Crusaders Football Club (FC) is investing £1.2m to build a new education centre that aims to help people in the local area gain qualifications and tackle long-term employment.
The investment is being supported by the Ulster Community Investment Trust (UCIT) and the Social Investment Fund
Work has started on the new education hub, named the ‘McDonald Centre’ after Crusaders legend, Roy McDonald, and is due to open at the end of the year.
Located on the site of the former Crusaders FC social club, the centre will be run in partnership with the Hubb Resource Centre.
The collaboration aims to address social deprivation and reduce the impacts of low aspirations, negative peer pressures and residual paramilitarism influence in the area.
Leading education and training providers, People 1 st , Belfast Met and Ulster University, will deliver a number of courses and essential skills programmes when the centre opens.
Phelim Sharvin, Associate Director at UCIT, said: “This investment, by one of Northern Ireland’s most successful football clubs, will provide an invaluable resource to the local community in the drive to tackle issues which have blighted the area in recent years.
“The club is already involved in a number of community initiatives and this further enhances their social impact in the area.
“The new centre will give people of all ages the chance to further their education and help them get on the employment ladder.
“With the backing of leading education providers, people will have access to the resources and mentoring they need to succeed.”
He added: “This is an excellent example of how sporting clubs can build upon their community links by providing easily accessible, innovative services.
“UCIT provides a range of funding options and we would encourage other clubs and community groups to contact us to discuss their plans.”
Mark Langhammer, Vice-Chair of Crusaders FC, said: “Crusaders FC has been part of the community since 1898 and this is our opportunity to provide an aspirational ‘space’ within our local neighbourhood.
“The McDonald Centre will be an education resource for people of all ages. On Saturday mornings, for example, we aim to host a Coding club for young children whilst their parents can take part in bitesize essential skills programmes.
“There will be an apprenticeship programme for talented elite players, and the centre will also provide childcare and after-schools activities and a fitness facility for exercise classes.
“We are also working with Ulster University’s ‘Taking Boys Seriously’ research team.
“There are significant levels of educational under achievement locally, but a study by Queens University Belfast found that only 11.7 per cent of local secondary school pupils attend grammar school, the lowest level in Northern Ireland.”
Club Treasurer of Crusader FC, Tommy Whiteside, commented:
“Crusaders is proud of its north Belfast heritage and we believe that this investment will help future generations of local people achieve their full potential.
“Roy McDonald is a Crusaders living legend and his successes with the club over almost 50 years embodies everything we hope the new centre will achieve.”
When Crusaders won the Irish League Premiership earlier this year, manager Stephen Baxter dedicated the title to goalkeeping coach, Roy McDonald, who hung up his gloves after 46 years with the club.
Roy joined Crusaders in 1972, playing over 400 games and winning several titles.
UCIT has supported in excess of 400 community organisations, charities and social enterprises with loan commitments totalling over £80 million.