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Eskra community celebrate opening of new centre

Published on:  08 May 2006

Eskra Community Centre was officially opened today (8th May 2006) after more than a year of reno­vations costing approximately £450,000. The opening ceremony was performed by lead funders, the Northern Ireland Rural Development Council and the International Fund for Ireland.

Eskra Community Association was formed in March 2000 with a brief to upgrade the old parish hall into a modern Community Resource Centre.  Since then, the Board of Directors has worked tirelessly to ensure funding has been in place for the necessary repairs and extension.

The breakthrough came in December 2003, when the group secured funds of £150,000 from the Northern Ireland Rural Development Council (RDC) through the EU Programme for Building Sustainable Prosperity. At the same time, the International Fund for Ireland (The Fund) pledged £128,000 to the cause. This was followed by grants totalling £48,000 from Omagh District Council, the Rural Community Network, The Ireland Funds and Energia.  Later on RDC committed a further £50,000 of BSP funding to the project and AdaptNI granted £6,000 towards the cost of a disabled access lift.  In a separate development, Omagh Local Strategy Partnership granted £30,000 towards the development of a Computer Suite and start up costs for a Payroll Bureau.

Key to the whole project was the money raised by the people of Eskra, who contributed a grand total of more than £90,000 thus sparking investment from outside funders.

The new Centre brings together the origi­nal Bernadette Hall and the Childcare Centre. The hall itself has been completely refurbished, with new light­ing, windows, roof and paintwork.  A new hi-tech wing with a computer suite, toilets, a kitchen and a play­room has replaced the old, flat roofed building at the rear of the hall.  A modern lobby has been created, with a first floor mezzanine that includes a soft seating area and coffee lounge, while the front of the building now boasts a two-storey extension that houses a store and an office space for renting.

Eskra Community Association chairman, Gerry McCaffrey, expressed thanks to everyone who helped with the project in any way.

Particular thanks to Chris McCarney, whose vision in the early stages was so important; the funding bodies; the Eskra community for their vital support; the design team, led by Raymond Goodwin; past directors of ECA, the Principle contractor, Michael Connolly Construction; the subcon­tractors and project site manager, Paddy Tierney. Thanks also to our own local contractors, Mickey Gartland for the wooden flooring; Paddy McDermott for the stonework; Aidan McNelis for tiling; PJ Meegan for the kitchen and bathroom furniture; Pat O'Hanlon Engineering; and Eugene McKenna of O'Neill Electrics.

The Directors also thanked all those who helped organise accom­modation for the different groups whilst renovations were ongoing, and everyone who put up with the often-difficult conditions during the construction phase.  The local media were also thanked for their contribution and publicity, particularly the Tyrone Constitution and the Ulster Herald for the weekly community notice board

In preparing for the big event, members of the Associa­tion were mindful of the sad loss of one of their founding members, Mr. Brendan McSorley, who died just over a year ago.

A spokesperson said: "Brendan's vision and business acumen were instrumental in every facet of com­munity development in Eskra, and along with his good friend Chris McCarney, Brendan was a pioneer in building community spirit in the area.

His death was a huge loss to his family and to all of us, but we feel he is still here with us and the new cen­tre will forever remain as a testament to his vision and hard work for this community."

The new Centre opened for business in November last and certainly is a busy and vibrant place. Each weekday night boasts a packed activity schedule for community activities, classes and meetings, such as Irish Dancing, IT, Drama, Music, Gymnastics, Whist and at the weekends for social events. Last Friday night in fact the centre hosted a Fashion Show, Auction and Disco organised by Eskra Emmetts GAA club and next week the Drama Group will commence its much anticipated production of Sleeping Beauty. In addition the centre serves as the community base for a range of essential services such as Credit Union and a location for the mobile library to operate from.

In December last, following a series of workshops, a new Management Committee was formed that looks after the day-to-day operation of the Centre, such as Care & Maintenance, Activities and Finance.  The many new faces this committee has brought in, has ensured the operational success of the Community Centre and allows a core group of the directors to focus on the next stage of development, which is providing an outdoor multi-sport play area, and a fitness suite.

At the moment, concentration is on a renewable energy project comprising a wind turbine and solar water heating system.  It is expected that these will reduce overheads and make a positive contribution to our environment.  It is hoped to complete the necessary funding package in the next few months.

Speaking at the launch on Monday RDC Chair Caroline Breakey, commented, “As part of its Local Regeneration Programme, the Northern Ireland Rural Development Council is very proud to have played a role in supporting the transformation of this centre. The Access to Services measure, under which this project is funded, was designed to ensure access to vital services is evenly balanced and accessible to rural communities. At a time when services are being reduced and cut back this innovative project is an excellent example of how one rural community is addressing local needs. RDC believes the multi-functional use of community buildings in this way as service centres for health, education, childcare, recreation etc offer a potential solution for rural service delivery where it is not financially possible to offer permanent fixed services. This project is one of 92 projects RDC has funded across rural Northern Ireland, with grant assistance of almost £7m, and one of 19 projects located in Co. Tyrone”.

Chairman of the International Fund for Ireland Denis Rooney said, “I am delighted to see Eskra Community Centre officially open to the many communities it will serve. The new centre will not only provide community space for all types of activities from the local drama group to accounting courses, but will also provide a strong platform for economic development and be a boost to the long term regeneration of the Eskra area.”

Rural Community Network Director, Michael Hughes said “This is a great example of how a community can transform an existing building for the benefit of a new rural generation”

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