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Council to explore possibility of providing free leisure access to asylum seekers

Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough is to explore the possibility of providing free access to its leisure centres for those seeking asylum in the borough.

The issue was raised at the council’s monthly meeting in June by Alderman Glenn Barr who said he had been talking to families not yet receiving financial support and asked officers to explore ways in which the local authority could be more inclusive.

“On Saturday night I was at an event run by the Ukrainian group over in Lurgan,” said Alderman Barr.

“The Deputy Lord Mayor, Councillor Kyle Savage and myself were there. I was talking to one of the host families and we were talking about the children and the people that are staying with them.

“They are not receiving financial support from the UK government at this time, they are struggling, and one of the things he was saying about is getting activities, like our summer schemes for the children or even being able to use leisure centres for a short period of time.

“Is that something Council officers could look at? How can we be more inclusive. A few months ago, all of us in this chamber said we were there to support them and I think this would a fantastic way to continue that support.”

Council’s director of transformation and head of community development Seamus McCrory said the local authority’s efforts are currently focused on the Ukrainian assistance centre at Brownlow but said officers would “follow up on those specific points”.

“We would be happy to pick this up, in conjunction with central government, to try and take a holistic view,” he said.

“We are happy to look into the detail of that and happy to bring information back for members’ consideration.”

Councillor Kyle Savage said he was happy to second Ald Barr’s proposal telling the chamber he believed Council should give these families “any assistance” it can.

Alliance Party councillor Peter Lavery noted Belfast City Council currently provides free access to its leisure services for those currently seeking asylum within its bounds and asked if Council could do something similar.

“In Belfast, the council has a scheme that provides asylum seekers with free access to its leisure services while there status is being considered,” said Cllr Lavery.

“My request might fold nicely into Alderman Barr’s proposal. I would like to task officers with gathering information about that scheme in relation to financial implications and how it would work here and ask that they bring a report back to the relevant committee.

“If Alderman Barr is content with that request I hope we could consider this in particular because of the number of asylum seekers coming here.

“If someone is going through the asylum process they are only entitled to £39 a week and that does not allow for their involvement in many leisure activities or things like that.”

Council’s Lord Mayor, Councillor Paul Greenfield confirmed that having spoken to Council’s director of transformation and head of estates and asset management, Jonathan Hayes, officers will be bringing a report back on this matter “in due course”.

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