COUNCILLORS have been told they may need to spend more than a penny to spare the blushes of hockey players.
The Larne men’s and ladies’ clubs are flushed with embarrassment when they have to tell opponents visiting the Greenland artificial pitch: “Short corners are fine, but just don’t get caught short.”
The local teams, which between them feature up to 100 members, have been playing on the plastic turf at Larne High School for two full seasons without toilets, showers or changing rooms because Larne Borough Council and the North Eastern Education Board, who share the pitch, have been unable to broker an arrangement whereby the clubs and visiting teams can use toilets and changing rooms at the school. It is understood that if the facilities were opened, it is not presently feasible to block access to the rest of the school.
There may be hope of relief at last, however, with the council poised to provide accommodation, if a deal cannot be done with the education board.
At a recent policy and resources committee, Cllr Martin Wilson asked for a progress report on the provision of temporary pods, stressing that: “The hockey club are in desperation for changing facilities.”
Chief executive Geraldine McGahey said that both director of development Linda McCullough and the council’s NEELB representative Ald Roy Beggs had been working “for a very long time” to obtain information from the education authority. Mrs McGahey added: “If there is no response in the near future, we will have to proceed with the pods.”
Ald Beggs described the impasse with the board as “very disappointing”, adding that he was aware that Mrs McCullough had been “very active” in pursuing the matter.
There had been personnel changes at NEELB which may have resulted in the issue being allowed to “slip”, said Ald Beggs, who assured council colleagues that he would issue a “sharp reminder” at the next board meeting.
Progress will be welcomed by Larne Ladies’ coach James Dodsworth, who explained: “We are embarrassed to bring teams here from as far as Kilkeel or Raphoe and tell them that they will have to get changed in a small toilet in the Greenland community centre, when there might be a birthday party in progress in the centre.
“Anybody needing to go to the toilet has to walk to the community centre or use the facilities at the pigeon club, which we are very grateful to have use of, but it’s not always ideal for people having to go through the bar.”
James revealed there are also child protection issues: “We have children from P3 age taking part in training sessions and if one of them needs the toilet they have to supervised.
“It’s not a long walk to the community centre, but it would be an awful lot easier to manage if there were toilets at the pitch.”
James stressed the need for provision: “There are maybe 100 people playing in three ladies’ teams and two men’s teams as well as coaching for children. The ladies’ first team were promoted again last season and will be playing in the First Division – the second-highest league in Northern Ireland – in the new season and in the cup we could be attracting some the best teams in Ireland to Larne.”