Muslim group’s plan for Hainault centre sparks angry exchanges

The Hainault and Chigwell Muslim Association is due to sign a 25-year lease to take over Jacques Hall in New North Road, Hainault.

But more than 100 residents who in January lost a bid made to Redbridge Council to re-open to building as a community centre crammed into Hainault Forest Community Hall in Manford Way, Hainault last week to protest at plans for the future of the building.

As tempers boiled over, Sgt Richard Egan reminded residents he would take action under the Public Order Act over any “racist” comments.

Muslim association trustee Hamid Sheikh told area committee three the council was preparing a contract which would be signed to bring the building “back to its former glory”.

He insisted the building would be a “community centre” with £100,000 set to be ploughed into its renovation by the association. He added: “It’s for all multi faith residents. Whatever colour, whatever religion, whatever creed.”

Mr Sheikh told the crowd of residents the building will have a seniors club, a health surgery, legal services help, a hall which people can hire out for functions, and a “multifaith quiet room”. He rubbished suggestions the building would be used as a mosque.

But residents were quick to make their voices heard in opposition to the association’s plans. One complained the association will not allow people to drink alcohol in the building, while others raised fears over parking and the number of people who would be allowed in the centre at any one time.

Resident Linda Porter told those gathered the Muslim community “doesn’t suit us” while Barry Bird, who in 2008 established the not-for-profit Forest Social Club in an attempt to win back the building for the community, said the proposed centre would not offer anything that does not already exist.

He added: “You’re creating segregation rather than integration.”

Eastern Daily Press, 26 November 2011