A Muslim-run community centre on the site of a disused North Leeds pub has opened to the public three years after far-right protesters demonstrated against it being set up.
The Lingfield Centre has been developed by the charity UK Islamic Mission (UKIM) in the long-abandoned Lingfield pub in Moortown at a cost of nearly £600,000.
Officials from the charity, which bought the pub six years ago, said the building has a community hall available for hire and a lounge area. It will also have a gym available to the public once funds are available.
The plans to create a public gym, IT suite, library, training facilities. and a prayer room for up to 70 worshippers were approved in February 2013 despite Leeds city council receiving 400 letters of complaint.
Weeks later, a pig’s head was brandished during a protest rally organised by the far-right English Defence League outside the proposed site.
Mohammed Arif, chairman of UKIM Leeds, said the site would be used as a community centre, despite misconceptions that it was a mosque.
He said his charity planned to hold summer fayres at the site and world food events, as well as raising money for local schools and St Gemma’s Hospice.
He said: “It has taken six years from the moment we bought it. We had to put a plan together and get it approved by the planning department.
“There were some challenges and some criticism, not from locals but from outside. They tried to stir up some hatred about our true objectives.
“We put our cards on the table and people saw what we are trying to do.
“We will be holding a multitude of events that will be for the wider community, it won’t just be for the Muslims.
“The building was not in a great state when we took it over, it had been shut for a considerable period of time so it had to be renovated from the bottom to the top.”
Despite the plans getting approval three years ago, there is still opposition to the scheme and a group set up on Facebook, called ‘Moortown and Leeds Against the Islamic Centre’, has been liked by 732 people.
UKIM set up another Leeds base called the Iqra Centre, just over a mile away in Carr Manor Crescent, in 2001.
According to UKIM’s website: “The area surrounding our existing centre has seen rapid growth in the Muslim community from within our city and from abroad.
“Over the last few years, we have seen a significant increase in Muslim brothers and sisters from the Middle East coming to UK for further studies.”