Gateshead Scientology building lies empty and derelict 10 years on - so what is happening with it?

The Church of Scientology bought Windmill Hills a decade ago but it is still empty, and locals say it is attracting drug users

Chronicle Live, UK/January 29, 2017

By Ian Robson

With broken windows and cracked tiles, this once-proud building is now a magnet for drug users.

The former Windmill Hills nursing home in Bensham, Gateshead, was bought by the Church of Scientology 10 years ago for a reported £1.5m.

But the grade-II listed building is still unoccupied a decade later.

And the owner of the Black Bull pub next door says needles have been found in the vicinity of the derelict site.

Northumbria Police says officers are stepping up patrols in the area and working with Gateshead Council to tackle anti-social behaviour.

Black Bull boss, Keith Shevill, said: “People try to stay there and try to get into the building through the windows and the roof.

“I have seen a few people climbing the walls to try to get in.

“There are needles all over the place. It is an absolute waste what has happened to what was once a beautiful building.

“You used to see members of the church around occasionally but you hardly see them much now.

“I wonder if they have lost faith in the building after 10 years.”

Mr Shevill said the property would make a good hotel and was sad to see it as a shadow of what it used to be.

The Black Bull shares a car park with the building the Church of Scientology had hoped to renovate.

A spokesman for Northumbria Police said: “We are aware of the concerns that have been raised and will have increased patrols in the area.

“We are working closely with Gateshead Council to resolve the issue.”

The church said it still has plans to transform the site into its North East headquarters despite the 10-year gap since taking over ownership.

But work on Windmill Hills is not yet scheduled and it may still be two or three years before anything happens.

A programme of building work in the UK will prioritise a site in Birmingham.

Spokesman Graeme Wilson said: “We are indeed fully planning to renovate the Windmill Hills building, at which point it will be the central Church of Scientology for the North East.

“This renovation is part of an international rollout of new churches.

“Once the full renovations have been carried out on Windmill Hills, the church will be opened.

“We do not yet have an estimated date for this but would hope it will be within the next two or three years.”

He admitted that owning the building had proved to be a challenge.

He said: “The upkeep of the Windmill Hills building has indeed been a challenge.

“We do retain a security company to look after this and some of our members regularly clean up the area.

“We are sensitive to the interest that many local residents have in Windmill Hills, and we would like to take this opportunity to reassure them that when the job is done they will be delighted with the result and will be invited to the grand opening event to tour round.”

Gateshead Council said they hoped the long saga was drawing to a close.

A spokesman said: “We have been pursuing the Church of Scientology for quite some time over the poor condition of their building.

“However, we understand architects have now been appointed to oversee repairs and we are led to believe that progress is expected in the very near future.

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