World's biggest curry house opens

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The Independent Online

A Victorian chapel threatened with dereliction has been saved by the British appetite for curry. The Grade II listed chapel in Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire, is being turned into what is said to be the biggest Indian restaurant in the world.

Once converted to its new role as The Aakash Restaurant, the Providence Place United Reformed Church, built in the 1850s, will be capable of feeding 750 people at one sitting.

The building, Yorkshire's finest example of a mid- Victorian congregational chapel, was placed on English Heritage's at-risk register after it fell into neglect over the past 10 years. The agency had warned that urgent action was needed to save the building when it was bought by Iqbal Tabassum, 59, a former taxi-rank owner.

He has been planning its restoration for nearly three years and has spent £1.5m on the repairs to excavate and transform the site. The restaurant is due to open next month complete with original features, including the pulpit and a horseshoe-shaped gallery.

"When I bought the building it was in a very bad condition. There was debris everywhere and it was just a shell. It's been a big task but I'm delighted to have been able to bring it back to its former glory," said Kashmir-born Mr Tabassum, who lives in Bradford. He estimates the venture will create at least 53 jobs.

John Hinchliffe, English Heritage's regional assistant director, said the building had now been taken off the at-risk register. "This is a classic example of how an individual entrepreneur has been able to look at a building, realise its potential and take it on under his own steam and find a new economic use for it," he said.

"He has managed to retain the building's historic character as well as breathe new life into the local community and create new jobs. Time does move on: the original uses of buildings do change and this is a wonderful example of how this can be achieved."

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