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Action Cancer accused of wasting valuable funds by purchasing historic house

Exclusive: Volunteers blast charity for £2m spend on Titanic designer's Belfast mansion

By Allan Preston

Published 14/07/2016

The impressive frontage of the Windsor Avenue property
The impressive frontage of the Windsor Avenue property
The ornate central staircase, said to have inspired the stairway in the Titanic
Thomas Andrews, who lived in the house
Extract from letter to Action Cancer members from chairman Norman Carson

A leading cancer charity in Northern Ireland has faced a backlash from volunteers over plans to spend £2m on a new treatment centre.

Earlier this year Action Cancer bought the Irish Football Association's former Windsor Avenue headquarters in south Belfast for £1m.

One of whose former occupants was Thomas Andrews, designer of the Titanic.

The charity plans to spend a further £1m developing the building.

Figures reported by the Belfast Telegraph last week suggested the final figure for developing it may be closer to £3m.

Now a volunteer fundraiser of 17 years, herself a cancer patient, has blasted the move as "totally unneccessary" and a "waste", insisting new premises could have been found at a much lower price.

She added that at least five other volunteers in the charity had voiced similar concerns. "They can't understand what this is all about, it's not the type of thing you'd expect from a charity that's expecting people to go out and collect money," she said.

Action Cancer has labelled the criticism unfair.

"The search for the property has taken two years - this one we feel very fortunate to have actually secured," a spokeswoman said. "It doesn't stand up to what's been happening, from our point of view."

The decision to buy the building came after Action Cancer received a £2.3m legacy windfall.

But the volunteer said: "We go out in all sorts of weather trying to get people to give into the collector's tin. You would think they would use this money wisely, it's a bit disheartening to be honest."

The new development will include a breast cancer screening clinic for women falling outside the age limits currently imposed by the NHS.

Action Cancer said key selling points were car parking and its close proximity to the Regional Cancer Unit at Belfast City Hospital.

However, in a letter to this paper the fundraising volunteer, who asked not to be named, accused the charity of becoming "too top heavy" and "more interested in staff pay and conditions than its core function".

"I firmly believe that this expenditure is totally unnecessary and a waste of the £2.3m legacy," she said. "Action Cancer does not need to be near the City Hospital, it could well be sited in any of the business parks in the Greater Belfast area.

"There are numerous suitable buildings lying empty in such parks which would be just as suitable as the new Malone Road property. There is also the former Military Hospital, which lies empty in the grounds of Musgrave Park Hospital, which would be an excellent site, not only for Action Cancer but some of the other cancer charities as well."

She added: "The Action Cancer board of management should now reconsider this decision before they totally lose the goodwill of those who have steadfastly supported it over many years."

In May a letter was sent out to Action Cancer members by charity chairman Norman Carson announcing the purchase of the property and the expenditure involved.

He said the charity had agreed the £2.3m legacy should be spent on "significant, meaningful and impactful initiatives".

However, the volunteer complained that Mr Carson then "waxed lyrical about the mansion and enclosed a photo of the magnificent staircase".

The description from Mr Carson reads: "The house retains many of its original features including some rather detailed plaster work, original fireplaces, reputedly the inspiration for the design of the staircase on the Titanic.

"I believe when you have an opportunity to view the premises after the refurbishment and extension you will be highly impressed."

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