Monday, 5 March 2012

Tsunami appeal builds hope as Leeds’ Sri Lankan children’s centre opens

Local young people celebrate the centre's opening with a basketball match, watched by Leeds Lord Mayor Cllr Rev Alan Taylor (above) the front gates of the centre featuring the logos of Leeds City Council and Colombo Council(below)

A Sri Lankan children’s centre which the people of Leeds made possible after one of the world’s worst natural disasters has officially opened its doors.

Leeds Lord Mayor Cllr Rev Alan Taylor has just returned home after formally handing over the centre on behalf of Leeds to the country’s capital of Colombo.

He spent two days meeting members of the local community, including children who will use the centre, local dignitaries, church leaders and others with a strong interest in making the project a success.

The new centre, which was built and furnished with £245,000 in funding from Leeds, bears the logos of both Leeds City Council and Colombo Council, who will run it, on its gates.

Colombo Council were so delighted with the centre that they found funds to construct a basketball court in its grounds. It was the setting for a display match by local young people to welcome the Lord Mayor from Leeds on the day of the opening.

Cllr Rev Taylor said:
“It was a marvellous event- a really important day for Colombo, as witnessed by how many people from across the community attended the opening. It was a real privilege to see the centre in use and understand how valuable it will be to local families in an area of extreme deprivation.

“Sri Lanka suffered terribly in the tsunami and I am extremely proud that the people of Leeds could so something so selfless and generous for people in need on the other side of the world.”

The new centre, in the district of Kirulapone, includes a nursery, library, under-5s playroom, a computer suite, a kitchen, counselling and training areas. As it develops its services there will be a particular focus on nutrition, lessons for parents and mothers’ health support sessions.

It has been funded by the Building Hope charity*, administered by Leeds City Council. It was set up to use the money raised by an appeal in the wake of the overwhelming loss of human life and destruction caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.

Leeds City Council donated £100,000, with a further £146,000 coming from the public in Leeds, including a number of council staff who chose to have monthly donations debited from their pay packets.

Sri Lanka suffered badly in the earthquake and the subsequent massive sea surge, which sent waves of up to 100ft surging into 14 countries, claiming more than 230,000 lives. It was one of the biggest natural disasters ever and the worst tsunami in history.

Many obstacles were overcome in the effort to build the centre, including civil war, flooding, the replacing by the government of the entire Colombo Council, construction challenges and not least the aftermath of the original devastating tsunami.

Building work began in November 2008 and such is the achievement in finally opening the centre that it is understood from partners working in aid agencies in Sri Lanka that it is virtually unheard of for a foreign project of its kind to reach completion.

The Honourable AJM Muzammil, Mayor of Colombo, said:
“I am honoured by this opportunity to thank His Lordship the Mayor Cllr Rev Alan Taylor, the staff of the Leeds City Council and the wonderful citizens of Leeds for their immense contribution towards the construction of a child resource centre in Colombo under the Building Hope project. We will be using this building to serve the underprivileged children of our city of Colombo.

“I am truly grateful and hope we can help each other to enhance our cities and further strengthen our sister city ties between Colombo and Leeds.”

John Rankin, British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and The Maldives said:
“I am delighted with the opening of the Building Hope children’s centre in Colombo. The centre has been possible through the generosity of the people of Leeds and the close partnership between Leeds City Council and Colombo Municipal Council.

“I know that many obstacles have had to be overcome to complete this project. But I am delighted that it is now up and running. The centre will provide help and opportunities for young people in a supportive environment. I wish it every success.”

Notes to editors:
*Building Hope was formally established as registered charity no 1114083 on 22 March 2005 with the official title Building Hope- Leeds/Sri Lanka Tsunami Appeal. Leeds City Council is the sole trustee.
The centre’s remit is to provide care for children in general, to look after the health needs of physically or mentally disabled children, to advance the education of and provide recreational facilities for children.
A formal agreement was established with Colombo Council on how the funding would be provided and the centre built and Colombo awarded the construction contract.
Under the terms of the agreement Leeds City Council has retained an advisory role on the centre’s steering committee.
A management committee has also been established to oversee day-to-day running of the centre, which will be equipped and fitted out ready for full use over the coming weeks. Colombo Council has formally agreed that the children’s centre will remain open for at least 15 years.
While the formal agreement is between the two councils only, advice and assistance has been given by a number of other organisations such as UNOPS (United Nations Office for Project Services), Save the Children and Cost Consultancy, a Colombo-based firm of quantity surveyors and cost consultants.

For media enquiries please contact:
Donna Cox, Leeds City Council press office (0113) 224 3335