In February a new and exciting chapter opened for Templemore Avenue School in East Belfast. The school had once been a bustling facility for local families but was abandoned after closing in 1976. It fell into disrepair and became the target of vandalism and a symbol of decline in the area.
But on 13 February 2014 the school was full of people celebrating a new chapter for the building and the locality as it reopened as the East Belfast Network Centre. Ros Kerslake of The Prince’s Regeneration Trust (PRT), the First Minister for Northern Ireland, the Social Development Minister, MPs and members of the community all attended. The Centre has already become a hub of activity and a vital local resource; East Belfast MP Mrs Long said the building had been restored as ‘a heart in this community.
While it was still derelict, the East Belfast Community Development Agency (EBCDA), an umbrella organisation, saw incredible potential in the site. EBCDA saw its location as key, as it sits in the heart of East Belfast, on a peace line between Protestant and Catholic communities. The organisation approached PRT to support its ambition to turn the building into a ground-breaking community development project; PRT championed the project, raising its profile and assisting with securing funding. At the opening First Minister Peter Robinson said the involvement of PRT had been crucial in persuading others to get involved.
EBCDA’s efforts have resulted in an incredible public facility comprising an advice centre, a counselling centre, a café and an early years centre, with space for local organisations and start-up businesses, including the Inner East Youth Project and the East Belfast Talking Newspaper. There is also meeting space which serves groups and organisations that bring together the adjoining Protestant and Catholic communities.
The centre was officially opened by former pupil Esther Hamilton who studied at Templemore from 1935-1938.
PRT Chief Executive Ros Kerslake says of the day: ‘It is so wonderful to see local people coming together to regenerate a redundant site and reuse it to meet modern community needs. Having a former pupil opening the building was very special and was a powerful reminder of its legacy in the local area. I continue to have great admiration for the vision and work of the EBCDA. I and the rest of the PRT team feel very privileged to have played a part in this important project.’