The Church of Scientology is to build a new £6m headquarters in Birmingham as a base to recruit followers from across the West Midlands.
The controversial US-based religious sect, followed by celebrities including Tom Cruise and John Travolta, has revealed plans to restore a listed mansion in Moseley to use as a new centre in Britain.
The Church hopes to complete work on its regional headquarters, the disused former Birmingham home of the Ideal Benefit insurance society, by the end of next year.
Followers will be trained in Scientology counselling, known as “auditing”, at the mansion.
The “future Church of Scientology for Birmingham” would “train auditors to serve the entire West Midlands” and provide a “full array of programmes for the benefit of Birmingham”, the organisation said. The Church disclosed details of its plan at a public consultation after local people demanded more information about the proposal.
Martin Mullaney, a former Birmingham city councillor for Moseley and Kings Heath, complained that the site had been left neglected since the Church bought the building for £4.2m in September 2007.
A video produced by the Church promises a restored, 62,000sq-ft Scientology centre, “fashioned as an English country estate”.
Its marble and arches will be cast in the “progressive Georgian” style, described as “a modern rendition of the way things were when the sun, quite literally, never set on the British Empire”.
The building’s Hubbard Guidance Centre, named after the Scientology founder and science fiction author, L Ron Hubbard, will house a full wing devoted to “auditing”. Scientology representatives promised that their regional headquarters would provide educational facilities for the whole community.
Graeme Wilson, the Church’s UK public affairs director, said: “There is ignorance out there. There is a suspicion of the unknown, but our policy has always been an open-door policy.
“We will be opening up the building to all different groups within the community. It will be open seven days a week and people will be welcome to come and tour the building.”
The Church sent 720 leaflets to local householders, inviting them to share their views at the consultation.
Final planning permission has yet to be given for the £6m scheme to convert the empty office space to its new “educational” use. The Church claims that it has 118,000 members in the UK, of whom 15,000 are active participants.
The 2001 census of England and Wales found 1,781 adherents. The Church’s UK headquarters is located at Saint Hill Manor at East Grinstead in Sussex, in a country house bought by Mr Hubbard, who lived there until 1966.