Belfast Telegraph

A community centre torched, but do locals want it rebuilt?

By Clare Weir

The community must be consulted before a social club which was gutted by fire is rebuilt, it has been stated.

Nothing but a shell remained of the single-storey building yesterday after robbers, suspected of trying to take cigarettes from the premises, set the facility on fire.

The future of the club, used by the community for more than 30 years, is now under threat despite it surviving some of the worst years of the Troubles.

It was burned during disturbances in the 1970s and was one of few services in Twinbrook on the outskirts of west Belfast.

While some residents expressed regret over its destruction, others said they hoped it was not rebuilt.

Jay McMahon (29), whose family runs the club, said she was “gutted”.

“It’s our local, it’s our second home, we grew up there,” she said, as police and forensic teams investigated.

“The people there were like a big family. People would look out for one another. I can’t believe it’s gone,” said Ms McMahon.

“My sister worked behind the bar and she is in limbo now, she doesn’t know if she will have a job to go back to. I’m just raging that someone would do this, just gutted, I really am.”

One ex-member on his way to catch a bus nodded: “It will certainly be quieter around here.”

Several locals who live near the Gardenmore Road club said they would shed no tears.

One woman collecting her groceries, who refused to be named, said: “It should never have been built there, right beside a school, people only went there to drink.”

Three women chatting over a garden fence nearby agreed.

“It was a hassle to the local community, not an asset. I hope they don’t fix it up,” said one.

Another said: “I was never in it in my life — it won’t be missed.”

The alarm was raised at 3.50am yesterday. At one stage 35 firefighters and five appliances fought the blaze for two-and-a-half hours to bring it under control.

A Fire Service spokeswoman said: “It is believed that the fire had been started deliberately.”

Sinn Fein MLA for West Belfast Jennifer McCann has said that any proposed rebuild of the Twinbrook Social Club must be in accordance with residents’ wishes.

“The fire at this stage seems to be an arson attack following a failed robbery,” she said.

“This has led to several people having no employment as a result which, in this economic climate is extremely unfortunate.

“However, the club itself has been at times a centre for anti-social activity within the greater Twinbrook area and many residents I’m sure will not miss the club being there. If there is to be a proposed rebuild of the social club at this site it is essential that this only occurs following a in-depth consultation process with the local community who bore the brunt of this anti-social activity. Without this, and strong safeguards coming from the owners to ensure that a new bar works with the community, the opinion locally is that we would prefer to have nothing on the site.”

Belfast Telegraph

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