Hereford Muslims defy abuse over proposed community centre

Hereford’s Muslim community is still set on its first centre in the city despite receiving a torrent of abuse after its initial plan was turned down.

The Hereford Times took the unusual step of deleting a story from its Facebook page this week after an article reporting Herefordshire Council’s rejection decision attracted dozens of hate-fuelled anti-Muslim comments.

Community prayer leader Zack Pandor said there was still interest in converting an old shop off Holme Lacy Road, Hinton, that is owned by Hereford Islamic Society. The society, said Mr Pandor, wanted to start a “reasonable conversation” with the wider community not represented by those “hiding behind websites”.

Interest in Islam had seen the society receive a number of local converts, he added.

Neville Meredith, Herefordshire Council’s community cohesion and integration officer, said the society’s experiences would be welcomed at a multi-faith conference in the city next month.

Area councillor Chris Chappell said he accepted the public’s objections to the centre on highway grounds but added: “Some of what was said in objections to the council was inappropriate. Herefordshire needs to be in the 21st century.”

The council turned down the shop conversion, backing objectors who cited the potential for traffic and parking problems. The authority has now offered the society a list of sites that might be suitable and the assistance of Mr Meredith.

Mr Pandor said the society had not given up on the shop conversion and would now look at how “understandable” neighbourhood concerns could be addressed. The society also stressed this week that such a centre is not a mosque.

It would, Mr Pandor said, be a base for Friday prayers with an average attendance of 50 for about an hour a week and individual or collective prayers. The centre would, he added, host educational activities at evenings and weekends, and advice sessions.

The society has used the city’s Kindle Centre, near Asda, for several years but now wants somewhere more accessible on a regular basis. Use of the Kindle Centre would be reserved for major religious festivals around June and October.

The society’s centre plans went public two years ago with the conversion of the former Magenta Technology store submitted to planners in August. It was turned down primarily on highway grounds.

Referring to the removal of the Facebook story, Hereford Times editor Clive Joyce said: “We welcome and actively encourage comments on all the issues we cover, but were shocked at the hateful nature of a high number of them.

“We felt the only responsible course of action was to remove the article which had the effect of penalising those who had added constructive comments. We won’t tolerate this kind of abuse of our public forums.”

Hereford Times, 27 November 2014