DCSIMG

Long-derelict east Belfast school is reborn

First Minister Peter Robinson, former pupil of Templemore Avenue School Esther Hamilton and Dr Adrian Johnston, chairman of the International Fund for Ireland. Picture: Kelvin Boyes/Presseye

First Minister Peter Robinson, former pupil of Templemore Avenue School Esther Hamilton and Dr Adrian Johnston, chairman of the International Fund for Ireland. Picture: Kelvin Boyes/Presseye

 

In 1926, the then Lord Mayor of Belfast Sir William Turner opened Templemore Avenue School, which had been built and furnished for less than £50,000.

Today, it was an elderly former pupil of the school who had the honour of officially re-opening the red brick building as it was reborn as a new community hub, something which First Minister Peter Robinson said could be a template for other communities.

The choice of Esther Hamilton – who was a pupil from 1935-1938 – to draw the cord on the official plaque wasn’t for a lack of senior public figures in the audience.

Among those present were the First Minister, the Social Development Minister, two former Executive ministers, the East Belfast MP and two former Lord Mayors of Belfast.

The school – which has been derelict since it closed in 1976 and had fallen into disrepair – will now be known as East Belfast Network Centre and provide space for community advice groups, a cafe, meeting rooms, exhibition space, a library and a PSNI office.

The centre is situated in the heart of inner east Belfast and in an area which has seen some of the most prolonged rioting of the last year.

Across the road from the refurbished building, “PSNI out” graffiti is scrawled on a wall; a former bar next door has lain derelict for so long that a tree is growing from the roof, and just 150 yards down the street masked loyalist paramilitaries stare out from the walls of the so-called “Freedom Corner”.

Today, the First Minister recalled visiting the nearby Templemore Avenue Baths to swim as a child.

The DUP leader hailed it as a “novel idea”, and added: “Being on the interface [with Short Strand] makes it an even better idea.”

The former East Belfast MP, who has a long association with the project, hinted that, if bureaucracy allows, next week there will be “a really big announcement” about the Newtownards Road area.

There was a polite welcome for both Mr Robinson and his successor as MP, Naomi Long, and no visual hint of the savage criticism which, for separate reasons, each has attracted over the last year from some in the constituency.

Mrs Long, who like Mr Robinson is steeped in the history of the area, said that the building had been restored as “a heart in this community”.

Mike Smith, chairman of the Templemore Avenue School Trust, said that it was “a building of real distinction”.

Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland, whose department was involved in funding the project, said that it was “a great example” of organisations working together – and encouraged others to do likewise.

The Prince’s Regeneration Trust contributed £25,000 to the cost of the multi-million pound scheme but First Minister Peter Robinson said that the involvement of the organisation had been crucial in persuading others to get involved.

The trust’s chief executive, Ros Kerslake, said that she looked forward to updating Prince Charles, who has a keen interest in architecture, on the regeneration project.

International Fund for Ireland chairman Dr Adrian Johnston, whose body part-funded the work, said that “an exceptional facility” had been created for the use of local people.

 

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