One of the most important steps forward in a long running campaign which aims to provide a unique indoor ‘urban sports’ facility in the Ballymena area will be taken on May 21 at Ballymena Showgrounds.
And the people who have invested more than a decade of effort in the project are sending out a clear message to parents - come along and show your support.
New Zealander Tim McKinstry has been a driving force behind the bid to secure a state-of-the-art skateboard/BMX arena for Ballymena.
Tim’s family left Northern Ireland for New Zealand in the mid-70s and he was exposed to the skateboard lifestyle while growing up on the other side of the world.
In 1999 he returned to Northern Ireland, settling in Ballymena - and swiftly discovering that facilities for skateboarding were either pretty basic or non-existent.
“I had genuinely believed that ‘boarding would be as popular here as it was back in New Zealand,” admits Tim. “It wasn’t long before I realised that while there were people out there who wanted to skate - they just didn’t have a decent venue to hone their skills and hang out in a safe environment.”
Time passed and it wasn’t until 2006 that he began to get really passionate about the issue again.
“A petition was started calling on the council to provide a skating arena and we managed to get 2000 people to sign up.
“It was then that I first met up with Cllr. Beth Adger,” says Tim. “I’d heard she could get things moving so I explained the concept and she raised the issue at council level.”
Cllr. Adger, with a lifetime experience in fostering children, was sympathetic to Tim’s aims.
“Not every youngster wants to play football, rugby or hockey .. some teenagers who are not particularly good at maintream sports could feel sidelined. I thought that such a venue would recognise that fact and show that we as a council were willing to help,” she said.
Eventually, Ballymena Borough Council agreed to set aside £350,000 to help achieve the dream.
And while the battle for council support was won, the strategic campaign to secure the kind of funding required to make the dream a reality was far from over.
To drive the project on, Tim and a band of boarding brothers formed ACUSA, the Antrim County Urban Sports Association, to harness local knowledge, skills and passion.
That group has now raised half of the £1.5m needed to build the indoor facility and secured a site, both with the help of Ballymena Borough Council.
An economic appraisal is underway, and David Williamson (Williamson Consulting) has requested a meeting with the public to evaluate support for the project.
Tim says: “I can’t stress enough just how important the upcoming meeting at the Showgrounds is.
“This is a rock solid chance for the public to speak to David Williamson and voice their views and opinions and for those views to be taken directly to Council and taken into account. The public’s involvement in this is vital.”
These words were echoed by Cllr. Tommy Nicholl, who was another early supporter of the ACUSA project.
“A demonstration of public support is definitely required so I would encourage anyone who has a desire to see a safe and healthy environment for urban sports to get along to the Showgrounds on May 21,” he said.
10 years after he began the campaign, Tim McKinstry acknowledges that his motives have changed.
“For me personally, the project has taken on a bit of a new meaning as I’m now a father of three wonderful kids.
“I want the park for them just as much as anyone else. As a parent I want a safe friendly environment for my kids, no matter what activity they choose to partake in and I feel that this project meets the needs of everyone, including the needs of parents with young children,” he says.