Welcome to the City of Plymouth (the one in the UK).
Scientology does not have a imposing presence here. The church has occupied the same small shop for more than 25 years, and membership has seen better days.
A few members of the small group of active Scientologists occasionally push a brightly-painted wooden handcart (laden with e-meters and copies of “Dianetics”) into the nearby shopping area, where they “disseminate”. Apart from this, the Church may as well be invisible.
However, in 2010 – after a long fund-raising campaign, the Church of Scientology bought a redundant hotel a few miles away. It cost £1,000,000 ($1,680,187). The Church promised that their new acquisition would soon be refurbished -to become an “Ideal Org” (a sort of ‘Super Church’). Another drive to raise £2,500,000 ($4,200,391) for this work was immediately launched.
Years later, no work has been done, no plans have been filed and the building is visibly decaying. Read on, for up-to-date high resolution pictures (taken on the site, today) and a little speculation about the state of mind of the Scientologists of Plymouth.
Plymouth’s Ideal Org – Four Years and £1,000,000 in the Making (and Still Counting)
This fine old building boasts fifty bedrooms, two ballrooms, a residents lounge, a restaurant and several bars. To provide all of these services there is also a maze of kitchens, storage areas, staffrooms and plant rooms.
It started life in 1902, as the “Royal Fleet Club” – owned by the Royal Navy and supported by a charity whose aim was to, “[…] provide a safe haven for visiting marines, yachtsmen and merchant seamen”.
It continued in this role as a charitable trust until 2009, when it was sold to a private buyer to become, “The Royal Fleet Hotel”. This was not a successful venture. The hotel closed, and the building was sold to the Church of Scientology in June 2010
At the time, a local newspaper interviewed a “Church spokesman” Marianne Rowell and reported as follows:
“Scientology, especially in the South West, is growing and that is why we need such a large premises,” said Miss Rowell.
“There are about 12,000 scientologists in the region.”
A planning application is likely to be submitted within the coming months to allow the refurbishment to take place to convert it into a church.
This is a puzzling statement, as the 2011 UK Census recorded a grand total of thirty Scientologists in Plymouth (and the surrounding county of Devon) and only 2,418 in the entire country.
The ‘spokesman’ also promised that the Church would be opened later in the year (hinting at a ‘celebrity’ presence). By this time, the community was assured, the building would be sympathetically refurbished, and staffed by 150 Scientologists who would provide “community events and functions”.
Four years later, no progress has been made – in fact the project has not even begun.
In the UK, it is a legal requirement that a planning application be submitted and approved before work can begin. These documents are a matter of public record – they can be inspected at local government offices (and sometimes online).
For such a historical building, the planning process would likely involve protracted negotiation, and the actual work would be carefully inspected at every stage.
However, no application has been made to date, despite the fact that the building is showing external signs of lack of maintenance – notably the plants which are visibly damaging the decorative plinths on the façade.
The condition of the inside of the building, after four years of apparent neglect, is a matter of speculation. During that time, all of the external windows have remained firmly closed and locked. This is not good practice in a damp climate which has seen several years of exceptionally high winter rainfall, resulting in serious flooding in some parts of the country.
While taking pictures of this area, I wandered up the lane behind the building – towards the sound of a lively conversation between a number of people.
In a recessed loading bay (about 12 x 15 feet) there were a group of seven homeless men, passing around a big bottle of rough cider. They have, apparently, been drinking (and possibly sleeping) in this out-of-the-way place for months. In all that time, they have never been disturbed, nor seen a single person enter the building.
What About the Poor Bloody Infantry?
Many have contributed money towards the £1,000,000 that has already been spent on this project, only to be told that they now need to raise £2,500,000 for the ‘refurbishment’.
They know that most of the money was raised from wealthy members from other parts of the country, and their contributions have been only a drop in the ocean.
I suspect that some are deeply disillusioned, but rationalise their disappointment by blaming the bureaucracy, not Scientology itself. In an area where there are likely less than 30 Scientologists, defecting to an ‘independent’ organisation is not an option – such a thing simply does not exist.
I wonder how they will feel in a few years, if this building is found to be no longer suitable, and sold by the Church (something which has happened elsewhere in the UK) especially when the fund raising cycle begins all over again.
This is the banal reality of ‘Ideal Orgs’ in the UK.
Edit… nothing has happened another 3 months – but the local press is starting to take notice – read about it here…
3rd September 2014 | Scientology Spokesperson Puts Back the Opening of Plymouth Ideal Org – Yet Again