Protests spark rethink on Islamic prayer room plan
The city council is reconsidering plans to allow a Muslim community group to lease a disused Scout hut.
The As-Salaam Trust is hoping to turn the property in Thurncourt Road, Thurnby Lodge, into a community centre and prayer room.
But some residents have staged protests against the plan, gathering in groups – sometimes hundreds strong – outside a nearby community centre where Muslims have been meeting to pray for the past two-and-a-half years.
Protesters fear the plans will cause traffic problems.
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They have stressed their demonstrations are not anti-Islamic but aimed at the city council, which owns the land on which the Scout hut is built and which had agreed to sell the hut lease to As-Salaam.
Protesters want the hut to be used as a boxing club for youngsters from the estate.
The city council has now said that, with As-Salaam's agreement, it is seeking an alternative site the organisation could use as a community centre.
City mayor Peter Soulsby has met residents and members of the trust and told them council officers will look at all options available.
He has promised to meet them again next month when officers have completed that work.
Sir Peter said: "I am committed to finding a way forward to address the current difficulties in Thurnby Lodge so we can return to a situation of collaboration and harmony in the area."
Leaflets are being delivered to about 1,300 homes to let residents know the council will not complete on the lease while officers are looking at other options that might better meet the needs of As-Salaam.
However, the council says if alternative premises cannot be found for As-Salaam, negotiations on the sale of the lease will resume.
The authority says that, of 100 groups expressing an interest in the building, only As-Salaam could meet the lease criteria.
The council has also said it will look for a venue that can host the boxing club, which was interested in the Scout hut but did not have the funds in place to buy the lease.
As-Salaam's imam, Mohammed Lockhat, said: "We are negotiating with the council. We live in Thurnby Lodge and we would not want to have to travel far to pray.
"Nobody is happy with the situation."
He said worshippers had been "very patient", but some had stopped attending prayers because there had been a "level of intimidation" from some protesters.
Maxine Williams, landlady of the Stirrup Cup pub, next to the Scout hut, has helped organise the protests.
She said she hoped the council would be able to find As-Salaam another site.
"A prayer room in that building would be incompatible with my business and would cause all sorts of traffic problems," she said.