Council ponders how to put Fort James fund to best use

TEN years after it was set up, a trust fund intended to help good causes in Larne may finally pay out.

The £70,000 legacy was donated by Fort James Ltd in July, 2002 when the company closed Larne Paper Mill.

Larne Council was entrusted with administering the fund, which was deposited in a bank account.

Drew Niblock, who was elected to represent the Larne Town DEA last May, has asked why it has taken so long for any money to be donated to community groups. In a written question, the DUP man noted that the latest available figure appeared to be that in 2008 the fort James Fund totalled £77,650 with interest added.

“The beneficiaries were originally to be decided by the council’s business committee, which ceased to exist in 2003,” Cllr Niblock pointed out. “Council then planned to establish a committee involving the donating organisation to bring forward proposals for its management and appropriate dispersal,” he added.

He wanted to know if the council has established the new committee and how much the fund amounts to now. “Why has it taken so long for this money to be made available to community organisations etc,” asked the councillor, who also enquired if the council was in a position yet to open up the fund.

Cllr Niblock suggested the local authority should consider funding a cross-community project such as a joint venture by the Factory Community Forum and Seacourt Community Council to take 24 young people on a five-day visit to the International School for Peace Studies at Messines, in Belgium.

“This is a fantastic programme and is dedicated to the resolving of differences and conflict transformation through exclusively peaceful means,” Cllr Niblock explained.

Council chief executive Geraldine McGahey’s response to the written question was that councillors had recently tasked officers to research options for the Fort James money. “Officers are continuing to research these options in more detail and hope to be in a position to bring a report with full information to a council meeting in the near future,” Mrs McGahey added.

The chief executive also explained that young people from the Factory area recently participated in the International School for Peace Studies along with others from Carnlough and Glenarm. The trip had been funded by the North East Peace III programme and it was anticipated there would be further opportunities to take part in the near future.

The Larne Times understands that council officers are attempting to obtain match funding from other bodies involved in youth work to top up the Fort James contribution which, on its own, is not sufficient to benefit all the young people of Larne, as stipulated by the donor. One possible outcome could be a much-needed drop-in and advice centre.