Twenty jobs are on the line as an organisation which has delivered the biggest community sports programme in Belfast’s history faces closure.
Redundancy letters were handed out to elite community coaches from Belfast Community Sports Development Network (BCSDN) earlier this month as its contract to run the Sport NI funded Active Communities programme on behalf of Belfast City Council comes to an end on March 31.
Thousands of people in some of the most deprived areas of the city could lose out on crucial activities aimed at improving their health and fitness.
A new Sport NI-funded scheme Everybody Active 2020 is due to replace Active Communities but may not be in place until September, while 300 community based programmes currently being delivered by BCSDN will come to an end.
More than 500 groups and individuals from across Belfast have signed a petition urging the council and other key agencies to help save BCSDN. In the five years that it worked on the Active Communities Programme it has worked with 15,000 people per year in physical activity and sport across Belfast.
Peter Shaw, Chief Executive of BCSDN says that if swift action isn’t taken, then 20 skilled community coaches will lose their jobs and thousands of pounds of training and years of experience working in areas of deprivation will disappear overnight.
He said: “All of this work to create invaluable contacts with young people, the elderly, disabled people is due to come to an end on March 31. I would appeal to funders to make sure that quality sport continues to be delivered to the most disadvantaged areas so we can continue to help tackle issues such as obesity, anti-social behaviour and social isolation.
“I’d like to thank all those who are supporting the ‘Keep BCSDN in your Community’ campaign. BCSDN has the skills, knowledge, experience and networks to continue to be the sport for development organisation in Belfast but needs agencies; such as Belfast City Council, Public Health Agency, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust; and key Government Departments to invest properly in our work.”
Since 2011 BCSDN has delivered sessions to care homes, residential homes, community groups, schools, youth centres across the city, working on sport for development around health, community relations, capacity building, volunteering and crime diversion.
The coaches are trained to deliver a full range of sports, inclusive games, multi sports, activities for older people and training programmes. They have worked with more than 400 groups in the past five years, the largest mass participation programme in the city’s history.
One such programme is Senior Moments, a group of 29 elderly people in Sandy Row who meet every Thursday morning for fitness activities.
Glen McCrum, Director of BCSDN said: “This is the only structured activity they get during the week and the impact that such a small programme has in building their self-confidence and helping them with general fitness is immense.”
Kim Rafferty specialises in physical activity programmes for women, working with women’s groups, schools and older people across Belfast encouraging people into lifelong participation in physical activity. Her post will end at the end of March.
“I have been an Active Communities Coach for five years now and it has been the most challenging yet rewarding time of my working career. I have worked with thousands of women and young girls within the communities to help keep them fit and healthy whilst trying to break down the many barriers they face. I feel I have helped improve women’s confidence and attitude towards physical activity and it would be an absolute shame to stop the great the work that BCSDN provide. I consider my classes and participants as friends and hate the fact that they will be let down.”