Former IFA headquarters to be transformed into €3.5m cancer centre
Plans are under way to transform the Irish Football Association's former Belfast headquarters into a £3m (€3.5m) cancer centre.
Northern Ireland charity Action Cancer snapped up the Windsor Avenue building - which was also once the home of Titanic designer Thomas Andrews - for over £1.1m.
The new development is planned to include a breast cancer screening centre accommodating women above and below the ages currently offered screening in government programmes.
The NHS only routinely screens women between the ages of 50 and 69 for the life-threatening disease.
Action Cancer chief executive Graham Kirk said the acquisition was an important step for the charity.
He said: "We screen between 10-11,000 women a year for breast cancer and on average find six or seven early stage cancers for every 1,000 women. We are looking to further what we do with new facilities and also offer counselling, life coaching and acupuncture."
The charity has already began to prepare a planning application to extend the building by around 4,000 sq ft. However, it is expected that the centre will not be in operation until late 2018.
The building hit the market in December and attracted a high level of interest. But the exact sum paid by the charity has not yet been disclosed.
The football organisation bought the building in 1960 from the Dixon family, who gave their name to Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park. And just over 100 years ago, the building's ornate staircase is said to have inspired Thomas Andrews to design the world-famous staircase on the ill-fated RMS Titanic.
Despite an extension in 1995, the two storey house retains much of its character and includes the original staircase.
Founded in 1880, the Irish FA has operated from various city centre buildings, mainly around Wellington Place. It later moved into the Ulster Chambers building in Waring Street following the Second World War.
The association announced it would sell the building when it moved to its new headquarters at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park.
Irish FA chief executive Patrick Nelson said: "While Windsor Avenue was steeped in history, we badly needed a centralised workspace to help us build on our many programmes promoting football in Northern Ireland and the new offices meet our need to have all core functions under one roof."
The building was awarded a blue plaque by the Ulster History Circle as it was the former home of Thomas Andrews, chief designer of White Star Line's Titanic.
However, the Thomas Andrews connection was discovered by chance. A blue plaque was due to be put on a building further down Windsor Avenue, but the ceremony was cancelled when a picture of Thomas Andrews, his wife and child was found with them outside what was a different building.
Action Cancer was founded in 1973 by Dr George Edelstyn, an oncologist at Belvoir Park Hospital, with the aim of funding pioneering research into chemotherapy and supporting patients and their families during treatment.
The charity was the first organisation to begin screening women for breast cancer in Northern Ireland when it started to provide the service in 1978. Since then, it has screened over 135,000 women for the disease.