A major investment in the environment and leisure facilities now underway at Colin Glen is set to transform west Belfast and boost employment and other opportunities, especially in tourism, for the entire community.
The imaginative regeneration project is being spearheaded by the community-based Colin Glen Trust which manages the 200-acre forest park, extensive sports pitches and a nine-hole golf course with a state-of-the driving range.
The projects also include Ireland’s first toboggan course and the longest zip line and are set to turn the park into a major attraction for visitors from here and particularly tourists.
The trust’s pioneering and visionary work with the local community and its future plans for the area have already won backing from the Environment Agency (NIEA) and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) in the shape of an unprecedented 999-year lease of the park’s unique lands.
Through investment DAERA and other bodies, including Belfast City Council, are weighing in behind the Trust`s vision
Widely experienced businessman David Raymond heads the board which benefits from the commitment and expertise of elected community representatives and business people.
David has a clear vision of Colin Glen’s potential to enhance the local community and contribute to the wider Belfast economy, especially in terms of adventure and leisure tourism.
“Gaining the 999-year lease has been a tremendous boost for the Trust; it has demonstrated the confidence which both DAERA and NIEA have in our ability to manage the park effectively and to drive its long-term development for the benefit of people throughout this community.
“We have a successful track record in preserving the local environment over many years and enhancing this important asset for the benefit of local people,” Mr Raymond says. “This long term lease gives us the stability needed to invest in the park’s long-term sustainability and development.
“They trust us and our commitment to work in partnership with them and a wide range of other bodies to both manage and enhance the park as a community asset.
“We have invested extensively in enhancing and managing the overall environment, nurturing the park’s flora and fauna in what is one of the city’s biggest ‘green lungs’ and ensuring easy access for people to experience and enjoy all the amenities.
“Our unique Gruffalo Trail, for instance, is extremely popular with families. The park provides facilities for walking, cycling, and orienteering and operates a fitness suite where people can tailor their programme to meet their requirements.
“There’s a Park Run every Saturday that attracts people from many parts of the city and beyond. It’s long been a popular location for walkers as it’s the gateway to the hills overlooking Belfast, and the views over the city are simply stunning.”
“We want people of all ages to enjoy and value the park. We are mindful that the park is for everyone and we aim to invest in the asset in partnership with and for the benefit of the community,” he adds.
“The trust will continue to develop its already widely acclaimed programmes to assist young people in particular, gain skills that can and have led to worthwhile employment on-site or elsewhere in Belfast and further afield.
“Other amenities in the pipeline include Ireland’s longest zip line, a toboggan rail, mountain bike track, covered all weather sports pitch, and a visitor/heritage centre.”
“We are already involved with organisations such as the Prince’s Trust in helping young people gain essential skills for employment and for life,” Mr Raymond continues. “Our youth programme focuses on skills increasingly in demand, including environmental leadership and management as well as outdoor and leisure pursuits.
“Often working in partnership with local community organisations, our aim is to boost confidence and self-esteem among young people. Several participants subsequently gained employment at the Park.”
Another important feature of our programmes is that many are cross-community focused. The further development of the park as a community-based enterprise, Mr Raymond believes, will lead to even greater employment for local people.