Northern Ireland is set to have its first community-run sports academy after locals and co-operative partners raised £225,000 for the first phase of building work.
The Co-op Group’s charity, the Co-op Foundation, invested £50,000 into the community share offer as part of its Community Spaces programme. The Foundation also provided a £25,000 grant.
Another £50,000 grant was provided by the Alpha Programme managed by charity Groundwork NI.
Based in Lisburn, the Ballymacash Sports Academy will be used by more than 3,000 people a year; facilities will include new football training pitches, a car park and landscaping. A new social club, community rooms and a community gym will be built as part of further phases of work.
Neil Woolsey at Ballymacash Sports Academy said: “We are extremely grateful to the Co-op Foundation for not only their financial support but for the confidence they have shown in the BenCom from the outset. We hope that the Co-op Foundation, as a shareholder, will play an active role in the Academy in the coming years.”
Jim Cooke, head of the Co-op Foundation, said: “Spaces for local people to come together are vitally important for building stronger communities. Our funding for Ballymacash Sports Academy will help ensure this new community service will have a sustainably funded future so it can connect and empower more people for the long-term.
“We’re delighted to be backing this exciting venture in partnership with the local community and we looking forward to seeing the impact it has.”
Co-operative Alternatives, a Northern Ireland co-operative development organisation, which supports community-led development, helped launch the share offer.
Tiziana O’Hara of Co-operative Alternatives said: “Co-operative Alternatives is delighted with the achievements of Ballymacash Sports Academy.
“This is the ninth offer we helped prepare in Northern Ireland under the Community Shares, Ready! programme but in many ways had a lot of first: it is the first community share offer in the Leisure and Sport sector and it is the first time that a project has attracted a matching share investment.”
She added: “The Co-operative Foundation has invested £50,000 shares in Ballymacash Sports Academy holding the same rights as the 297 individuals and 32 local businesses that have bought community shares. This proves again to us that community shares are an excellent tool to leverage additional funding but can also be a catalyst for innovative ways in which foundations and trusts can help emerging co-operatives. We believe that this is replicable and can unlock new patient capital investments in and for Northern Ireland.”
Building work on the community and sports centre is expected to be complete by 2023.