Empty rural college site could provide temporary asylum accommodation, MP says

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A Stormont MP has suggested that a former County Derry rural college, unused for more than a decade, could provide interim accommodation for asylum seekers.

Draperstown Rural College was opened almost 26 years ago by Northern Ireland’s Minister of Agriculture and Economics, Baroness Denton of Wakefield.

The 18th century mansion of Derrynoid Lodge had been redeveloped into a center for corporate events including conferences, seminars, presentations, training, team building activities and conventions.

A gym, library and computer suite were also available on-site, as well as accommodation, as the facility was launched with funding from the Department of Agriculture and the International Fund for Ireland (IFF) in 1995.

The building has been dormant since its sudden closure in March 2011, this year marking the 26th year of a 99-year lease taken by current tenants Workspace Ltd.

On September 9, Strangford MP Kellie Armstrong asked Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots a question, asking why the site was not in use and how much money was being spent on its upkeep.

Alliance for Strangford MP Kellie Armstrong.

A response from the Ministry on September 28 indicated that it did not assume any responsibility for the costs associated with the old Rural College.

“The buildings you refer to in Derrynoid Forest near Draperstown are under a 99-year lease with Workspace Ltd which started in 1995,” they said.

“Under this lease, the buildings were used as a rural college until it closed in 2011.

“The buildings have been vacant since 2011, and since then Workspace has explored many options to secure future use of the buildings.

“Despite their best efforts, to date this has proved unsuccessful.

“Although the current lease with Workspace Ltd remains in effect, they continue to have full responsibility, in accordance with the obligations of the lease, for all ongoing costs associated with the buildings. “

The interior of the building is currently fenced since it closed in 2011.

Contacted by the County Derry Post, Ms Armstrong said she was “stunned” the building was not in use.

“My question to the ministry was aimed at clarifying the situation. The ministry confirmed that the buildings are indeed empty. ” she said.

“I am aware of many rural businesses, community organizations and temporary asylum accommodation needs that this space could provide.

“I am very disappointed that such a large location is not being used and that DAERA or the current tenant does not plan to use the resource.”

The premises were opened in 1995 by Baroness Denton of Wakefield.

A number of attempts have been made by Workspace Ltd to find a licensee or operator for the premises since it closed ten years ago.

An open house was held in February 2018, which, according to the social enterprise’s website, gathered “hundreds,” but no serious interest was shown.

Other attempts to find an occupant for the building were also made. In September 2020, a “business opportunity” document again requested a license holder or operator.

It describes the facilities available at Derrynoid, including 40 en-suite rooms in accommodation blocks, a media center, eight fully equipped training rooms and a small recreation room.

A restaurant and five offices were also detailed in the document, which suggests that housing, conference rooms, healthcare, outdoor activities and commercial uses would be available.

An aerial view of the site in Derrynoid Forest.

Mid Ulster MP Emma Sheerin said any plans to reallocate the center must be sustainable.

“The rural college site is maintained by Workspace and all costs are managed by them,” she said.

“I know that work is going on around plans for a goal for the center, and of course these need to be sustainable in order for this resource to be used in a way that maximizes its potential.

“We support Workspace in their efforts and look forward to seeing the Rural College be used again in the near future. “

The County Derry Post contacted Workspace Ltd to comment on the future of the premises and associated costs, but no response was available at the time of going to press.

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