St John Bosco club, which is housed at the Conway Mill in west Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Neil Loughran

STANDING inside the St John Bosco boxing club on Wednesday night, Gerard McCafferty decided he’d had just about enough.

The grainy footage tells the story better than any amount of words ever could, with the thud of leather on heavy bags just about audible above the sound of rainwater pouring through holes in the roof, lashing the concrete floor beneath.

There is probably between 20 and 30 young men and women dotted around the club, some inside the ring, most outside, carrying on with their work, seemingly oblivious to the huge puddles gathering at their feet.

Since 2012 the Bosco has been waiting for the commencement of work on a major upgrade of their gym at the Conway Mill in west Belfast, with Sport NI and Belfast City Council due to provide the funding.

Nothing has been started yet and, seven years on, it appears no closer to happening.

As the heavens opened, McCafferty watched on in disgust as his boxers ran up the steps in a bid to escape the biblical rainfall, only to find it emptying inside too.

After years of having their hopes built up then dashed, it felt like the final straw as the Bosco coach captured the shocking scenes on his phone.

“You saw the video - there’s leaks all over that building,” he said.

“We’ve a young lad fighting in America in two weeks, another four or five lads in the County Antrims, seven going down to Celtic Box Cup in Waterford – it couldn’t have come at a worse time.

“There’s water running into the electrics down the wall too… it’s not good.”

McCafferty has become frustrated by a series of delays that have held up the project, and ultimately increased the overall cost of the scheme from an initial £260,000 to £400,000.

And, following a meeting with council officials earlier this week, he is not hopeful about the necessary improvements being carried out any time soon.

“When we originally moved in here it was only supposed to be in on a temporary basis,” he said.

“All the drawings had been done, but then it went out to tender three times and, due to no fault of our own, it just stalled for one reason or another.

“I had been steering it and getting nowhere, then I was advised to ask the council to take over the running of the project.

“They required fresh drawings, the council wanted to have their own people assess the building, and so it came back at £400,000; it’s a big jump from £260,000 but over seven years, the cost of building materials has gone up, the cost of VAT, and then it was stipulated that there has to be put a lift in too.

“Now we’re being told by the council that the money isn’t there to make up the deficit, and they’re asking us now to explore different avenues.

“Conway Mill have been good to us and we’d like to obviously stay there because all the kids who go to the club come from around that area, so we’re really left in limbo.

“We’ve no idea what’s going to happen now going forward.”

And if there’s water pouring through the roof when we’re still in the summer months, the prospect of what the winter might bring doesn’t bear thinking about for McCafferty or the boxers at St John Bosco.

“We’re left trying to run a boxing club in those conditions, which is absolutely crazy. The place is falling down around us.

“Seven years down the line, we’re still waiting for something to start, so it’s a terrible start to the boxing season.

“There’s no running water, no toilets, no shower, no changing facilities for women. Those kids have to come here changed and go home in soaking wet clothes. In this day and age, that’s not acceptable.

“The club’s not up to scratch. We’re stuck there, we’re going to be coming into another freezing cold winter with no heat, rain coming in on top of you.

“It’s very frustrating, and it’s just been one excuse after another while we’re left in no man’s land.”

In a statement to The Irish News, a Belfast City Council spokesman said: “St John Bosco ABC were allocated £40,000 through the council’s Local Investment Fund in September 2015 towards improvements at the club.

“Since then, costs for the proposed works, which are part-funded and led by Sport NI, have risen substantially, although our original funding offer remains in place, subject to our standard due diligence process.

“Council officers are continuing to work with both the club and other funders to consider the best way forward.”

Sport NI also issued a statement, which read: "Through the Boxing Investment Programme, Sport Northern Ireland has invested lottery reserves of £2,537,048 into 31 capital projects.

"Since its launch in 2012 all 31 capital projects are now successfully complete. Sport Northern Ireland made St John Bosco ABC an indicative offer of up to £200,000 towards the refurbishment of its facility. In addition Sport NI has also made available up to £31,000 for design fees, statutory fees and a range of structural surveys.

"Sport Northern Ireland continues to work with St John Bosco ABC and other funding partners to develop a fit for purpose boxing facility, as the only outstanding project from the programme."

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