Delight as Princess Anne pays visit to Portaferry

Delight as Princess Anne pays visit to Portaferry

12 September 2018

PORTAFERRY was given a royal seal of approval by Princess Anne when she visited the town last week.

The Princess Royal officially opened the impressive new Portaferry Recreation Hub last Wednesday morning and also visited Portaferry Sailing Club, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

The Princess, who is president of the Royal Yachting Association, unveiled commemorative plaques in both buildings, which are located side by side in Shore Street, and met with various local user groups, funders, officials and members of the sailing club.

Among those in attendance were the Deputy Lord Lieutenant for Co Down, Amanda Brownlow, the Mayor of Ards and North Down Borough Council, Richard Smart, Kellie Armstrong MLA, local councillors and guests, including representatives of other sailing clubs in Strangford Lough.

The Recreation Hub is a new community facility aimed at providing a fully accessible, low-cost hub with a focus on health and wellbeing. It is a centre all the community can use and gain information regarding recreational, cultural and social activities.

The Hub aims to facilitate local recreational groups and providers by making available a professionally equipped environment for recreational coaches, leaders and users. It also provided an opportunity to maximise the natural resources of Portaferry by creating a space to access the outdoor recreational infrastructure with a particular focus on maritime activity.

The project began in 2017 when, after a seven-year search for ideas and funding, the sailing club was successful in getting permission to develop a semi-derelict building adjoining its premises.

To develop and manage the property, the club formed Portaferry Community Services Ltd.  Renovation work on the Hub was finally completed in April this year. 

Funding came from a number of sources including Portaferry Regeneration Ltd through their Heritage Lottery’s Townscape Heritage Initiative, Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, the Rural Development Programme, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, Leader, Rural Partners Ards and North Down, Ards and North Down Borough Council, The Coastal Communities Fund and Portaferry Sailing Club.

Princess Anne was welcomed on Wednesday morning by Mr Leonard Lawson, Director of Portaferry Community Services Ltd, who managed the Hub project, and Mr John McAlea, commodore of Portaferry Sailing Club.

Thanking Princess Anne, Mr Leonard paid tribute to all of the people who brought the project to a successful fruition, including the architect, contractor, consultants, various funders and user groups, as well as the sailing club and its voluntary workforce.

He said the club had the “vision and courage to invest in this project and risk going ahead with such a large scheme” and had trusted him to manage the project.

“People don’t realise that when groups within communities create these schemes they are depending on vast amounts of voluntary input in terms of time and commitment,” Mr Lawson remarked.

“I would like to thank each and everyone one of you for the support and co-operation that has made this project possible.

“It is incredible that It takes all this number of people, the thousands of emails, countless meetings, official forms, letters and telephone calls to bring this about. But today looking around me at the community interest it has already created I can say with all my heart that it has been worth it.”

Before unveiling the plaque to mark the official opening Princess Anne offered her congratulations to everyone involved in the project.

“This is not something many sailing clubs can do, or necessarily have the imagination to do,” she said.

“You have taken on a lot of extra work here and have a very unique situation for a sailing club to be, so central to your community whose history is entirely related to the water.

“In this day and age, to have the right access to water, the right training facilities, the right information and the right skills to deal with that presence is key. It’s a brilliant place to be.

“It has not been easy, but it has been very much a community venture and I am delighted you have been able to achieve so much. I wish you well in the future and thank you for your efforts. You have a considerable amount to celebrate.”

The Princess was then taken on a guided tour of the sailing club by Mr McAlea, who introduced her to members and guests.

Before inviting the Princess to unveil the plaque marking the club’s 50th anniversary and to sign the visitors’ book, Mr McAlea said he was honoured to welcome her to the club.

“What an honour is to be standing in the presence of someone of such high esteem as the Princess Royal,” he said. “Portaferry should be so proud today.

“Princess Anne has seen a wonderful building. We thank everyone who has helped out and everyone who has come here today.”