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Action Cancer founding member piles on pressure over £2.3m new Belfast headquarters

By Allan Preston

Published 15/07/2016

Tom Williamson reads our story on the Action Cancer building in Windsor Avenue
Tom Williamson reads our story on the Action Cancer building in Windsor Avenue
The building in south Belfast

A founding member of Action Cancer has attacked plans by the charity to spend more than £2m on a treatment centre that will double as its headquarters.

After this paper yesterday broke news of anger among fundraisers over the proposals, Tom Williamson, the body's first vice-president, branded the project a "waste of money".

The 82-year-old Bangor man, who helped found the charity in 1973, said it was "disheartening" that the organisation planned to spend £2.3m obtained from a legacy windfall on buying and renovating a building in Windsor Avenue, south Belfast.

The premises, built in 1860 by Thomas Anderson, designer of the Titanic, was formerly the headquarters of the Irish Football Association.

Fundraisers told this newspaper they felt that the charity could have found a more suitable building for less money.

After a cancer patient who has volunteered for the group for 17 years wrote to the Belfast Telegraph to voice her concerns, Mr Williamson said: "I agree 100% with the sentiments of the person who sent that letter.

"I feel that it's actually a waste of money. There's bound to be other premises they can get that won't cost them anything like £2m, like Musgrave Park."

However, Action Cancer insisted the plan represented good value and would help meet growing demand.

Mr Williamson joined the charity after his late wife was diagnosed with cancer. Her consultant, Dr George Edelstyn, was the charity's founder and one of the world's leading authorities on cancer at the time. Despite being friendly with Dr Edelstyn, Mr Williamson became unhappy with how the body was run.

"There was a lot of controversy in the charity in the 1970s," he said. "The money wasn't used for the purposes it was collected for, and a lot of the founder members left at that time because of what was happening in Action Cancer."

The charity claimed the Windsor Avenue property was ideal because it is close lose to the cancer unit at Belfast City Hospital and has room for 50 cars to park outside.

But Mr Williamson replied: "They're not going to have 30 or 40 patients arriving at the one time for this screening clinic. They'll work, like anyone else, on a time system.

"What number of car parking spaces do they need for staff? What can they really need for patients after that on a daily basis?

"I was always an advocate that there are far too many charities. If there was an amalgamation and they pooled their money, it would be better. That was one of my reasons for leaving."

Belfast Telegraph readers gave mixed responses to the plan.

Charmian Mehaffey said: "This is a great local charity and my family has benefited first-hand from their support. This building has car parking, a central location and is probably a good long-term investment. Let's allow Action Cancer to continue their good work."

But Diarmaid Elder added: "One of the most expensive areas to buy in the country. Could have still had a Belfast location with modern building for less."

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