Rathlin retreat centre gets go-ahead

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A RETREAT centre on Rathlin for the families of those affected by alcohol and drug addiction has been given planning permission, writes Nevin Farrell.

Singing star Frances Black, whose father is originally from the Island, is involved in the proposal at Scott Cottages at the East Lighthouse.

Frances Black works with the RISE Foundation which is a Dublin based organisation and she believes the serenity of Rathlin will be of benefit to those who attend the centre which is costing over £1 million.

At a meeting of Moyle Council, planning officer Julie McMath said they were approving the proposal and said there had been three letters of objection which involve fears about trespassing on land and interference with livestock and concern about the people using the facility was also mentioned.

Heavy building at the centre will be restricted in the bird nesting season.

Sinn Fein councillor Cara McShane welcomed the planning approval saying she wished to offer her whole-hearted support to the project.

“This is for the RISE Foundation, a well established charity in Dublin, giving respite for these families,” said the councillor.

She said Frances Black will have the “needs of Rathlin Islanders at heart”.

Cllr McShane said the new development and the number of people it attracts will bring economic benefit to Rathlin.

The councillor said that when she was Chair of Moyle Council last year she held a May Ball in Ballycastle to raise money for the charity and she said it is great to see the planning approval.

“No doubt this facility will go from strength to strength and the people who will benefit are the people of Rathlin,” added Cllr McShane.

Sinn Fein councillor Cathal Newcombe also supported the retreat centre and said that at one stage some people had looked at using the East Lighthouse as a cultural centre and then Frances Black came in.

Added the councillor: “Initially people thought drug addicts and alcoholics were going to be running all over the island. That is not the case, this is for families.”

The RISE Foundation website says: ‘We are currently working on a very exciting project to develop a dedicated addiction awareness and education centre for family members and community workers on beautiful Rathlin Island, off the North Antrim coast. The island is a haven of peace and tranquillity, where people feel safe to share and begin their own recovery.

‘The Commissioner of Irish Lights has kindly agreed to give us a development lease for two houses at Rathlin’s remote East Lighthouse. Both properties are in need of renovation and redevelopment.

‘There is a team of Project Managers and Architects working on the project and we are now at the stage where detailed plans have been drafted and are being finalised for planning permission.

‘We need to raise at least 1.5 million Euro to fund our Rathlin Island Project. It is a lot of money, especially in today’s economic climate, so we will be working extra hard over the coming months to get both corporate and public donations.

‘Our fundraising activity will culminate in a ‘RISE Week’ of activities which we are currently planning for April 2011.

‘The Rathlin Island project is an integral part of our vision. Its completion and subsequent success is essential for The RISE Foundation’s future growth and sustainability,’ said the website.

Last year Frances Black said: “My father came from Rathlin Island and we spent all our summers there as children. I have wonderful childhood memories and I fell in love with Rathlin and its people at a very early age. I believe it is one of the most beautiful places in the world. The people are warm and friendly and I have always considered Rathlin my spiritual home. The minute I step off the boat and on to the island I immediately feel all the stresses and strains of life leave me.

“The inspiration for the RISE Foundation came from my own journey from addiction to recovery and then returning to education to qualify as an addiction counsellor and eventually working in The Rutland Treatment Centre.

“While working in The Rutland I encountered many family members of people in treatment who were heartbroken by their loved ones’ addiction. I realised then that there was very little support available for families who wanted to learn about addiction and the effect it has on their loved ones.

“The RISE Foundation aims to provide education, awareness and support for families with loved ones in addiction. We aim to do this by holding 5 day residential programmes for families and education workshops for community workers on Rathlin Island.

“The proposed project would develop programmes aimed at educating those members of the community at the front line (e.g. teachers, health workers, community workers) to recognise the dangers and signs of addiction. I believe Rathlin is a haven of hope, healing and serenity.”