‘Vital SureStart services must be maintained’

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

ABBEY SureStart has assured parents that it is “working tirelessly” to find new premises after it was told that it will have to leave its current base.

The early learning organisation, which provides a range of family support services for local parents and carers of children aged 0 - 4 years, has been informed that it will have to vacate its community education centre in Rathcoole later this year.

The Education Authority, which owns the premises at the former Newtownabbey Community High School building on Rathcoole Drive, has confirmed that it will not be renewing SureStart’s lease.

It’s understood the Education Authority is keen to move towards formal disposal of the former school site.

A post on the ABBEY SureStart Facebook page on July 29 said: “We have been advised by the Education Authority that our lease for the Community Education Centre (main office) will not be renewed at the end of August 2016. As a gesture of goodwill they have extended the current lease to the end of November 2016.

“We wish to advise parents that we are working tirelessly to secure suitable premises and will keep you informed as we strive to move forward.”

A number of local political representatives, including North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds, and MLAs Paula Bradley and Roy Beggs Jnr, have called on the Education Minister to intervene to ensure the vital services provided by ABBEY SureStart are not lost to the local area.

“SureStart provides an invaluable service to local families and plays a vital role in helping children develop their full social and intellectual potential,” Ms Bradley said. “I am disappointed to learn that SureStart has now received notice to vacate their premises at the former Newtownabbey Community High School site.

“Nigel Dodds and I have already written to the Education Minister to request an urgent meeting with staff of SureStart and the Education Authority to discuss their need to secure suitable premises. We will continue to work with SureStart to ensure that this vital service is maintained in our local community.”

Mr Beggs, who is involved with SureStart in Carrickfergus, described ABBEY SureStart as “a vital service” for families in Rathcoole and surrounding areas.

He stressed that “there is no suitable alternative accommodation in the area” and vowed to raise the issue with the Education Minister.

Dee Crooks of Rathcoole Regeneration Group says closure of the SureStart community education centre would be a massive blow to the local area.

“This has been a lifeline for thousands of families over the years - people from the Longlands and Arthur areas, across Rathcoole and right up to Whiteabbey and Monkstown. A lot of parents are very angry about what’s happening,” he said.

Mr Crooks called on local parents and politicians to join Rathcoole Regeneration Group in its ‘Save Our SureStart’ campaign. And he confirmed that the organisation is planning to hold a protest in the coming days.

The Times made several attempts to contact the Education Authority, but there was no response at the time of publication.