Thanks a million!

AFTER four years of planning, the first sod has been cut on a £1m new development at Riverside stadium in Drumahoe.

Planned improvements include a new east covered stand with 650 seats, new turnstiles, upgrading of security fencing, CCTV, control room, media suite, new ladies' gents' and disabled toilet facilities, and a lift to the first floor with a new viewing area.

The total cost of the project is 956,000, with Sport NI being the major funder, with additional support from the Irish Football Association and Derry City Council,

The overall development is in line with Sport NI's Stadia Safety Programme Phase 3.

Hopes are high that the new development will help strengthen 'Stute's position within the community, and increase its fan base so that it is better able to compete with the monied clubs, especially the Belfast giants, Linfield and Glentoran.

Speaking at the ceremony before the first sod was cut last Thursday, Robert Ferris, who is chairman of the Institute FC Development Sub Committee, said he had been involved with football in Londonderry for many years, with Derry City and then Institute.

To an audience that included the First Minister, Peter Robinson and Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, Nelson McCausland, he added: "I have been with Institute for 15 years. We started with a greenfield site with a rope around it,"

Mr Ferris said a small team had worked hard for the past four years to bring the club to a position where it could proceed with the next stage of its development, adding that it was difficult to balance the needs of developing a team that could compete on the pitch with developing facilities at the ground.

He paid tribute to all members of Derry City Council, including DUP members William Hay and Drew Thompson who attended last week's ceremony as well as the mayor, Colum Eastwood.

But he made special mention of East Londonderry MP, Gregory Campbell, who is a regular attender at matches, saying: "He has been a great back-up to us, encouraging us to 'keep going, keep going'...

"This is a great occasion for us because it's the marking of stage one of a project that will take us to the next stage of development."

"The development team, like the others leading the club, are volunteers.

"During the last four years it's been an uphill struggle at times, as a voluntary committee and a non profit making club."

The club president, Charles Ferguson, said Derry City Council had supported the scheme 'right from the start', helping Institute to raise the required portion of funding before it could obtain assistance from Sport NI.

"The Irish Football Association and Derry City Council produced the goods and so we had the 15% required to proceed," he said.

"There are now three bridges over the River Foyle here in Londonderry but Institute is also building bridges by bringing together the youth of all communities."

He said the club appreciated the work done by the Sports Development section.

He also told the First Minister and Minister for Culture, Arts and Sport, that the club regularly helped around 120 young people to develop their talents, but there was a shortage of football pitches, in Drumahoe, while the pitches at the former Faughan Valley High School site across the road lay unused.

The club president also paid tribute to the work done by Mr Ferris over the years.

Peter Robinson said it was obvious that people at the club had a genuine love for the game, and that it was especially nice to see a football club run on lines other than as a 'big business', adding: "I have to praise you for the vision and leadership you have shown with this scheme. Anyone who can have a 1m scheme going at a time of austerity shows real drive."

The Mayor described Institute as "a club rooted in the community" and said he had no doubt it would go from strength to strength.