Project to pay lasting tribute to Harry Gregg

The Harry Gregg Foundation Legacy Group made a presentation to members of Causeway Coast & Glens Council Leisure and Development Committee detailing their plans for an exciting “first of its kind in Northern Ireland” project, writes Gillian Anderson, Local Democracy Reporter.
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Investigating the best way to pay a lasting tribute to Harry Gregg they want to establish a Coleraine Youth Sport Zone, providing world class youth facilities under one roof, which will give children and local people “somewhere to go”, “something to do” and have “someone to talk to”.

Members were informed that Youth Sport Zones in England currently operating can cost around £1m per year to run with £600,000 coming from local businesses.  
In order to progress the project they requested funding from council to the sum of £50k to cover the cost of the feasibility study. However,  members, although mainly supportive, have asked for a paper to be brought back with a feasibility study on council investing in the project.

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MLA Maurice Bradley, a member of the Harry Gregg Foundation Legacy Group addressed the committee.

He said: “We are a committee who have a goal of achieving a lasting legacy in the name of Harry Gregg, a giant in the game of football with Manchester United and a hero to hordes of Manchester United fans across the globe.

“I sit on this committee, not with a political hat, but as a friend of the late Harry and as a friend of the family.”

Mr Bradley introduced Liam McStravick, who made the presentation.

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“Since the passing of Harry in February 2020, there has been an ongoing discussion about what we could do to provide a testimony to Harry’s life as a footballer at Manchester United, as a survivor of the Munich air disaster and for someone who played for Northern Ireland in the 1958 World Cup.

“There was a broad sense that Harry wouldn’t have wanted a statue, that he would have wanted something that was living and breathing and from having discussions there was a sense that we would want to do something even bigger than football and over the months we looked at what options we could bring together for Harry Gregg.”

The inspiration for the project has come from the Onside Youth Zone model in England who provide world class youth facilities with everything under one roof.

Mr McStravick continued: “We have a site at the Ulster University in Coleraine which has already been potentially ring-fenced and ear-marked for this project. There are equally good sites in the Coleraine town centre area and we need to complete a detailed feasibility study to bring in architects, quantity surveyors, planning consultants to ultimately outline can we fit a 34,000 sq foot facility at Coleraine town centre, at Coleraine University and some other sites and to go through a detailed feasibility study as to how much this will cost, can we get this funded and we do have a very clear funding strategy for the delivery of the project and that means getting ready.”

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Mr McStravick explained the group was requesting a commitment of  £50k of funding delivered in three stages. 

DUP Councillor John McAuley asked if the university was contributing anything to the feasibility study “considering that this could add a multi million pound facility to their estate”.

Mr McStravick confirmed that the group had not yet asked the university formally.

DUP Councillor Aaron Callan spoke about council’s “town centre first” policy and how this development would be “perfect” for the area before asking the director, Mr Baker, if council would be in a position with the budget to provide the funding.

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Mr Baker replied: “£50k is a significant amount of money but at the same time I don’t think anyone would disagree it is an exciting and ambitious project.

“There are clearly opportunities in the budget and you are aware the events programme up to and the end of August and including September is cancelled so there is potentially an underspend on that basis.

“We also had a significant underspend in the 20/21 period which could have significantly augmented council’s reserves. I would suggest I have a discussion with the finance director and if members are minded to proceed with this, come back at the next committee meeting clearly outlining where the funding can come from and to obviously consider the terms of the funding as well.”

Councillor Callan spoke of “an exciting opportunity in this”, adding; “The second part of this is to pay homage to Harry Gregg. He was an inspirational figure here locally and around the world and the links that he has with a major club in English league football, it is vital that those links are utilised as well.

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“It is a very interesting and very exciting opportunity and we need to be developing how we take this forward.”

UUP Councillor Richard Holmes proposed a paper be brought back to the June committee with a feasibility study into investing in the project which DUP Councillor Michelle Knight McQuillan seconded.

Committee Chair Sinn Fein Councillor Dermott Nicholl said the project was “begging more questions than answers”.

“He added: “I see what you are trying to do but there is something still niggling inside me in relation to this.”

The proposal to bring a paper to next month’s committee carried unanimously.