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Banbridge Hockey Club in urgent plea for funds to host prestigious European final

ABC councillors have pledged their support as Banbridge Hockey Club are urgently seeking funding in a bid to host the European Federation Men’s Final in Banbridge in October.

The club boasts one of the finest playing pitches in Europe, and this is proving to be a major selling point for for them as they previously hosted part of the Euro Hockey League in 2016.

Speaking at Tuesday’s (June 11) Economic Development & Regeneration Committee of the local authority, Alderman Ian Burns (UUP, Banbridge DEA) explained hosting such a prestigious event would be a major coup for the local club: “Banbridge Hockey Club are looking to host the European Federation men’s finals in Banbridge in October.

“It’s something they they did successfully back in 2016. It would be the equivalent in football of the Champions’ League coming to this borough, but they need financial help. This would be a great event, not only for the borough, but also for Northern Ireland.

“As I say, 16 teams – I don’t know how many bed nights that would be – over the weekend that the tournament would be held, and I would like the officers to make contact as soon as possible with the hockey club to see if there’s any way we can financially help them.

“I know it’s a big ask but it would be unfortunate to lose a quality event like this. This would market this area all over Europe, and I know that we have helped events in the past.

“We did financially help the Sheepdog Trials and so perhaps we can have a look at it, speak to Banbridge Hockey Club officers and see if there’s something that can be done.

“I know that we have held other events like the European Championship Clay Bird Shooting, and I know that people came from as far as Australia.

“Not only did they come here for the tournament, they stayed a month in self-catering in the borough, and then they were able to tell other people, so much so that they were looking to hold the event here again.

“Banbridge Hockey Club has a first-class facility. They have a a fantastic carpet which they play on, and it’s only the second one in Europe – the other one is in the Netherlands so they are happy enough to come here to play.”

Referring to the 2016 Euro Hockey League, which saw round one taking place in Banbridge, committee chair, Alderman Paul Greenfield (DUP, Banbridge DEA) commented: “I agree totally with your sentiments, this group has had great success in the past.

“When I was Lord Mayor we were on the pitch with them, and speaking to some of the folks over from Europe, they were just saying how keen the council are to work with them.

“I would agree with you that we would love it if something could be done to help this club. As you’ve said, 16 teams from across Europe, it’s not often we can get an event like that into our borough.

“I think the success of it the last time is what’s given the appetite for it again, for I’m told there’s more folks who attended that one than any other place in Europe when it was held [in 2016].

“Folks came from all over Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland to attend this. It’s a great pitch playing surface.”

Councillor Peter Lavery (Alliance, Lurgan DEA) said his party was fully behind the funding request: “I think the club has been in contact with all the political parties, they wrote to the likes of the Department for Communities (DfC) Minister regarding potential support.

“I don’t know if that’s something the council could do as well, to engage with DfC regarding potential funding streams and so on.”

Alderman Greenfield explained the committee was powerless when it comes to allocating funding: “We can’t make any decisions on any financial matter, we’re exploring what council can do. I know they have done quite a bit already, but I just want to put that on record, that we’re not here tonight to make a decision for them.”

Alderman Mark Baxter (DUP, Lagan River DEA) was enthusiastic in his support too: “Just to be associated with the comments, because I’ll be chastised by my older brother if I don’t support what Alderman Burns is saying.

“My nephew actually plays for Banbridge, and he played in the same tournament I think last year in Spain, and it’s huge.

“I think the last time it was here it was really big, and I think the new surface they have in Banbridge as well, is the envy right across Europe. Because it’s so new it’s one of the best in Europe.

“So certainly it’s something I think as a council we should definitely be supporting if we can. We’ll be well behind that.”

Alderman Burns made the following proposal: “Can I suggest that we set up a meeting with the likes of [head of Tourism, Arts & Culture] Brian Johnston and the hockey club as soon as possible, to see if there’s anything that they can do through Tourism?”

Supporting the proposal, Alderman Greenfield said: “I agree, I think [director of Development, Community & Wellbeing] Paul Tamati and the team can go back and see who’s best placed.

“I know [business support manager] Alison Beattie looked at other different funding [opportunities] and there’s been a lot of work done. As Cllr Lavery said, every party has been involved, so I think there’s an appetite there to certainly try and help where we can.”

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