SureStart service granted more time to find new premises

ABBEY SureStart, Rathcoole Drive. INNT 31-511CON
ABBEY SureStart, Rathcoole Drive. INNT 31-511CON

North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds and Paula Bradley MLA have welcomed confirmation from the Education Minister that ABBEY SureStart will be permitted to stay in its Rathcoole base until early next year - giving the organisation more time to find alternative accommodation.

The family support service, which is used by many local parents and carers of children aged 0 - 4 years, had originally been asked to vacate its community education centre at the former Newtownabbey Community High School site by August 31. However, following appeals for the Education Minister to intervene, it has now been granted an extension, allowing it to remain at the Rathcoole Drive premises until the end of February 2017.

Speaking following a meeting with Education Minister Peter Weir on Thursday, August 4, Ms Bradley said: “This extension is welcome news and will provide a secure base for ABBEY SureStart until their new premises at Merville Garden Village are ready in January 2017.

“We have been liaising with Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council and have an understanding that the remaining ABBEY SureStart programmes and staff can be accommodated in vacant rooms in the Dunanney Centre.

“The Education Authority has also given an undertaking to work with SureStart to identify suitable premises which can provide a permanent base for SureStart in the future.”

Mr Dodds added: “The services provided by ABBEY SureStart are absolutely vital in supporting local children and parents. Understandably there were concerns in the area at any suggestion of uncertainty regarding premises for this programme.

“I am grateful to the Minister for meeting with local DUP representatives and for agreeing to this extension which will allow SureStart to continue delivering their important services.

“We are thankful for all the support we received locally from service users and residents in trying to find a positive solution. We will continue to work closely with ABBEY SureStart and support them in whatever way we can in the future.”

While some local campaigners want to see ABBEY SureStart permitted to remain at the former school site indefinitely, the Education Authority is keen to move forward with formal disposal of the property.

Read related story - ‘Vital SureStart services must be maintained’