A few days ago, I came across a Facebook page for “Scientology Plymouth“which contained the remarkable image at the right (there is a larger version below, after the break).
At first glance, it looks rather like a building decorated to celebrate a Nazi rally. It is, in fact, a rendering representing the old Royal Fleet Club / Hotel in Plymouth (UK) – a old building with 50 rooms, two ballrooms and a number of kitchens.
If you follow this blog, you will know that this place was bought by The Church of Scientology for £1,000,000 in 2010. Over the intervening years they have claimed, time and again, that it is going to be renovated to a high standard, and become an ‘Ideal Org’ serving the South-West of England.
Presumably, this image represents what they hope to achieve – however, many of the renovations presented in it are simply not possible.
To illustrate this, I went to the building to take a picture of the real thing for comparison purposes – and discovered some interesting developments.
The Fantasy and the Reality
The first image below was retrieved from the “Scientology Plymouth” Facebook page. The second was taken today, from the same viewpoint. I used a wide angle lens (18mm on APS C) which appears to provide the same point of view.
The Scientology image seems to be based upon ‘high dynamic range” original. This is a technique that is frequently used for images of Scientology orgs. Basically, you begin by taking three pictures of exactly the same scene.
- Correctly exposed
- Over-exposed – to resolve detail in the shadows
- Under-exposed to resolve detail in the highlight
These three images are then combined by a computer program to produce an composite in which detail can be seen in every part. Done well (especially at night) this can produce some striking images. Overdone, it gives the subject an ‘other-worldy’ appearance’ – as it does in this case
Spot the Differences
I’m going to point out some of the significant differences here. The sunshades, banners and Scientology cross don’t count. Those features are unlikely to be approved by local government (which is very picky about the restoration of historical buildings) but they are at least possible. I’m interested in the aspects of this presentation which are at least misleading, and probably impossible to make good on.
Disappearing Razor wire
The first thing I spotted was the lack of barbed and razor wire atop the wall at the bottom left. This long and prominent wall runs around the back of the building, leaving only a narrow alley. That alley separates Plymouth from the Royal Dockyard with its warships and redundant nuclear submarines.
Security is (as you might imagine) uncompromising. That wire is not going to be removed at the behest of the Church of Scientology.
The picture below give a more accurate impression of the approach to the building.
At the front of the building you can see a variety of drainpipes, which take away waste water and handle overflow provisions. They are in poor condition and you can clearly see rust marks on the pipes where they leak.
In the past, invasive plants have sprouted behind the left hand pipes In the past year, those plants have been trimmed back, and the wire mesh designed to prevent pigeons nesting has recently been removed.
In the rendered image, all of this complex pipework has been magically removed.
An ideal org is likely to need fewer toilets, showers and hand-basins – but will still require external pipes draining into the sewers. Since the entry point to those sewers would be prohibitively difficult to move, they will have to be in the same place.
To the right, where the taxi is parked, a narrow road goes quite steeply down to a lane that runs around the back of the building. You can see a number of features at the bottom of the wall – windows that were closed up with concrete blocks.
Planning regulations, let alone the rules about the restoration of historic buildings, require rooms to have external windows, if the building were to be restored to use. The rendering, however, shows the area covered with decorative stone and an image of climbing plants has been overlaid to hide the bricked-up windows.
Since, without windows there would be insufficient means of escape from the rooms in case of fire, this plan is very unlikely to be approved.
Disappearing Railings and Basement
At the right (behind the taxi) and at the left, all down the side of the building, are iron railings. These prevent people falling into the ventilation space around the windows of basement rooms. This building was not built on a level site, and significant parts of it are below ground level.
However, the rendering has removed the railings and ventilation space. That area is presented as having been filled in and the external wall face with decorative stone where is meets the ground (this is hidden, once again, behind stocks images of climbing plants.
Since this would deprive a large number of basement rooms from light, ventilation and a means of escape this design is, once again, very unlikely to be approved.
‘Progress’ Since My Last Visit
These cost at least £650. They are filled with waste by the customer and then taken away to a tip. This size is typically used by builders to dispose of large amounts of waste.
Scientologists working on the building have used these skips in the past to dispose of rubbish inside.
When they the building, it had failed as a hotel, and came complete with all of the accessories that you would expect of a 50-room establishment. Some of this has gone into skips. Other items have been sold at whatever venue will pay – including car boot sales. Coffee makers, Kettles, and even fixtures like mirrors have been disposed of for cash.
It is now unlikely that this historic building could be meaningfully restored as there are no longer enough original features to guide restorers. Many things (the brass fittings in the bars and square metres of hardwood floorboards) have been sold off to keep the existing org solvent.
Proper restoration is now likely to be impossible because the context has been thoughtlessly destroyed by years of neglect and money-grubbing.
Work has Been Done
The caravan that had been parked in a covered loading bay around the back of the building is no more. All that remains of it is its steel chassis and wheels.
Caravans of this vintage consisted of a wooden frame build on such a chassis, insulation and an aluminium skin.
My theory is the caravan has been dismantled, the aluminium being sold to a scrap merchant and the rest dumped into the skip. The substantial chassis and a large pressurised gas bottle is all that is left.
This basement loading area, which was once littered with old fridges ovens and other broken-down appliances left over from the building’s days as a hotel, is now empty. All that detritus has either been sold or dumped in the new skip. The steel mesh around the external pipework at the front of the building designed to prevent pigeons nesting has also been stripped off.
That’s only the visible changes. Inside information suggests that substantial amounts of rubbish will still have to be removed before renovation work could take place – and that is likely what will be filling this skip up.
The Sea Org is Here
Sea Org members have been coming and going at the existing Plymouth org for some time.
Recently, one Steve Goddard, head of the Church of Scientology’s Landlords Office was greeted by the senior staff of Plymouth Org and spent some time in discussions.
The Landlords Office manages existing Ideal Orgs – and organises the creation of new ones.
Yet Another Fund Raising Campaign in Under Way
The wall inside exiting Plymouth is once again decorated with a Union Flag bearing the legend “Plymouth ideal”. In the past this has indicated that an appeal to members for money were being made to members.
Is this a sign that the ideal org project is under way again, or just another fund-raising push? Time will tell.