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The end of the Evergreen?

Thursday, 31 May 2018

The end of the Evergreen? thumbnail

A SENIOR citizens' club in Ballymoney claims it is facing eviction following a failed final bid to persuade the Council to continue funding the upkeep of its Edward Street home.
Around 50 members of the Evergreen Pensioners' Club descended on Cloonavin last week to find out if councillors would continue financing the meeting hall they've occupied for 34 years. But they were left disappointed.
The Club says it's been facing eviction ever since a 2017 council vote to abandon upkeep of its Edward Street home.
And last Tuesday councillors rejected a last-gasp bid to keep the hall under council control.
Even while the debate was taking place behind closed doors, leader Isobel Fleming spoke movingly of the club's importance to her community.
“Just last week I was talking to a lady who had recently joined. She'd lost her husband and she said the first year alone had been dreadful.
“She wanted to join just to meet people and talk to people again.
“Now she says if she didn't have this club she doesn't know what she'd do."
The club provides a wide range of activities. Included on the agenda this week is a talk from a local expert on  birds and armchair aerobics.
It also arranges regular excursions. But perhaps it's greatest strength is bringing people together, said Isobel
“For the lonely and isolated the club is essential - even if it's just for a cup of tea and a chat. There's a real sense of belonging.
“Every week when we meet, for the first half an hour, there's a tremendous noise and buzz about he place. You'd think we hadn't spoken to anyone else all week.
“Everyone is so friendly and there are people from all sections of the community. If anyone asks: 'how do you join?' I just say 'push the door open and come on in'.
“You'll be made welcome, and that's the truth."
According to Isobel, the Evergreen spans 62 years and is Northern Ireland's oldest senior citizens club. It's also among the biggest, with a membership of over 100.
The club's building is in fact owned by the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA).
But Causeway Coast and Glens Council  has been paying for its upkeep since the old Ballymoney Council adopted it 30 years ago.
The current row began last year when members voted against a proposal to acquire the hall, and instead agreed to sever all financial support.
Although they did agree to period of grace, allowing the club to find alternative facilities.  It's understood the building requires repairs set to cost upwards of 300,000.
With time running out, Ballymoney-based councillors, led by the DUP's Ian Stevenson, have continued pressing for a change of heart .
And on Tuesday matters came to head. Club members were however shut out of the debate, along with the press, because of legal matters surrounding the decision.
Three hours into the meeting, and with still no result, most abandoned their vigil as councillors adjourned for a drinks reception to mark the last formal meeting of the current Mayor Joan Baird's term in office.
Later a Causeway Coast and Glens Council spokesperson confirmed funding would be severed.
“After lengthy debate at its May Meeting, including a number of failed amendments, the Council decided to reaffirm the NIVCA ownership of Edward Street Social Centre, and will hand back the management of the facility to them," she said.

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