The community in the Shankill area of Belfast is getting more active, thanks to investments worth £770,000 which have seen the completion of one sports complex in the Hammer area and the creation of another underway at nearby Springmartin.

Both will contribute greatly to the health and well-being of their local area and provide a magnet for sporting activities managed by the community.

A new full-size 3G pitch and floodlit facility at the Hammer Complex, off Agnes Street, is now open for business following a £509,000 revamp and is expected to be widely used by schools, groups and individuals.

Belfast City Council has put £225,000 into the development; while the Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL), through Sport Northern Ireland, has invested £245,000, with the Northern Ireland Executive, through the Department for Social Development, contributing a further £39,000. The facility was created in partnership with Lower Shankill Football Club and Shankill United.

Councillor Gareth McKee, Chairman of the Parks and Leisure Committee, said: “Hammer is an important community asset and this extra investment means its facilities are the best available.

“We have funded it under our £150 million Investment Programme which is rolling out improvements across the city. The project has been completed on time and within budget, and we look forward to more of the same, as we begin work to transform a piece of waste ground in the Upper Shankill/Ballygomartin area into a dedicated sports facility.

“We are working hard to encourage everyone, especially children and young people, to become more active and having first class facilities on their doorstep is a big draw,” added Councillor McKee.

“The pitch has been leased to teams who will manage the site on our behalf, taking advantage of the dedicated facilities for training and to host games.

“One of the main programmes to be put in place by the community will be a Midnight Soccer programme, a diversionary tactic which provides an alternative for young people who might otherwise get involved in anti-social behaviour.”

Carál Ní Chuilín, Minister for Culture. Arts and Leisure, said: “The development of these facilities demonstrates how government departments and local councils can work together in partnership to improve opportunities for people to play, compete, spectate and volunteer in sport. This is the way forward in providing facilities in areas of greatest social need that are accessible to everyone.

“I am also delighted that midnight street soccer will be introduced in the area. This programme has proved successful in other areas in reducing anti-social behaviour.”

“Sport Northern Ireland is dedicated to developing people in sport, especially young people, and in providing facilities for people of every age group and ability to be able to participate, enjoy and perform sport and physical activity. By providing support for the development of sports facilities such as these, Sport Northern Ireland aims to facilitate lifelong enjoyment and success in sport,” commented Brian Henning, Chair of Sport Northern Ireland.

“Introducing the Midnight Soccer initiative into the community is an excellent and innovative example of how sport can be used to address social issues, and to provide positive experiences for young people in the communities where they are most needed.”

As part of its £5 million Local Investment Fund, the Council has also pledged £150,000 towards the Springmartin development, adjacent to a play park at Black Mountain Parade, where contractors have begun clearing the site.

The Northern Ireland Executive, through the Department for Social Development, is investing £111,000 in the new facility, which is expected to be up and running by the end of September and will include mini 3G soccer pitches with multi-purpose surfaces, fencing and floodlights.

The facility will be leased to Springfield Star Football Club, who will manage the site.

Nelson McCausland, Minister for Social Development, said: “Including the contribution to the recently refurbished Woodvale Park, the Northern Ireland Executive, through my department, has now invested over £1 million in the last year in sports and leisure facilities for the people of the greater Shankill. The creation of revitalised public spaces will allow local families, schools, community groups and the many sporting clubs in the area to take part in a range of sporting, leisure and play activities in safe, purpose-built environments.

“Projects such as these support my department’s strategic objectives of community and social renewal – objectives which aim to improve the quality of life for people in some of our most deprived neighbourhoods. They help to increase voluntary activity, contribute towards healthier lifestyles and aid community development and are therefore worthy of support.”

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