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Arklow Coral Leisure Centre hall to reopen to community next week

The building has been used as a refugee reception centre since April



The hall at Coral Leisure and Sports Centre in Arklow is set to reopen as a community facility on June 20 after serving for two months as an Emergency Rest Centre for Ukrainian refugees.

Wicklow County Council has announced that the reception centre is to close and the premises returned to full community use. The manager Michael Wolohan confirmed the centre will reopen after some redecorating works are carried out.

He said all the usual voluntary activities such as Raquet ball, Majorettes and Special Olympics will resume at the centre and he is hopeful that many of the business tenants including Hilda’s Cafe will return, given that it is only eight weeks since it was closed.

The centre was shut at the beginning of April without notice,  to provide temporary accommodation for refugees from the war in Ukraine. No definite time line was given for its use and the groups and businesses which had been housed there feared for the future.

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The news came as a shock to people like Hilda Airfield, owner of Hilda’s Coffee, which had managed to struggle and survive during Covid lockdowns.

While expressing nothing but sympathy for the people of Ukraine, she held onto the hope of returning to the Coral Centre as all her equipment was specifically designed for that location.

In announcing the reopening after just two months, Wicklow County Council which owns the centre, said it was regrettable that the emergency response measure had an effect on a small number of businesses at the Coral facility and  the local authority continued to liaise with those affected.

“The Council acknowledges that local groups and community were inconvenienced through the unavailability of the Sports Centre and we express our sincere gratitude for the immense support and contributions of the Arklow community in making this Emergency Rest Centre operational and providing temporary accommodation for Ukrainian refugees fleeing their war-torn country.”

It explained that all local authorities in the country were asked by the Government at the end of March to provide emergency beds for arriving Ukrainian refugees as a matter of national urgency.

And in response to this request, Wicklow County Council set up 60 temporary contingency beds in the Coral centre.

“Over a period of two months, the centre provided a short-term, safe and welcoming environment for 251 Ukrainian individuals and families. A warm welcome, help and assistance was provided to often traumatised arrivals.”

“Residents remained at the temporary centre for between four and seven days before being moved to more medium-term accommodation. Many arrivals to the centre sourced host families within the Arklow area and have integrated into the local community through schools and work and local activities.

“This was a national humanitarian response to a war time emergency situation and Wicklow County Council was committed to providing safe, appropriate and respectful accommodation while facilitating continuous care and embedded service provision.”

The Council said the Rest Centre which was run by local authority staff and the Civil Defence with the help of a small number of local volunteers, was always intended to be a temporary emergency measure to provide accommodation for displaced Ukrainians.

It described the Coral centre as an ideal location with access to many facilities within the area and said during its operation, all required materials and supplies were sourced locally.

“It is now the intention of Wicklow County Council to close this temporary centre and return Coral Leisure for community use.”

“We have set June 20 as the date for re-opening. We are doing a bit of work painting and laying carpets to freshen the place up before people come back”, said Michael Wolohan.

In relation to the tenants who had to move out, he said: “I’m hopeful they will all come back. It’s only been eight weeks. Some of them would be winding down their activities at this time of year anyway. We’ll know more next week.” The centre is also set to resume as a popular birthday party venue, having spent €18,000 on a 42-metre bouncy castle prior to the closure.

Wicklow County Council acknowledged the support of the Ukrainian Hub in the Bridgewater Centre which provided clothing, bikes and children’s toys. “The Hub’s support and assistance to Wicklow County Council in making our Ukrainian residents welcome and safe is to be commended”.