"Scientology Gateshead building still empty after seven years" (BBC News)

Discussion in 'News and Current Events' started by fishypants, Aug 19, 2014.

  1. fishypants Moderator

    news-blocks.gif TYNE & WEAR

    19 August 2014 Last updated at 03:40
    Scientology Gateshead building still empty after seven years

    By Robert CooperBBC News
    The Church of Scientology, famous for its Hollywood celebrity followers, once hailed its new home in north-east England as a centre for spiritual enlightenment. Several years on, the building lies empty and is a haven for squatters and drug users. So will it ever open?
    The Windmill Hills former school and care home in Gateshead looks like the ideal setting for a ghost story.
    Damp and derelict, the spooky Victorian day school sits at the mercy of vandals, squatters and the elements.
    However, the Church of Scientology, which boasts among its followers Tom Cruise and John Travolta, paints a different picture on one of its web pages.
    Beside a sparkling image of the Grade II listed building, the text says the church's new branch will be based in the building and aim to make northern England "strong, prosperous and enlightened". The date at the bottom reads 2009.
    Keith Shevill sees the reality. He runs the Black Bull pub, which sits just in front of the former care home.
    "I remember this years ago and it was actually a really nice old people's home," he said. "My uncle was actually in here and it was kept really, really nice."
    But that is a distant memory as he looks across the car park strewn with old sofas, rubbish and used needles.
    "There's always squatters, drug addicts, that sort of thing in there," he said.
    "It's the whole area it obviously affects, because people know the building was a lovely old building and for somewhere just to go downhill like that, it's just a real shame."

    Scientology in numbers
    • At the last census there were 2,418 Scientologists in England and Wales
    • That is slightly more than the number of Satanists, but many fewer than the number of people claiming to be Jedi Knights
    • There were over 33 million Christians, 2.7 million Muslims and nearly 14 million people of no religion
    • The census found there were just 62 Scientologists in the North East, where Satanists outnumbered them
    • In the same region there were 1.75 million Christians and about 600,000 people of no religion
    • There were about 25,000 Scientologists in the US in 2008 according to the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS)
    • That represents more than a 50% decline since 2001, when there were 55,000, according to the survey

    The church still insists renovations will take place "in the near future", seven years since one of its followers first bought it.
    But not everyone wants a new Scientology branch to open.
    Roland Rashleigh-Berry, a former Scientologist, said his treatment by the church "motivated me to want to close them down and harass them in any way I legally could to stop their (branch) opening in Gateshead or anywhere I could have an effect."
    He claimed the church subjected him to a controversial method for dealing with people experiencing mental breakdown, in which they are physically isolated. The church did not comment on his claim.
    He and others wrote to the council expressing concerns about the Gateshead building.
    Founded in the 1950s by US science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard, Scientology offers believers a life improvement strategy it calls dianetics.
    People take courses of dianetics counselling, known as auditing, in the hope of ridding themselves of destructive influences from their current or past lives.
    Scientologists say it is a religion, but a string of defectors have accused it of being a dangerous cult. They allege physical and emotional abuse, brainwashing and unethical fundraising, which the church has always strongly denied.
    Former Scientologist speaks out
    Pete Griffiths joined the Church of Scientology in Sunderland in 1987.
    He said: "They convinced me they had answers and I bought it. It cost me the next month's mortgage payment to do the course they were advising."
    Mr Griffiths and his then wife soon became church staff. "I was promised £200 a week, but most weeks we'd be given £4, £2, £1," he said.
    He claimed they had to sell their house and car to make ends meet. Mr Griffiths said he eventually left the Sunderland org (short for organisation) after it sacked his wife.
    "She'd been a psychiatric nurse and Scientology's big enemy is psychiatry," he said. "She was told she could join staff again when psychiatry was destroyed."
    Mr Griffiths went on to set up a mission in Kendal, Cumbria, and later Grange, but gave up after four years. He continued to believe Scientology was a force for good until 2008, when he started reading criticism of the religion online.
    Mr Griffiths said his brother is a Scientologist and no longer speaks to him because he is a critic. He said: "It's absolutely diabolical. I've lost a brother. I pray that one day he'll come back."
    The church offered no comment on any of these specific claims, but described the former Scientologists who spoke to the BBC as "people who want to create hatred towards Scientologists".
    The building in Gateshead is part of an international programme of property expansion, which the church's UK spokesman Graeme Wilson said was "to cater for increased interest in Scientology".
    He said 47 such buildings had opened worldwide in the past 10 years.
    Local Scientology branches are called "orgs" - which is short for organisation. There are nine in the UK, in various places from Edinburgh to Plymouth.
    The buildings the church has opened over the past decade are called "ideal orgs" and carry a higher status.
    The Windmill Hills building was bought for £1.5m in 2007 by Richard Pickles, who the church described as "one of our parishioners".
    He is listed as a director of a dormant company called ATD CCTV Ltd and was formerly a director of a company in East Grinstead in West Sussex, where the Church of Scientology has a large UK base.
    The BBC tried to contact him via letter but he did not reply.
    Shortly after the purchase, Mr Pickles successfully applied to Gateshead Council for planning permission to make it a place of religious worship.
    The building was transferred to the church in 2009 but remains unused. The church has refused to give a renovation timescale or explain how much this would cost.
    "The buildings we are opening are of high quality and perfectly renovated," said Mr Wilson. "To achieve this standard requires a lot of planning, time and funds. But we are making excellent progress."
    Not everyone is convinced. The building - on the edge of a park in central Gateshead - is regarded by many as a prominent eyesore.
    "We have repeatedly pressed the owners to make repairs and clarify the long-term future of the site," said Gateshead Council's head of development and public protections, Anneliese Hutchinson.
    "We are clear that further works are required in the short term to improve the condition of the building."
    She said the council was "exploring the options available" to reach a solution. Councils can require owners to carry out repairs to listed buildings, or undertake works themselves and bill the owner.
    They also have the power to make a compulsory purchase, but only if they have a plan to secure the building's long-term future.
    Windmill Hills is not an isolated example.
    The listed former Duckworth's essence distillery in Manchester was supposed to become an ideal org, but the church failed to get planning permission to use it for religious worship.
    Meanwhile every day no work is done, the Windmill Hills care home's condition gets worse and the cost of renovating it gets higher.
    • Like Like x 8
  2. RightOn Member

    may want to defang that hot link to the COS org site
    and the other one too
    • Like Like x 1
  3. fishypants Moderator

    Good point, done.
  4. RightOn Member

    never mind saw the defanged
  5. jensting Member

    Treat yourself, read it. Just to see the graphic comparison in size between the Satanists and the clams.

    This is how it's done! If Robert Cooper browsing this, all I can say is Bravo!
    • Like Like x 1
  6. JohnnyRUClear Member

    Their shrieks of millions of "parishioners" are as credible as chicken lips.
    • Like Like x 3
  7. We have some Roland and Pete Griffiths sightings! You celebrities, you. Soon you'll have to start charging for autographs.
    • Like Like x 4
  8. RolandRB Member

    It would be nice if I got consulted for a few more articles about our favourite cult. :)
    • Like Like x 5
  9. jensting Member

    not only that, but they noticed the letter you wrote to the council. Carry on!
    • Like Like x 1
  10. RolandRB Member

    I kind of like myself in the portrayed role of a fervent campaigner who only does strictly legal things. :)

    So I guess somebody else needs to take care of that lovely old building. :confused:
    • Like Like x 1
  11. jensting Member

    this is the image I was looking for
    • Like Like x 5
  12. White Tara Global Moderator

    You wouldn't perhaps be suggesting anything nefarious when you speak of 'taking care of the lovely old building' would you Roland?

    You wouldn't do that on wwp now would you. Get thyself back to the strictly legal grindstone like the rest of us mkay. :)
    • Like Like x 3
  13. Evening Chronicle: Church of Scientology told it must resubmit plans if it is to open a new base in Gateshead
    • Like Like x 2
  14. jensting Member

    • Like Like x 2
  15. BigBeard Member


    Graeme Wilson must have done really well on the TR-L course. I'll bet he even said that with a straight face.

    • Like Like x 1
  16. DeathHamster Member

    Stellar as in a massive hot burning object?
  17. afternon Member

  18. The Wrong Guy Member

    Gateshead Scientology building lies empty and derelict 10 years on - so what is happening with it? | Chronicle Live

    The Church of Scientology bought Windmill Hills a decade ago but it is still empty, and locals say it is attracting drug users


    With broken windows and cracked tiles, this once-proud building is now a magnet for drug users. The former Windmill Hills nursing home in Bensham, Gateshead, was bought by the Church of Scientology 10 years ago for a reported £1.5m. But the grade-II listed building is still unoccupied a decade later. And the owner of the Black Bull pub next door says needles have been found in the vicinity of the derelict site. Northumbria Police says officers are stepping up patrols in the area and working with Gateshead Council to tackle anti-social behaviour.


    Black Bull boss, Keith Shevill, said: “People try to stay there and try to get into the building through the windows and the roof. “I have seen a few people climbing the walls to try to get in. There are needles all over the place. It is an absolute waste what has happened to what was once a beautiful building. You used to see members of the church around occasionally but you hardly see them much now. I wonder if they have lost faith in the building after 10 years.”

    Mr Shevill said the property would make a good hotel and was sad to see it as a shadow of what it used to be. The Black Bull shares a car park with the building the Church of Scientology had hoped to renovate.


    A spokesman for Northumbria Police said: “We are aware of the concerns that have been raised and will have increased patrols in the area. We are working closely with Gateshead Council to resolve the issue.”

    The church said it still has plans to transform the site into its North East headquarters despite the 10-year gap since taking over ownership. But work on Windmill Hills is not yet scheduled and it may still be two or three years before anything happens. A programme of building work in the UK will prioritise a site in Birmingham.

    Spokesman Graeme Wilson said: “We are indeed fully planning to renovate the Windmill Hills building, at which point it will be the central Church of Scientology for the North East. This renovation is part of an international rollout of new churches. Once the full renovations have been carried out on Windmill Hills, the church will be opened. We do not yet have an estimated date for this but would hope it will be within the next two or three years.”


    He admitted that owning the building had proved to be a challenge. He said: “The upkeep of the Windmill Hills building has indeed been a challenge. “We do retain a security company to look after this and some of our members regularly clean up the area. We are sensitive to the interest that many local residents have in Windmill Hills, and we would like to take this opportunity to reassure them that when the job is done they will be delighted with the result and will be invited to the grand opening event to tour round.”

    Gateshead Council said they hoped the long saga was drawing to a close. A spokesman said: “We have been pursuing the Church of Scientology for quite some time over the poor condition of their building. However, we understand architects have now been appointed to oversee repairs and we are led to believe that progress is expected in the very near future. Gateshead Council is poised to instigate formal action in the event that there is no progress soon.”

    In a previous statement Anneliese Hutchinson, head of development and public protections at Gateshead Council, said: “This building, which is grade-II Listed, has been the cause of considerable concern to us for some time. “We have repeatedly pressed the owners’ to firstly make repairs and secondly to clarify the long-term future of the site. The building has been subject to damage including a fire when significant damage was sustained.”

    The church has already ploughed a reported $16m (£12.7m) into recent renovations at Saint Hill Manor in Sussex, its UK headquarters.

    Scientology was created by science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard and has been controversial. Some say it is a cult but it has gained official church recognition in many countries.

    The church teaches that people are immortal beings who have forgotten their true nature. Their most famous followers are actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

    If any readers are concerned about any issues with the building, they can contact the church in Sunderland on 0191 510 9600.

    • Like Like x 1
  19. afternon Member

    Is this what the cult mean by "improving conditions"?!

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