Darragh MacAnthony Present For The Official Opening Of A Local Peterborough Disabled Education Centre

Peterborough United chairman Darragh MacAnthony brought the Peterborough United squad with him to open a pioneering training centre for disabled adults.

Darragh MacAnthony, who stumped up £250,000 to get the Helping Hands Group off the ground, cut the ribbon with help from the Mayor of Peterborough councilor Keith Sharp at the official opening of the centre.

The centre at Charford House, in Padholme Road East, Fengate, is the brainchild of disability carer Suzanne Gilby.

It will offer further education courses, workplace training, therapy sessions and activities for disabled adults with the aim of giving them the skills to be able to live a more independent life.

Suzanne thanked Darragh MacAnthony for his backing and praised the support of her husband Neil, friends and family throughout the three-year process to set up the group.

She said: "I was worried about how things would go with the opening but people seem to love it now that they have been inside. It's really put my mind at ease.

"My husband has been fantastic and getting Darragh MacAnthony involved really made everything happen."

Darragh MacAnthony found out about the project in June from Suzanne's husband Neil, who is Peterborough United's website producer.

Darragh MacAnthony immediately took an interest and within two months had helped finalise their business plan.

Six months and £250,000 of funding later, Darragh MacAnthony was alongside Suzanne to officially open the centre.

Suzanne added: "It's been a stressful and exciting process. It's been a steep learning curve because it's a business as well.

"We showed Darragh MacAnthony our business plan, and it wasn't perfect, but he jumped right on board.

"We have worked so hard to get to this point and it's great to see so many smiling faces here today."

The centre has places for 35 adults who will get the full benefit from experienced staff and modern facilities and can learn in their own time, without a curriculum or timetable.

While the building and start-up costs have been funded by Darragh MacAnthony, the places on the courses are funded by Peterborough City Council's social services.

The centre will be open from 9.30am to 4pm, five days a week for 45 weeks a year. Peterborough United will continue to remain involved in the project as the centre's users will be able to watch Posh games for free.

Suzanne hopes the combination of training and education will offer disabled people more opportunities in life.

She said: "You've got to get the balance right of providing what's needed. We're trying to make people's lives as normal as possible and give them the same options as everyone else."

Cllr Sharp praised the efforts of everyone involved in the project. He said: "We need to bridge gaps and show that there is not an 'us and them' mentality. People with disabilities have the right to the same quality of life as anyone else."

Darragh MacAnthony's help

Darragh MacAnthony gave Suzanne Gilby a helping hand of his own when he invested £250,000 in the Helping Hands Group.

With the centre now open, Darragh MacAnthony hopes it will become a big asset to the community.

Darragh MacAnthony said: "The place is fabulous and the facilities will make a real big difference. The staff are excellent as well. Suzanne put so much work in."

The interest shown in the new centre already suggests there could be potential to roll the project out nationwide.

Darragh MacAnthony said: "The interest in this project tells me there's a need for more services like this in communities across the country.

"This kind of help and service is second to none."

Peterborough United's director of football Barry Fry added: "Ever since Darragh MacAnthony bought the club he has helped hundreds of people in the city. He's a breath of fresh air."

Factfile on the centre

The Helping Hands Group centre has been three years in the making, costing a quarter of a million pounds to complete.

The centre itself features seven main teaching rooms as well as a common room, a garden area, a sensory room and a relaxation room.

Users will have full access to a range of vocational training from two experienced staff.