Ballygally group hopes for Christmas ‘miracle’

BALLYGALLY’S state-of-the-art community hall could be the venue for a Christmas party to usher in the festive season – provided that Larne Borough Council signs on the dotted line before December 1.

The purpose-built facility has been fit for use since August and the village’s community development association (BCDA), which piloted the innovative £750,000 social enterprise project, has been eager to show it off.

However, until the lease has been formally signed by the local authority – the group’s partner in the venture – local residents are unable to make use of the facilities and BCDA is losing revenue as a result.

Chairman of BCDA Niall McFerran told the Times that community groups and other organisations were “chomping at the bit” to gain access to the hall, but added that bookings cannot be taken until the paperwork has been taken care of.

He added: “We have been inundated with requests from various people to use the hall for a range of events, but we can’t let them in until the lease has been signed. Once that is done and people finally get to see the finished product, I am confident they will not be disappointed.”

The major stumbling block in terms of getting pen to paper revolves around the articles of association for BCDA trading company, which was set up to allow the community association to receive funding for the project.

Niall said: “The articles of association in their current form do not really suit our needs, and are more applicable to a big company than a small community association. This is the last barrier standing in our way and we are working with the council to make sure that all the t’s are crossed and the i’s are dotted before the lease is signed.

“The delay is through no fault of BCDA or Larne Council, and all parties involved in the project are working flat out to get everything squared away.

“Some people have criticised Larne Council in the past for the length of time it has taken to get the lease done and dusted, but I have to say that chief executive Geraldine McGahey has been working hard to help us rectify the situation.

“As much as I would love to have the hall open to the public tomorrow, there is no point rushing this until we are absolutely sure it is right. We don’t want to have any regrets further down the line.”

Niall is hopeful the lease will be signed in the next few weeks to allow the hall to be open in time for the Christmas lights switch on in the village on Thursday, December 1.

“In previous years we have used Ballygally Castle Hotel as the venue for the Christmas switch-on celebrations, and we have booked it as a backup for this year. But it would be lovely to have access to our new hall,” he said.

Niall added that once the lease had been signed and the hall was in use, BCDA may call a special general meeting to determine the best way forward for the project.

“I will be happy to stay on as chairman if that is what people want, but I also want to ensure that everything is as open and transparent as possible. This really is a community-owned initiative and we want to make sure that people feel they are involved and can raise questions on any aspect of it,” he added.

Francis Walsh, who was one-quarter of a four-man team who speared headed the scheme, said it was time for the older generation to make way for younger people to shape the future of the project.

“As far as I am concerned, once the lease is signed it will be mission accomplished for me, and I will be more than willing to move aside and let others take the project forward. I think that when local people see the hall for themselves, they will be very impressed with what we have achieved,” he concluded.