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The Community Chest

Daily Mail, 1 March 1997

The community chest: village has a 175,000 whip-round to buy up property
earmarked for ex-junkies

By BILL MOUAND

IN the tranquil village of Burton Leonard, life seemed just about as
perfect as it could be. 

Two tree-lined village greens, a post office and shop, a couple of pubs
and a primary school for 52 children. Across the road, for those at the
other end of the age scale, a nursing home. 

When the crisis hit the little community near Harrogate, North Yorkshire,
it was about as big a crisis as it has known. 

In place of the Crown House Nursing Home, which owner Rosemary Swann had
been trying to sell for three years, there was to be a drug and alcohol
rehabilitation centre. 

Despite protests, the council approved the building's change of use. So
the residents of Burton Leonard, who include a former deputy chief
constable, an ex-Bank of England official and other comfortably-off
professionals, decided on drastic action - to buy Crown House for
themselves. 

In three days, families willing to take 500 shares in the house had
pledged 175,000 to buy it. And yesterday, three days after that, they
exchanged contracts on it. 

The deal was struck after the firm which had been buying the house on
behalf of the American-based charity Narconon, which stands for no
narcotics, offered to pull out if the village matched its offer. 

'As a charity we are not in the business of frightening old ladies or
young mothers, although they have nothing to fear, ' said spokesman
Kenneth Eckersley, who has accused 'liars and manipulators' in the village
of poisoning his plans. 

As the village made plans for a celebration march tomorrow, postmistress
Gerlinde Godber, a leading light in the campaign, said: 'We felt the
safety of our children would be in danger if this centre opened.  Buying
the house was the only way we could stop village life from being
threatened. 

'We needed to act quickly and we did. It took from Sunday morning to
Tuesday evening to get the money we needed. 

'People have sacrificed a great deal. From putting off buying new cars and
taking holidays, to breaking into life savings, everyone has tried to do
their bit.'

One of them was former deputy chief constable of South Wales, David
Mellor, who has shelved plans to replace his four-wheel-drive Isuzu
Trooper and renovate his garden. 

He and his wife Bridget have two daughters, Bobby, nine and Rachel, eight.
Mrs Mellor said: 'We moved here because it's the best place to bring
children up. They can walk to the shops on their own, to school, Brownies
and cubs, all without danger. With this centre across the road from the
school, we didn't feel they could do that.'

Denis Muldoon, the former Bank of England official who is now chairman of
the village's own property company, Burton Leonard Management Ltd, said
the house would be resold to a more suitable buyer. 

'We are all so relieved. People objected to the prospect of having former
drug addicts in the village and reacted with a positive demonstration.'
Despite bowing out, Mr Eckersley said: 'There has been talk about drug
addicts running screaming and barefoot through the village. We've even
been accused of belonging to the Church of Scientology. It's just not
true. 'We are not a halfway house and nobody on alcohol or drugs is
allowed in any of our premises. We are a teaching establishment, there to
educate people who have previously been on drugs and alcohol. These people
are not dangerous.'

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