The Church of Scientology purchased Duckworth’s Essence Distillery in 2007, but the building has lain empty for over a decade
Plans to convert the Grade II listed Duckworth’s Essence Distillery in Old Trafford into a new religious centre for the Church of Scientology appear to back on, with a new application submitted to Trafford Council.
The Church purchased the Victorian red brick former essence and colour works back in 2006 for a reported sum of £3.6 million. The following year a planning application was submitted by the Church to convert the Chester Road building into a Manchester ‘Ideal Org’ (or Ideal Scientology Organisations) – a global expansion project intending to establish new ‘super churches’ and boost membership.
Architects NJSR state that ‘urgent’ repair works need to ‘commence as soon as possible’
A Scientology website claimed the organisation planned to open the Manchester Ideal Org by 2011. However, the planning application was later withdrawn and the building - built in 1896 by Briggs and Wostenholme - has lain empty ever since.
Speaking to BBC Radio Four in May 2016, Trafford councillor Ejaz Malik said: “We are very much concerned about what is going on in this building, it has been empty for a long, long time now… it is a disgrace to the building and the local community.”
Now a new listed building consent application has surfaced, with plans to repair and restore the five-storey structure, including extensive reroofing, replacement of brickwork, terracotta and windows, and the removal of asbestos.
Architects NJSR state that ‘urgent’ repair works need to ‘commence as soon as possible’ in order to protect the building from further deterioration (something the Church should have perhaps considered a decade ago).
A heritage report into the building by Paul Butler Associates states that 'extensive roof works are required as there is currently significant water ingress. In general, the building is in a poor state of repair...'
A spokesperson for the Local Planning Authority, told Confidential: 'We can confirm that we have received an application for listed building consent from the Church of Scientology to carry out restoration and repair works to the former Duckworth’s Essence Distillery building.
'The application is currently in the consultation period and members of the public have until May 16 to make representations via our planning portal.
'The Local Planning Authority can only assess an application for listed building consent based on its impact on the architectural and historic importance of the building. If granted, it would not enable the change the use of the building and if the Church of Scientology wish to occupy the building a separate planning application will be required.'
Duckworth’s Essence Distillery is one of several listed buildings acquired by the Church of Scientology across the UK in the last eleven years, including the Royal Fleet Club in Plymouth (£1 million in 2010), Pitmaston House in Birmingham (£4.1 million in 2007) and Windmill Hill nursing home in Gateshead (£1.5 million in 2007).
Despite concerns that the Church was allowing these buildings to go to ‘rack and ruin’, and amid calls for Compulsory Purchase Orders to be enforced, the scientologists have sprung into action, opening the Birmingham church last year, beginning work in Gateshead and progressing plans in Manchester.
The Church of Scientology has had a religious centre on Manchester’s Deansgate since 1974. Visiting the centre in 2008, Confidential’s Ben Patey wrote: ‘The thing is that Scientology feels downright odd when you’re faced with it first-hand. It feels eccentric, cultish, not quite right. And hard to penetrate, where does the money come from, who are the real bosses, what are the intellectual doctrines behind mushy concepts such as ‘the emotional scale’?’
Critics of Scientology have branded the movement a 'secretive cult', one which operates as a business and 'pressures its followers to pay exorbitant amounts of money' (Duckworth’s Essence Distillery was reportedly purchased by a wealthy local follower).
The Church however maintains that it is a 'religion in the fullest sense of the word', and encourages every member to 'think for themselves'.
The Church of Scientology’s application to begin work on Duckworth’s Essence Distiller is currently in the consultation period and awaiting a decision by Trafford's planning authority.