Business and community leaders in Ballykelly say news that a Newry-based manufacturing company is to bring 100 jobs to the village could be the start of better days ahead.
The MJM Group has agreed to buy the former Shackleton Barracks military base in Ballykelly for £1 million.
The firm, based in Newry, County Down, specialises in the fit-out of cruise ships and yachts and intends to use the Shackleton site for a new business fitting out private planes which, it says, will create an initial 100 jobs.
The company says it has plans to expand that to more than 1,000 jobs as the 621 acre site is developed.
Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, said part of MJM’s proposal was its commitment to providing significant community benefits, including a refurbished community building and outdoor recreation facilities - good news for Ballykelly Community & Youth Association.
“We are all delighted. It was well worth the wait and well worth the fight,” said Association chairperson, Tina McCloskey.
The Association has been working from a prefabricated hut situated on Kings Lane but the structure is coming near the end of its lifespan, said Mrs McCloskey.
“It is going to need a lot of repairs and that means money - money we don’t have. It would be nice to have a timeline for things, but to know that it’s coming is great.”
Mrs McCloskey spoke of hopes for the new facilities in the centre of the village.
“If possible, we would open other facilities given that the new Department of Agriculture headquarters is coming to Ballykelly. We’re thinking along the lines of a creche and a coffee shop,” said Mrs McCloskey.
“Everyone is delighted and, hopefully, it’s a case of onwards and upwards for Ballykelly.”
Businesses in the village say the investment in the area is long overdue.
“It’s fantastic news for the whole area,” said Dominic Hasson, of Tommy’s Fish & Chips on Main Street.
“The news has lifted everyone’s spirits and people are hoping this is the start of something bigger for the area. They say ‘business breeds business’ so, hopefully, this will encourage others to look at Ballykelly.
“These last six years or so, things have, very gradually, been picking up. You see wee signs, like more white vans on the road. It definitely gives you hope.”
Teresa Forrest, who has run Teresa’s Salon for the last 31 years, said: “You hope it is the start of something new. I mean it can’t be bad for the area and, with DARD coming to the village, it definitely gives you hope that things will pick up. It’s great news.”
Jim Peoples, from The Drummond Hotel, said the potential for hundreds of jobs in Ballykelly, once the site was developed, was just what the area needed.
Nicola McCloskey, who runs The Salon on Main Street, agrees: “It took a while for this to happen, but it can only be a boost for everyone in Ballykelly and the surrounding areas,” he said.
Shackleton was sold by the Northern Ireland Executive, which inherited the site from the Ministry of Defence.