Politicians representing NI’s main parties will be urged to get their skates on as a brand new roller skating rink opens in Co Armagh on Saturday.
The leaders of the DUP, UUP and Alliance Party, along with representatives from SF and the SDLP, will jointly cut the ribbon on what is understood to be the largest roller skating arena in Ireland.
The Rink is a social enterprise originally set up by charity Love Hockey Ireland in 2013 in a warehouse on the outskirts of Portadown.
An investment of £250,000 has allowed the charity to significantly upgrade its 160,000 square foot premises which now boasts a roller skating rink, conference facilities and room for other indoor sports.
Love Hockey Ireland’s chief executive Stephen Lynch was inspired to take up ice hockey as a student in Armagh, after seeing the Belfast Giants in their inaugural 2000 season. When he moved to Belfast for university he began playing ice hockey and, in turn, roller hockey – like ice hockey but on a hard floor using roller skates.
The 34-year-old said: “It is my absolute passion. When I moved back to Armagh in 2005 I started up my own roller hockey club. By 2010, when we won the NI league, we had nine different nationalities at our club. It was around that time we started to get that idea for the charity which would use sports to bring together different communities.”
Love Hockey Ireland was formed in 2010 and through PEACE funding it was able to deliver cross-community schools programmes across Armagh, Banbridge, Newry and Craigavon. When that funding ended, the charity set up its own roller rink in order to become self-sustainable.
It chose Portadown as an area where the enterprise could have the “biggest impact” and moved in to an empty warehouse on the Derryneskan Road – three miles outside Portadown and a mile from Junction 12 of the M1.
Without funding and relying on the efforts of volunteers The Rink was set up in 2013.
Having gained recognition for roller hockey as a sport by Sport NI, last year the charity was able to access an investment of £250,000 from Sport NI, DAERA and ABC council to significantly upgrade to its 16,000 square foot facilities.
As well as launching the new venue – the charity will change its name from Love Hockey Ireland to Powered By Sport. It will also launch its new inline sledge hockey equipment, enabling people with disabilities to experience the fast–paced game.
Encouraging people to give roller skating a go, Mr Lynch said: “There is no age restrictions at the venue. We have people from as young as two skating on a regular basis, all the way up to a woman who comes once a month who is 76.
“Anyone can do it – the only thing you need is the desire to want to do it. It’s all about balance and confidence.”
Mr Lynch said the cross party political attendees for the launch echoed the charity’s ethos of bringing together communities and cultures.
The opening will be attended by party leaders Arlene Foster, Naomi Long and Robin Swann as well as SF and SDLP representatives. Mr Lynch commented: “I don’t know if we’re going to get any of the invited guests on skates but we’re certainly going to be pushing them to do it.”