A senior citizens’ home, a lakeside chapel, outdoor tourist & activity centre, all weather football pitch and a 5,000-seater auditorium are just a few of the facilities planned by Green Pastures for the 97-acre plot of land at Ballee recently acquired by the church at a cost of £4m.
The ambitious plans for their new home and extensive community facilities at the site, just off the M2 Ballymena by-pass in the south of the town, were unveiled on Friday morning at their existing church in Galgorm.
GP’s Senior Pastor, Jeff Wright, said the planning process alone for the multi-pound development - named ‘Project Nehemiah’ - could take around 18 months and it was unlikely that work would begin at the site for at least another three years, with the entire development taking up to a decade to complete.
He said the sale of their current church building and land to the neighbouring Wright Group had aided the purchase of the land at Ballee and would facilitate expansion of the renowned bus building company.
Pastor Jeff, a former CEO of Wright Group, said: “It’s great to see their continued success” but added: “We are now in rented accommodation and they are looking us out!”.
“Green Pastures want to help with the feelings of hardship and pain of so many people in our towns and villages. We want to bring a message of faith and hope from Jesus Christ...We are here to break the cycle,” said Pastor Jeff.
“Our church members are committed to volunteering and, as a result, we invest hundreds of volunteer hours per week in projects and programmes developed by Green Pastures and our partners. This recurring investment of social capital will provide a unique opportunity to drive forward sustainable community transformation.”
Tommy Stewart, Company Secretary, said Green Pastures believed that their proposals, which are subject to planning permission, “will bring significant socio-economic benefit to the local community and help to address deprivation”.
“Green Pastures is committed to working in partnership with government agencies, the private sector and the community and voluntary sector to bring about social and economic transformation in the area,” he said.
Mr Stewart pointed out that the first step would involve “pre-planning consultation and assessment” not only with those ‘partners’ but with local residents, whose views, he said, Green Pastures would listen and respond to.
The proposals they will be consulted on involve two main phases, the first of which features a 1500-seat auditorium, children’s church, youth and community centre with gym, a cafe and a terraced 4g all weather football pitch.
Phase 2 features a 5,000-seater auditorium and conference centre.
Other plans for the development include a children’s day care centre, a servant leadership school (for future leaders in the church), an outdoor tourist & activity centre with chalet and hostel accommodation, a senior citizens’ home close to a lake and a chapel & function room for lakeside weddings.
Pastor Jeff also pointed out that “a large part of the land” was set aside for housing to support the Back to Life programmes of Compassion Ministries beside the Church Campus.
Founded in 2007, Green Pasture’s congregation currently includes more than 840 families and Pastor Jeff indicated that the church has found it increasingly hard to accommodate everyone in the existing facilities at Galgorm.
He said he was looking forward to seeing services in the First Phase of work on “The Church We Dream Of” commence in around three years.
MP Ian Paisley congratulated Green Pastures and said he was impressed by the vision of the church and their ideas.
“This will be one of the areas largest investment and regeneration projects redeveloping land, creating employment and opening up a strategic area of the locality,” he said.
“Hundreds of people could find employment through such a social enterprise and this rebuilds a society and creates more opportunity. I am am very encouraged by what they have identified and I look forward to seeing the project develop over the years ahead,” said Mr Paisley.
DUP MLA for North Antrim, Mervyn Storey, who also attended Friday’s announcement event, described it as “an ambitious and exciting plan”.
“I have no doubt that the vision that has driven Jeff and his staff at Green Pastures to-date, will see this project brought to life,” he said.
“It is to be welcomed that the land at Ballymena south will be put to good use in a variety of ways that will be of benefit to the local community and wider afield. At a time when we hear and see much that is negative economically and socially this is indeed positive,” said Mr Storey.
Ballymena Alderman and vice-chair of Council’s Economic Growth & Development Committee, Martin Clarke said: “It’s good news for the south end of Ballymena and it’s good to see this land that was owned by the Department of Social Development being put to good use. I know that they (GP) will get all the support from Council.
“They have big plans for Ballee and this will bring much needed jobs to the area. I wish Green Pastures all the best for the future,” he said.