The Islamic Academy of Manchester is one of the oldest and most respected Islamic institutions in Manchester. We have been the tenants of the Manchester City Council (MCC) for almost 40 years, occupying the annexe of the Welsh Baptist Church (formerly the Sunday School) since 1974.
Since 1974, we have used this building (19 Chorlton Terrace, off Upper Brook St) to provide 5 daily congregational prayers, Friday prayers service, weekly classes, children’s classes, study circles, alongside youth and cultural activities. We also published a monthly magazine for many years, Al-Hilal, which had a worldwide readership. These dedicated activities have established us as a leading Islamic institution in the UK, and as a reliable source of authentic Islamic knowledge. Furthermore, our commitment to both the local community and beyond has drawn many people to us seeking guidance, pastoral care and counselling. We feel that much of this has only been possible due to our central and prominent location. We serve Muslim residents in Ardwick, people working in Central Manchester, travellers and visitors requiring a place for prayer close to Manchester Piccadilly, and students and staff at the universities.
By the grace of God, we currently have a thriving congregation. For those that visited during the holy month of Ramadhan (July/August 2013), they will have seen this first hand with 50-60 people attending daily for the iftar (breaking of the fast meal), for example. Unlike many other places of worship, both in Manchester and other parts of the UK, where congregations are declining we have seen a steady increase in other congregation. This can be attributed to a growing Muslim population in the Ardwick area.
MCC has signed a 4 year lease with a commercial property developer, Church Converts for the Welsh Baptist Church and the Islamic Academy in March 2012. Their plans involve converting both buildings into studio apartments, largely geared towards postgraduate students. Unfortunately, Church Converts are not willing to consider a development plan that involves the Islamic Academy remaining in the annexe. Church Converts have no regard for the sanctity of religious places of worship. One of their previous projects was St John’s Church in Hanley, which they converted into a restaurant despite opposition of Christian campaigners. They have served us with an eviction notice for the end of October 2013. It should also be noted that with their previous development project in Hanley, they were dealing with an unoccupied religious building. In our case, the annexe is a flourishing, vibrant and active place of worship.
We understand that Church Converts are a property development company and given their previous projects and desire for commercial gain, we never did anticipate their assistance and support in retaining the annexe as the Islamic Academy. However, we and our community and congregation expected the MCC to protect our rights, and us after 40 years of community service.
Since the 1970s we have been the tenants of MCC and during this period have never missed a single rent payment. We have honoured our lease terms although MCC neglected their obligations, which included all exterior repairs and maintenance. Over the years, we have spent thousands of pounds on the interior and exterior of the annexe, although the exterior works were not our responsibility. Thus, it is through our investment that the annexe is still a fully functional building, which has not ended up in a dilapidated state like the Welsh Baptist Church. Our efforts to protect this historical building are recognised by English Heritage who state “Fortunately the associated Sunday School building has benefitted from remaining in use as the Islamic Academy over many years…”.
MCC have acknowledged their failure to undertake their obligation to maintain the exterior of both buildings as per our original lease agreement. This neglect of the Welsh Baptist Church has led to such severe dilapidation that in 2005 MCC had to carry out emergency works to remove the roof of Welsh Baptist Church. Other failings by MCC include not updating or reviewing our original lease signed in 1977. We feel that MCC have completely failed in all aspects as our landlords.
On our part, we have tried extremely hard to protect these historic buildings despite the lack of dedication by MCC. It should be noted that we have not occupied the Welsh Baptist Church since 1987. At this time, MCC were intending to conduct a survey and carry out repairs but this was never done. We proposed a substantial development plan to English Heritage and MCC, but this fell through due to the lack of commitment by MCC. We later began negotiations with MCC in 2007 to purchase the annexe but these fell through due to uncertainties pertaining to MCC’s conditions of sale.
Our grave situation has been known to the public for many years even before the Church Converts proposal. Hence, we were dismayed to see erroneous information about Church Converts plans in a recent article in the Manchester Evening News, which stated we left the Welsh Baptist Church in 2005 (with no reference to the annexe).
It is unprecedented for an active and flourishing place of worship to be closed down for commercial benefit. Since the public has been made aware of our plight, we have been inundated with support and have collected 1000s of signatures for our petition.
We strongly feel that MCC have an important obligation to our congregation and community. We urge MCC to consider our plight and request that:
- MCC listens to the community who have expressed their support to retaining the Islamic Academy
- MCC re-open negotiations with us to purchase the annexe.
- MCC consider our alternative proposal to restore both buildings to their former glory, whilst retaining them as a place of worship and a place for the community. These are key landmark buildings which we wish to preserve for the people of Manchester.
- MCC offers us a suitable alternative if no agreement can be reached regarding the annexe. Any alternative will only be acceptable to our congregation if it is in the current vicinity.
Save The Islamic Academy Group
18th August 2013.
 Church Converts Planning Application: DESIGN AND ACCESS STATEMENT (Rev.A 30.05.13) English of Letter of Support, Planning Ref. 102531/FO/2013/N
 ‘At risk’ chapel could be resurrected as studio flats. Manchester Evening News. 15 August 2013.
For PDF of Press Statement click here