RESIDENTS celebrated as a new community centre came a step closer to reality.

Brackenhall woman Joan Mallinson cut the first sod yesterday at the site off Oxley Road.

She said: “Having lived in the area for over 70 years I know how much the new community will benefit residents of all ages due to the much improved facilities it will be able to offer.

“We are very excited for the launch of the new centre early next year and cannot wait to see it open its doors to the community.”

The community centre is currently based at Brackenhall United Reformed Church on Long Hill Road.

The new £2m centre off Oxley Road will be bigger and will have room for outdoor games including basketball and football.

The church will also move to the new site.

Church secretary Margaret Lees was among dozens of people at the sod-cutting ceremony at 3pm yesterday.

The Brackenhall 62-year-old said: “I think this is fantastic for the church.”

Mrs Lees believes the new centre, which will open in March, will be a huge improvement on the current building.

“It will be a tremendous opportunity for us because it’s in a central location,” she said.

“We have all sorts of groups using the centre – like the Boys Brigade, Age Concern, yoga classes and Indian dance. But if a group wants to stay an hour longer, they can’t because there’s always someone else booked for the room.”

But Mrs Lees, who has lived in Brackenhall for 55 years, said she would be sad when the old church closes.

“Even now I’m feeling emotional,” she said. “I’ve asked for the foundation stones to go into my garden when the church is demolished.”

The Deighton and Brackenhall Initiative (DBI) will provide most of the funding for the £2m centre.

Chairman Clr Jean Calvert said: “This was one of our main goals for many years. The fact that construction is finally underway is a major breakthrough and great news for everyone in the local area.

“The improved facilities and space that the new community centre will offer will greatly benefit local people and improve their quality of life, which is why it has been a big part of DBI’s extensive regeneration of the local area.”

DBI chief officer AndiBriggs added: “This will be a bigger facility to meet the needs of the growing community here.

“There will also be space for a multi-use games area and football fields”.