New Lettershandoney centre a vital hub for folks on the hill

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Over a decade since this paper reported on dismaying levels of dereliction, poverty and rural isolation on the high moor above the Waterside, the people of Lettershandoney and its neighbouring townlands have secured an all-singing, all-dancing community hub worth shouting about.

Sean Carlin, from the Lettershandoney District Development Group, acknowledges this most peripheral of peripheral corners has come on in leaps and bounds over the past ten years, but he also insists that more work needs to be done to ensure the people of the area get the quality of service, they as ratepayers and citizens deserve.

Speaking to the Sentinel, following the official opening of phase one of the new Mullabuoy Centre, which cost £320,000 to build, 80 per cent of which came from the European union incidentally, Mr Carlin, said: “The history behind the building is that it’s the first rural facility run by Council because we transferred ownership to Council.

“It was actually finished in mid 2015 but now it’s a fully operational centre, which holds activities right across the spectrum from older people, younger people, women, general services...it has a luncheon club, it does general activities, circuits, yoga.

“The ambition is to go for phase two, it’s a phased building, we’re getting an application together to go through Council.

“It will have a large indoor games hall and community hall, which will be the revenue generator for the sustainability of the centre.”

Mr Carlin, who whilst helping deliver a ‘Communities in Action’ programme in Lettershandoney over recent years identified rural isolation, debt, prescription medicine and alcohol misuse and job insecurity as major issues, says the new centre is helping meet these problems head on, in a strong but peripheral community.

“Locally, it is strategically located on the periphery of the Waterside and rural Derry.

“You have Strathfoyle and Maydown and Eglinton on one side and on the other side you have Claudy, Park and Newbuildings.

“The uniqueness of is it’s not on one of the arterial routes. If you look at the Strabane Road you have Newbuildings, there’s a fairly big centre.

“You have Claudy, with the Diamond Centre, on the arterial route to Belfast. And in Eglinton you’re on the arterial route to Limavady and the Antrim Coast.

“The fact that Lettershandoney is off the beaten track but central to that whole area is key to reach the areas that aren’t being reached, the more sparse rural hinterland.”

Mr Carlin says it’s getting on almost fifteen years since this paper first highlighted the need for a plan of action to address the service deficit on the rolling eastern hillsides above the city.

“In 2003, the Sentinel did an article about the dereliction and the poverty and the lack of facilities in that area.

“It was a very powerful piece and since then we started putting action plans together to chip away at the block.

“Effectively, now in the last three years we’ve brought in £1m in a new play park, village green and a new community centre.

“We’re benefiting now from the collaboration of all the political parties sitting around the table and talking, whereas before you might have seen it divvied up into their own areas.

“Now you’re getting a collective way of thinking, particularly from rural councillors, who would be fairly proactive in each of their areas.

“They’re on the same sheet whereas before party politicians might have made a bigger difference.

“Now they don’t. It is about social issues now. The religion and the politics are somewhat removed particularly when it comes to rural.”