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Former army base could be 'Hollywood of the North West'

By Donna Deeney

Published 02/09/2015

New role: Shackleton barracks
New role: Shackleton barracks

The woman behind a movie company hoping to buy the remaining 600 acres of the former Shackleton army base in Ballykelly said the Co Londonderry village could become Northern Ireland's Hollywood.

Lambert Smith Hampton have been marketing the site on behalf of the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister since the beginning of July after previous attempts failed to attract a bid above £1.5m, far below the value of the available land.

Earlier this year an exercise to gauge the level of interest from the private sector resulted in around 40 companies registering an interest in the site.

Shackleton Studios Ltd were among them and last month it signed a lease to rent all of the remaining available space, including former aircraft hangars and offices. The Department of Agriculture has already taken part of the site for its new headquarters.

The film company is currently preparing the site for its first production.

The woman behind the firm, Jo Gilbert, says she would like the current arrangement to be a permanent one.

Ms Gilbert said: "I am so excited about the possibilities of the site and I absolutely want to make it permanent.

"This could be a real game-changer for the whole of the North West, it will open the entire area for the creative industries.

"If you look at how the skyline in Belfast has changed since the investment from this sector, it has gone up and up and that is exactly what we see happening in the North West by our company being based in Ballykelly.

"It is such a fantastic site, it has everything from wide open space, the hangars and the office space, so there is no reason we cannot and will not create Hollywood right here in the North West."

Ms Gilbert's vision is shared by the President of the Roe Valley Chamber of Commerce, David Brewster, who said the potential investment will serve as a draw for all kinds of other businesses.

He added: "I suspect this site actually sold itself because of its sheer size and the presence of the hangars and other buildings, but this is a 21st century industry that will offer 21st century careers to our young people and will persuade them not to consider leaving our shores.

"The potential for the economy is incredible from new jobs created within the company but also from businesses who will be drawn to follow them to the area, and, of course, the tourism sector will benefit enormously too."

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