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Village unites to gazump Scientologists

The Guardian, 1 March 1997


'Not in my back yard'. Martin Wainwright on how a community mobilised to resist a drug rehabilitation centre being opened near a school

THAT formidable fighting force, the English village, flexed its muscles yesterday to gazump a Scientology plan to open a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre next to the local primary school.

Residents in Burton Leonard, near Ripon in North Yorkshire, raised over £175,000 in three days to outbid the proposed centre at the former Crown Inn, a stagecoaching pub converted to a nursing home. Traditional figures of the modern British countryside, including a former Bank of England official and a retired chief constable, sidelined the ancient rural fund-raising arts of jumble-selling and whist drives. Instead, plans for second holidays and four-wheel-drive vehicles were put on hold as straightforward offers of cash poured in. "There's a tremendous spirit here - I'm so proud of living in this village," said Gerlinde Godber of Burton Leonard's solitary shop. "We're not talking about 'nimbyism' - the Not In My Back Yard approach. We're all sympathetic to people with drug problems. But this scheme, right in the middle of our village and across the road from the school, isn't the place."

Audrey Wilson, whose 74-year-old husband, Maurice, is the oldest resident to be born in the village said: "We are a small village and we are very vulnerable to these things - it's something we just don't want here for the safety of our children.

"We pay a lot of money for the peace and tranquillity, and for the privilege of living here, and I don't think anyone could convince us that there would be no difference to this village with recovering alcoholics and drug addicts walking round."

The 473 residents were particularly alarmed by the proposed centre's ties with Scientology. Two disillusioned ex-members of the controversial American movement, now living in Harrogate, told friends in Burton Leonard about the links and possible consequences of a village base for the organisation.

The Church of Scientology's British headquarters in East Grinstead, Sussex, said last night: "The training service is one of our sections - it uses a tried and tested treatment for getting people away from drugs."

The service's organiser, Kenneth Eckersley said: "As a charity, we are not in the business of frightening old ladies or young mothers. There is absolutely nothing to fear."

But villagers were unconvinced, including mother-of-two Jo Gloag, who joined with her chartered surveyor husband to borrow money for the rapidly formed, communal Burton Leonard management consortium. The limited company was set up between last Sunday and Thesday, advised by residents like Denis Muldoon, who left the Bank of England to become a consultant on trade with China.

"The speed with which the cash was raised reflects the anxiety of all the people living here", he said, "plus the tremendous community spirit."

His neighbour, David Mellor, former head of South Wales Police agreed. "We were going to replace our Isuzu Trooper four-wheel drive and renovate the garden, but this is more important."

The charity may now ask villagers for costs after the communal bid was accepted yesterday afternoon by the building's owner, Rosemary Swann, amid celebrations at Burton Leonard's two remaining pubs, the Hare and Hounds and the Royal Oak. The Burton Leonard management consortium will offer the Crown to carefully vetted applicants - which may further test the denials of nimbyism.

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