Chelmsford to host UK headquarters of Jehovah's Witnesses at Temple Farm

Essex Chronicle, UK/January 23, 2014

Jehovah's Witnesses are on the verge of buying a run-down car breakers yard in Essex to convert into their new UK headquarters.

Temple Farm, in Ship Road, Galleywood, could become a base for 800 Jehovah's Witnesses, provide a printing room churning out up to 184,000 Christian magazines in an hour and acres of gardens.

The International Bible Students Association (IBSA), the charity used by Jehovah's Witnesses to distribute their literature, has agreed to buy the controversial estate pending planning permission.

"We're really excited about the prospect of moving to Chelmsford and the residents around the farm appear to be excited too," said IBSA director Paul Gillies.

"We looked at 308 potential sites around the country and this fitted the requirements we were looking for.

"We were looking for something of about 70,000 sq metres for building space which Temple Farm fitted. Chelmsford is also a very nice area, rated tenth in the Halifax survey, and it's so close to London, the port of Tilbury and to airports."

The association first started hunting for new a headquarters 18 months ago.

Its current London HQ, in Mill Hill, is spread over a five-mile radius and is expensive to run.

The IBSA, which spent £4.5 million with suppliers within a 25-mile radius of their HQ in 2011, agreed conditional terms with Temple Farm's owner on December 31, 2013.

The yard would also house a hospital for older residents, a floor dedicated to translating Bible pages into other European languages and about 12 trucks to transport its Watchtower and Awake! magazines.

Its accommodation, predominantly for young members, would resemble a university campus but "nicer". They are liaising with the city council and the nearby Bakers Lane Action Group.

While Chelmsford's three Kingdom Hall meeting houses already co-ordinate visits to people's homes, Mr Gillies said there will not be an increase in cold-call meetings.

"We won't be knocking on people's doors, that's not the case, we're busy with other things," he said.

"But we do organise tours to show people around the locations. As a charity relying on donations, Jehovah's Witnesses will come from all over Britain to see what their money is being spent on.

"Once here they will stay in local hotels and spend locally."

Mr Gillies, a director for seven years, hopes the move can help battle public misconceptions.

Often seen as a deviation of Christianity, Jehovah's Witnesses aim to live by the Bible's teachings as closely as possible.

"There are prejudices and misunderstandings working against us but we're happy to engage with people about preconceptions," added the 59-year-old.

"If there are prejudices we like to feel we can overcome them.

"We're honest people – we don't smoke cigarettes, we don't take drugs and only drink alcohol in moderation.

"We do believe sexual relations should be confined to the marriage.

"We try to abide by the Bible which tells us not only that we should love God but love our neighbour as we love ourselves. We're not perfect though – we make mistakes in the bid to try to elevate ourselves to those high standards."

Keith Brooker, an elder at South Woodham Ferrers' Jehovah's Witnesses congregation, said: "We listen with great interest to the progress of the application which we are not involved in but are supporting 100 per cent."

Chelmsford City Council has previously failed to convert Temple Farm, the subject of planning ideas for more than seven years, into a business park.

The daughter of previous owner Jim Small, who was ordered to pay £45,000 by magistrates for running an illegal waste site there in 2007, is now handling the sale after her father's death.

Elder Peter Davey, who joined the Bradford Street congregation in 1975 after meeting a Jehovah's Witness on a bus, said: "My personal reaction was, 'fantastic', but it's been in the know for some time and people in Bakers Lane were of the view something was going to happen, but until you get that confirmation you don't like to think it's going to happen."

Bradford Street elder Peter Garrido said: “When I found out the news I was in shock, a nice shock, but just the thought of it being in our own patch – it’s unbelievable.

“I mean there are 800 people coming – where are we going to put them! We already have about 100 per each of our Chelmsford congregations – it’s going to be good fun.”

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