Plymouth Scientologists used to regularly deploy a handcart, bearing books for sale and an e-meter for the ‘stress test’ in Plymouth City Centre. It has not been seen for two years, after a local critic pointed out to the City Council that Scientology did not have any of the necessary permits for this kind of street trading.
Recently, the handcart reappeared. This video shows it being set up and goes on to illustrate the attitude of local people (who swerve all over the wide pavement to avoid the Scientologists) quite well.
There is a lot more to this story, click the ‘continue reading’ link for details.
Some Background to Scientology’s Presence in Plymouth
The handcart is stored in Scientology’s modest org in Ebrington Street. This is a small shop front, which is more than large enough for the organisation’s active membership of around thirty people (at least half of whom are staff).
It contrasts with their ‘Ideal Org’ building. This is known locally as the Royal Fleet Club, this was bought from the owner for £1 million, back in 201, when it was a redundant Hotel that had stood empty for some time. It stands on the other side of the city, and boasts 50 bedrooms, two ballrooms, kitchens, bars and storage spaces. Since then, the building has been sadly neglected, and now suffers from serious structural defects, not least leaky and collapsing roofing.
As you can see from the flag on the wall of the Ebrington Street org in the image below, the Scientologists of Plymouth are constantly pressed to raise money toward the £2.5 million which the Church of Scientology itself states will be the cost of renovation.
Going to Scientology in a Handcart
Lately, the Plymouth org has been run by someone sent from the Sea Org. This indicates that ‘head office’ (in Saint Hill Manor) is unsatisfied with the performance of the staff. They have sent two Sea Org ‘Missions’ there in the last year, neither of which have made much difference to an organisation that has been bumping along with bottom, with no public turning up at ‘muster’ to take courses.
However, on Friday the 25th of November, everyone was gathered in the Org at about 17:30 – the first time that the folding chairs had come out since a Scientology wedding was conducted there. This meeting attracted about 15 people – mostly staff.
Bizarrely, they were all facing the window at which a video projector was pointed. A screen, was pulled down from the top of the window on the inside, so that it turned its back on onlookers, and the audience stared at passers-by (who obligingly stared back). Presumably this is the only way that they can use a projector without people being able to see the presentation from outside.
The meeting was dedicated to fund-raising and gathering support for a recruitment drive. A major aspect of the latter was the resurrection the handcart. Scientologists were first spotted setting this up and approaching the public on Saturday the 26th of November. The video (inserted again below) was shot on Monday the 28th.
It can clearly be seen that, on this occasion, Scientology in Plymouth only managed to attract a grand total six people to promote the cause – and at least one of them was a visitor from Scientology’s UK headquarters, Saint Hill Manor in East Grinstead. Initially, only four can be seen. They are:
- Lisa Coffey. She is a lawyer who legally represents Scientology in the South of England – the Plymouth Org and Bournemouth mission in particular).
- Greg Boyce, a staff member. He can be seen busying himself taking photographs. These will probably appear in Scientology publications and be used to promote the idea that Plymouth Org is thriving. He is the husband of Vicky Boyce, once executive director (ED) of Plymouth Org, now subordinated to a Sea Org ‘Officer’ from Saint Hill Manor). She has appeared on video, with the handcart on previous occasions, notably when she allegedly took a sign from a disabled protester.
- Roger Gard, a public Scientologist, 20-year veteran of the organisation, and member of the OT Committee
- A ‘mystery’ man, probably also a public Scientologist.
later on, the ‘mystery man’ in replaced by a tall thin guy, who is likely a representative of the Sea Org. Llater still, Greg Boyce is replaced by new face. This is probably because the ‘mystery man’ is a public Scientologist who has to be ‘on course’ for the day, and Boyce was needed to supervise his ‘training’.
What Are They Promoting?
The handcart bore hardback copies of “Dianetics” interspersed with spiral-bound copies of “Self Analysis: The 30 Minutes Mental Workout”. My guess is that “Dianetics” is now too well-known to sell, and they are trying a different tack with a less-familiar ‘simplified’ version of the same basic pitch.
Here’s a scan of the leaflet they were handing out:
The prices are quite steep for a spiral-bound book – especially at Christmas, when better books are on offer and people have other things to do with their money.
The disclaimer in the leaflet shown above is worth pointing out. (it’s in the small print at the bottom)
This is an extract from the religious works of L Ron Hubbard and is not a statement of claims of made by the author, publisher or any Church of Scientology.
This is puzzling as definite objective claims are made in the text, for example:
Travel through one’s past, potentials and life
Using the processes in this book you could achieve improved memory and reaction time
The first line seems to refer to Scientology’s claim of being able able to recover memories from ‘past lives’ but is so badly drafted, it could mean practically anything. The second line is however, quite unambiguous (for a Scientology text).
Although there is a disclaimer it applies only the Hubbard quote – not the claims about improving memory and reaction times. Even if it did, it would be misleading to make a claim in the large print which is denied in the small print.
Since the back of the leaflet shows that this item is definitely for sale this seems to be a case for the Advertising Standards Authority, who require that definite claims be supported by objective evidence and not be misleading.
^^PS: The Advertising Standards Authority have since sanctioned the leaflet above – details here.
Of course, there is also an e-meter on the handcart, for the obligatory ‘stress test’, should they tempt anyone over to take one.
The Reaction of Plymouth People
Forgive me, but I find certain aspects of the video have a ‘Keystone Kops’ feel – especially the extremes that some people went to in order to avoid being given a leaflet by a Scientologist. In some cases, they swerved to and and fro like a car in serious skid. For the duration of the video, nobody showed a serious interest in what the handcart was offering.
From the exchanges I overheard between people waiting to cross the road, just after they had been approached, Scientologists are not highly thought of by the people of Plymouth. The most frequently expressed feelings labelled them “creepy” &/or “ridiculous”.
Wearing T-Shirts on the outside of warm clothing didn’t improve their credibility, either. This is a typical Scientology compromise. They have no choice but to wear the bright red “Dianetics – Buy it Read it” T-shirts, because this is part of an international uniform designed to make Scientology look like a widespread and populous organisations.
Cold Christmas or no, Scientologists are required to wear the uniform, and the org can’t afford something more practical, like a fleece bearing the same slogan. Consequently, they have to wear T-shirts on the outside, and look foolish.
What Is Scientology Up To?
It’s difficult to decide what is going inside a small branch of a secretive organisation at the best of times. Worse yet, this one is being controlled from Saint Hill Manor, via members of the Sea Org who are prone to substitute ideology for realism.
There are a number of puzzles here.
- What is Lisa Coffey, one of Scientology’s national legal representatives, doing giving out leaflets with members of a failing org?
- How has Plymouth Org managed to buy the required permits and, if they have, why are they not using them every day (legal street trading isn’t cheap)? Inquiries are being made to Plymouth City Council about this, supported by video and photographic evidence.
- Is this effort aimed at the membership of Scientology, not the public at all? The video shows considerable effort being made to take photographs of the proceedings. The aim seemed to be to gather images of people accepting leaflets (which proved difficult, because the public avoided them).
- Is it coincidence that the meeting at Plymouth org was immediately followed by a fund-raising and recruitment drive?
- Is it coincidence that all this has taken place at about the same time that the first episode Leah Remini’s eight-part TV series “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath” was broadcast on US TV and has attracted international interest? If so, it’s likely that all this activity is designed to distract the attention of Scientologists from all that negative publicity.
Watch this space for developments.