Despite the inclement weather, a large crowd of leisure walkers as well as keep fit enthusiasts of all ages and abilities attended the Community opening of the new Washingbay Walkway and Running Trail on Saturday morning 15th June. Already proving to be a huge success, people of all ages and backgrounds from all over Mid Ulster can now enjoy a safe off-road and fully LED lit pathway with directional and distance signage and appropriate trail furniture.

Located at the Washingbay Wetlands shoreline, which takes in some very scenic views along Lough Neagh’s riparian shoreline, the project was developed through funding from Sport NI’s Everybody Active Outdoor Spaces programme (£111,000), the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Tackling Rural Poverty and Social Isolation (TRPSI) Programme (£102,807) and from Mid Ulster District Council (£25,000) and sets out to increase health and well-being opportunities for everyone, from infant right into retirement. This new £238,000, 1km circular trail comprises of a 1.8m wide kerbed asphalt finish to facilitate all user groups including those with disabilities, parents and children.

The launch morning was being hosted by the two local community partner organisations who spearheaded the project, Muintir na Mointeach community group and Derrylaughan Kevin Barry’s GAC and began with a ribbon cut by Jack Corr and Philip McCourt, respective Chairs of the two groups. A children’s run and a first community walk were organised before everyone sat down to a well-earned served healthy breakfast in celebration of the community achievement. Jack Corr, Chairperson of Muintir Na Mointeach commented that “this project will continue to attract people from communities both near and far to the Washingbay , an area already historically known down the centuries as a welcoming place to visit. The trail will complement our community vision of a place to enjoy, to promote healthier living and wellbeing through activity such as walking whilst also providing access to our local natural heritage”. Philip McCourt, Chairperson of Derrylaughan Kevin Barry’s also welcomes both visitors and locals who wish to avail of this new opportunity for self-guided walking and running which “from a sports perspective definitely lends to a healthier and fitter community and one which we wholeheartedly support”.

Representatives from the funding bodies also visited the Walkway and were complimentary of the overall effort from the community representatives in ensuring such projects are being channelled into rural areas such as the Washingbay. They were suitably impressed with the quality of the work carried out by MP Coleman Ltd, Contractor and of Axon electrical contractors and also of the work of the project management group led by the Council’s Technical Services team who efficiently delivered such a great project.

Sport Northern Ireland Chair, George Lucas said ““Sport Northern Ireland is delighted to have worked in partnership with DAERA and Mid Ulster District Council on this fantastic new project. Through Sport NI’s EBA Outdoor Spaces programme, people from the Washingbay area now have the opportunity to enjoy and engage in sport and physical recreation. Outdoor facilities like these are vital in helping communities to connect to the natural environment. We’re excited to be part of this journey.”

Paul Donnelly, DAERA’s Director of Rural Affairs Division acknowledged the collaborative effort involved in the development of the Walkway and Running Trail at Washingbay “Positive partnership working with Sport NI, MU Council and the wider community organisations has resulted in the provision of this fantastic facility which will have very direct and positive impact on the long term health and well-being of rural dwellers and addresses facility deficits in rural areas such as the Washingbay. This project is a great fit with DAERA’s vision for a living, working, active landscape valued by everyone”.

Councillor Martin Kearney, Chair of Mid Ulster District Council said “Working together, we can achieve great things and this new trail is a perfect example of successful collaboration and partnerships bearing fruit. The Council is very pleased to support this project which enables users of this brand new resource to lead healthier, more active, and hopefully longer lives. Our community plan has the aim of improved physical and mental health and well-being, and increased healthy lifestyle expectancy for our residents. To help with this, local walkers and runners have now access to a safe, well lit and even trail with wonderful views over the Washingbay Wetlands shoreline, making it even easier to work up those steps and gain the benefits of an active lifestyle!”

Following an extensive consultation period over a number of years the local community groups at the Washingbay put into action a Community and Village plan which led them to the development of a site Masterplan and map which subsequently received approval from Mid Ulster District Council. Supported by the Lough Neagh Partnership’s Heritage programme, the plan focuses on developing projects for a healthier and more active community utilising and enhancing sustainable local community assets. This approach was endorsed by the official Washingbay/Torrent ward health statistics which revealed a relatively high Health deprivation index for this rural area and which ultimately prompted both the community group and local sports club to actively work together with a common aim.

The Washingbay Trail was identified as having the greatest potential to generate significant health and well-being benefits for the area through firm establishment of the Council owned Wetlands Park and Derrylaughan Kevin Barry’s sports amenity as a central hub of recreational activity at South West Lough Neagh. After considerable consultation, Muintir Na Mointeach were able to access adequate funds to develop the project from various funding sources and the Sports club along with Mid Ulster District Council agreed to provide the grounds for the new site perimeter trail. A number of other well-being and infrastructural projects are also been planned and worked upon currently as part of the communities vision for the Washingbay area and indeed a new running club, the Shamrock running club were already taking new registrations on the morning.

Finished to a high standard the trail is safe, suitable and accessible to all and a number of scheduled outdoor based physical activities are being planned for different age groups and abilities over the coming months to include Couch to 5K, Step up to walking challenges, Schools Healthy Living and Come try it Sessions for Over 50’s, all aimed at generating positive impact on the health and quality of life of both local residents and visitors to the Washingbay and to Lough Neagh.