The hub of success
The existence of a full-scale all-weather sports facility in the county was once nothing more than a dream for sports enthusiasts including Paddy Morgan, Chairman of Wexford Athletics.
In May of this year, when Enniscorthy Sports Hub was officially unveiled to the public, that vision became a reality.
The sports track and field, which was officially opened by Cllr Barbara-Anne Murphy and Olympian John Treacy, is the largest and most impressive sports facility of its kind to be constructed in Wexford. Comprising a 400 metre eight-lane running track, an infield area and long jump and high jump areas, the €1.1m Sports Hub is a far cry from the training grounds formerly used by many local clubs.
'For our county championships, we used to just mark out a track with whitewash on the grass,' explained Paddy. 'That's basically what was happening for years. Kids would be running in wet conditions or in the dark and sometimes we had to cancel our training altogether.'
The creation of the floodlit track, which is fully-certified by the International Association of Athletics Federations, has changed all of this.
'This is everything to us,' said Paddy. 'We have a standard facility now. We have a surface for everybody. It's brilliant!'
Enniscorthy Sports Hub is, without a doubt, an impressive amenity and a huge amount of work went into making it a reality. According to Pádraig O'Gorman, Enniscorthy District Manager, the initiative has its roots in the former Enniscorthy Town Council.
'There wasn't a full-scale all weather facility in Wexford so they began to provide funding for it about seven years ago,' he explained. 'We later developed a set of plans that went to public consultation and also asked Wexford Athletics and other parties for their input.'
Following further consultation and much research of similar venues, plans for the amenity were finalised and a grant application was made. The seven-acre site was provided by Wexford County Council, who also funded the project along with the local sports capital fund and Enniscorthy Council.
With the Hub, members of Enniscorthy Municipal Council envisioned something more than a facility for local clubs, although they are admittedly delighted that these groups have gained from it. According to Pádraig, the Enniscorthy Sports Hub was set up as an amenity that is open to all.
'We wanted to pitch it at a level that makes it inclusive for everyone,' he explained. 'We particularly wanted to encourage young people to use it.'
The inexpensive access fee certainly helps to make this possible. By paying only €2 for the car park, visitors can avail of an open session, granting them an hour on the track.
'You won't get a cheaper facility anywhere,' said Paddy Morgan.
With these open sessions, booking is not a necessity. The track timetable, which runs for six days a week, details the times of the sessions, allowing people to come and go as they please.
'It takes that level of bureaucracy out if it,' said Pádraig.
For clubs or large groups, a group slot can be reserved for €30 an hour. Bookings can be made through the Municipal District office.
From July 20, the opening hours were extended. Due to demand from the public for earlier opening times, the Enniscorthy Sports Hub will be open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 7.30am until 9pm. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the hours will be from 1pm until 9pm, while Saturdays will allow for access from 8am until 6pm. The more flexible hours are intended to make the facility even more accessible.
'We want it used. That's the idea of it,' explained Cllr James Browne. 'It was put there by the community. We're very lucky.'
The location of the facility is another factor that aids public accessibility. Located just outside Enniscorthy, beside a soccer club and a rugby club, the Hub is within easy reach of all other parts of the county.
'We make no secret of the fact that we are delighted it's here as there is always competition with other towns,' said Cllr Paddy Kavanagh, chairman of Enniscorthy Municipal Council. 'But the fact it's in the centre of Wexford means that it is accessible to everyone in the county.'
The new facility has already been praised by members of the public, who, according to Cllr Browne, have given them 'excellent feedback'. The Hub has also had an impressive impact on athletics clubs such as Wexford Athletics who, according to Paddy Morgan, have seen a spike in membership since its development.
'Membership has been improving over the last three years, with a 13 to 15 per cent increase on an annual basis,' he explained. 'I think that the arrival of the Sports Hub has influenced this increase in interest and I believe that it will continue to do so in future.'
Membership is not the only thing to improve. Wexford Athletics have also witnessed a spike in achievement since they commenced training on the new grounds.
'Our achievement is really coming on,' explained Paddy. 'We have five athletes going to Scotland this weekend to represent us in an international competition. We also have Brian Carthy Walsh competing in the European Youth Olympics. He's only 16.'
Overall, members of the Enniscorthy Municipal Council are very satisfied with the Hub which, according to Cllr Browne, is an 'extremely special facility.' Despite this, their current aim is to build on what is already there. With Phase Two of the project already in the pipeline, it seems that the Hub is set to become even better.
'We're developing plans for the next phase which will encompass a pavilion, a stand for 1200 people, changing rooms and meeting rooms,' explained Pádraig. 'We also hope to develop a BMX track in the area beside the track and field.'
At present, the next phase is in the design stage. Once the design is finalised and approved, the council hopes to apply for planning permission.
'Once we get that done, we will hopefully be in a position to apply for the next round of local sports capital funding,' said Pádraig.
The council also has a sports capital grant pending in order to purchase equipment. If received, approximately €130,000 will be made available for the purchase of sports supplies for the Hub. A response to the application is expected within a month.
With these additional features, and the possibility of expanding the current carpark, it is hoped that Enniscorthy Sports Hub can become a venue for competitions. Having already hosted over 1000 people for several county championships, the track and field has proven to be an ideal location for such events.
'If we can get the time and equipment, we can move forward,' said Pádraig. 'We are looking at making an application to host the Leinster Championships in 2016.'
Through holding events, it is also hoped that the Hub will have economic benefits for Enniscorthy town.
Until then, the key to Hub's success is the preservation of the grounds. For Paddy of Wexford Athletics, a track management plan will help to keep the facility in good condition and prevent the need for expensive repairs down the line. According to Pádraig, the provision of full supervision by the Hub's caretakers is also 'vital to longevity' and for the prevention of vandalism.
'These day to day costs will be covered with the public entry fees,' he added.
For now, the Enniscorthy Sports Hub is a welcome addition in an area that was left disused for many years. According to Cllr Kavanagh, it should be enjoyed by all.
'I think it is important to say that it is not owned by one group,' he said. 'It's owned by the Council which means it is owned by everyone.'
For athletes and local clubs, it provides a safe and functional place to train and an opportunity to improve on performance. For other members of the public, it offers a chance to better their health and get involved in their community.
'It is absolutely the place to be,' said Paddy.