The Gateway Club in Banbridge came into being in 1976. The movement itself started in 1967 from an idea by MENCAP creating the first clubs for people with learning difficulties. Funding is entirely voluntary although local education used to provide a grant towards heating, and lighting and other facilities.
The club set out with 14 volunteers and 15 members and operated from a number of premises until they bought their own in Reilly Street in 1984 to become the Banbridge and District Gateway Club. Today the membership ranges from 12 years to pension age and no stone is left unturned to broaden their horizons with activities including sports, cookery, games, crafts, treasure hunts, keep-fit and music.
In 1989 the first Northern Ireland Gateway Clubs Disco Dancing Championship - a first for the province - was organised by the Banbridge Club catering for all abilities from able bodied to wheel chair, stick or crutch. The event is run as a Champion of Champions event starting at club level.
The Dance/Drama Troup provides a high profile for the club and has appeared in many special venues including being the only amateur group ever to be invited to give a demonstration at the All Ireland Ballroom Dance Championships.
Down the years Banbridge and District Gateway Club has helped the community at large with their Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, providing trained nurses with first hand experience in working with disability and even raising money for new equipment for the local hospital (now sadly closed).
The volunteers are committed to Gateway and its ethos. They appreciate the paramount importance to members in the knowledge that no other body provides such a service. So, over 30 years later the Banbridge and District Gateway Club is going strong. The photo below dates from their 25th birthday celebrations, and the Rotary Club did not miss the opportunity at the annual barbecue to say "Happy Birthday".
Tom Neill is cutting the cake. At the table is Dessie Murray (left) with Billy Ferguson (President of the Rotary Club of Banbridge). Looking on, from the left are Eddie Carr, Stanley Wedlock (behind), the late Pamela Johnston, Frank Arnold, Louis Boyle, Vianne Arnold and Brian Minnis.