From a casual kick-about to a competitive match and all types of activity in between, Sandy Bay Playing Fields in Larne, County Antrim is a real green hub for the local sporting community, a role it has fulfilled for generations. With its protection under the Fields in Trust Queen Elizabeth II Fields Challenge it will remain so for generations to come.
Established in 1925, Fields in Trust believes green spaces are good, they do good and they need to be protected for good, and the work done at Sandy Bay Playing Fields demonstrates the importance of green spaces to sport and the local community.
Niall Curneen, Outdoor Recreation Officer for Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, explains the importance of Sandy Bay Playing Fields: "It is used by the whole community - by all ages, all year round, from organised sporting activities such as football matches or athletics training to informal recreational sports such as running, walking, kick-abouts and congregating; it's a hub of activity and a local meeting point". The eight-acre space is also used for music, festivals and community cultural events, for example the Larne Youth Soccer Festival.
Its location near the harbour not only means you can sit and relax, taking in the superb view, but thanks to the sea air and the well-draining sand substructure the pitches are usually dry, which is crucial given the popularity of football in the local area. The Council have committed to maintain the high-quality pitches which can be enjoyed by everyone. Around 60 adults play football each week and 150 running club members are based there. In the summer over 40 adults and children play for the cricket club. In addition, childrens' sports camps usually attract over 250 participants throughout the school summer holidays.
"Sandy Bay Playing Fields provides local residents with a fantastic, substantial green space - keeping people active, enabling sports clubs to develop, supporting residents' health and wellbeing and providing a real community hub."
Niall Curneen, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council
Niall says Sandy Bay is really special to him, "I grew up there. From kicking my first ball with my parents, to football with friends, Sandy Bay has been a constant feature in my life". He acknowledges the key role that the playing fields have played in sports development in the area, "I've no doubt that Sandy Bay encourages people to participate in sport. It's the place where families take their children for their first kick, throw or run. It's where people take their first steps into sport and where their lifelong love for that sport would begin. Whether they go on to become competitive or just decide to play for fun, thousands of sporting journeys have begun at Sandy Bay.
"These emotional and nostalgic connections to the space are some of the main reasons why locals are very proud and protective of it". The decision to protect the site was therefore a simple one. Niall explains, "It was important to us to protect Sandy Bay for generations to come, just like it's been there for my generation, and the ones before me. It's considered a flagship facility in the area - there's not a lot of green spaces like it - so it's vital to protect it".
The Council's legal team made a proposal to dedicate Sandy Bay Playing Fields as part of the Queen Elizabeth II Fields Challenge, which protected green spaces in celebration of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and the Diamond Jubilee.
Niall knows that by protecting the space with Fields in Trust, the community will continue to enjoy it for years to come. He says he would, without a doubt, recommend protecting parks and playing fields with Fields in Trust: "Green spaces are undervalued these days - they're too often viewed as development land and ways to make money. Building on green spaces completely misses the health and well-being benefits that they provide to the local community, and the way they bring the community together through sport and play".
Protecting these vital green spaces also gives the community peace of mind, as Niall explains, "Sandy Bay Playing Fields are such a part of the community that everyone feels as though they have ownership of the green space, and you can't put a monetary value on that. So, protecting these spaces for the future means that people will be able to spend time there, enjoying green spaces, for generations to come".