SAINT Mary’s Youth Centre in Obins Street is set for a major boost, with the news that it has secured a £800,000 grant for an extensive refurbishment scheme.
Although the go-ahead for the project has not been officially announced by its joint funders -the Department of Education and the Department of Social Development - it is understood that a contractor is due to be appointed by the end of November.
The refurbishment scheme is set to last for around a year and will bring the ageing building up to modern standards, including essential works such as a new roof, the installation of a lift and a revamp of heating and insulation.
The centre, which was built in 1974, has a membership of around 300 children and young people, and employs a full-time youth worker, secretary and caretaker, seven part-time staff and 15 volunteers.
It runs a variety of clubs and activities including boxing, junior football, after-school club, health education programmes, a summer scheme, and cross-community sports and culture programmes with Seagoe Youth Club.
The centre has become run-down in recent years and, according to a source, the refurbishment will “secure the future of St Mary’s Youth Centre”.
The news has been welcomed by councillors and local groups in the area, including Northwest Portadown Neighbourhood Renewal Partnership, which consists of representatives from both the community and statutory sectors.
Its chairperson Margaret Connolly said, “This project was first approved by the Neighbourhood Renewal Partnership several years ago. Various stages had to be gone through before the project was finalised, including a building condition survey which revealed the full extent of the works needed to bring the youth club up to modern day standards.
“We are glad that the project is now moving towards the commencement of the much-needed work.”
Sinn Fein Cllr Gemma McKenna said the youth centre had provided generations of young people with year-round programmes of activity. “St Mary’s, in both its present location and at its original Curran Street site, has been an integral part of the Community, serving generation after generation of young people,” she said.
“The upgrading work will allow St Mary’s to continue its work and to develop the skills and abilities of future generations of our young people. This generous funding is extremely welcome and will provide a safe and hospitable environment for both the youth and the staff who work in the centre.”
MLA Dolores Kelly, who has been involved in lobbying for the funding for a number of years, said she was delighted the club’s hard work had paid off.
She said, “This is terrific news and an endorsement of the valuable work which St Mary’s Youth Club does with our young people.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Social Development could not confirm the funding go-ahead but said, “A statement will be issued in due course on behalf of both departments”.