Tyne & Wear

Scientology plan for Gateshead building set for approval

Windmill Hills care Home
Image caption The former care home was bought by the church for £1.5m

A derelict Gateshead nursing home is set to be confirmed as the North East base for the Church of Scientology.

The church, which boasts Tom Cruise and John Travolta among its followers, bought the former Windmill Hills home in 2007 for £1.5m.

It already has a site in Sunderland, but plans to move to Gateshead and extend the Mulgrave Terrace building to include a chapel, cafe and offices.

Gateshead Council is due to agree to the plans, subject to 81 conditions.

The Grade II-listed building, which was originally a Victorian day school, has lain empty for more than decade and has become a target for vandals.

According to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, a report to the council says: "Currently the church occupies a building in Sunderland and will move its operations to this site once the building is completed."

'Deteriorating condition'

It adds that as well as weekly Sunday services, members of the church would be able to visit the building during the week for "religious study and take part in the church auditing sessions; spiritual exercises as part of a group or one to one".

A council spokesman said: "The building occupies a prominent site and its deteriorating condition has been a major concern for the council for some time.

"Efforts to secure the fabric of the building have been ongoing for a number of years."

The building originally opened in 1879 as a school, but it fell out of use in the 1960s and was then adapted as offices for the council's architectural services department.

It was later used as a nursing home, but closed in 2004, and the building has been empty ever since.

Founded in the 1950s by US science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard, Scientology offers believers a life improvement strategy it calls dianetics.

Scientologists say it is a religion, but a string of defectors have accused it of being a dangerous cult.

They allege physical and emotional abuse, brainwashing and unethical fundraising, which the church has always strongly denied.

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