A Rathcoole community group which is tackling dereliction and hoping to establish a community centre has received the backing of Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt.
Newtownabbey Arts and Cultural Network (NACN) is seeking to address community disengagement by cleaning up derelict flats on Old Irish Highway/Glenbane Avenue, establishing a new high-tech community centre and educating residents about the area’s history.
Chairman David Crooks, who grew up in Rathcoole, told The Times: “The buildings in Glenbane Avenue have been lying empty and derelict for years. They have been burnt out, there are rats, and the Fire Brigade has been out several times. People were taking drugs there. The quality of life for people living in the area has been affected. We asked for them to be pulled down as they are an eyesore.”
The community group recently organised a clean-up of the site after locals expressed safety concerns about using the overgrown pathway to access nearby shops.
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt visited Rathcoole recently at the invitation of NACN.
David said: “He spoke to residents who live around the flats. One woman came out of her house and told us how she thought there was a cat sitting on her windowsill - it was a rat, which shows how big they are.”
Earlier this year Clanmil Housing Association confirmed that it is in talks with the owner of the property at Old Irish Highway about the possibility of acquiring the site for social housing.
Key to NACN’s strategy for tackling deprivation and disengagement is a new community centre.
David explained: “There has never been a hub for the community. There is nothing for young people to do after 5pm and anti-social behaviour sets in. We are getting groups together like the STAR autism group and local bands, and have contacted the NEELB to ask if we could use a canteen building belonging to the old secondary school. We would run it as a partnership and groups could come along and be part of it.”
David hopes the centre would feature a young musician’s workshop with video editing facilities, photography and a recording studio where young people could learn to play instruments such as drums and the guitar.
He continued: “Maybe there is a Snow Patrol in Rathcoole just waiting to be discovered! You have to give young people the opportunity.”
David is lobbying local representatives and MLAs over the establishment of the community centre. He said: “Mike Nesbitt went to the school and saw the community facility. He was very supportive. I have also written a letter to the chair of the board of governors of Rathcoole Primary School, who supports the new facility.”
Mr Crooks said it can be “very frustrating” trying to secure support from some elected representatives, but vowed that NACN will continue its work.