A ‘SMALL community’ of Muslims who are moving into a former church have pledged to be ‘good neighbours’ and ‘respect the culture and values’ of the neighbourhood.

The United Reformed Church in Chigwell has been empty for 18 months after a dwindling congregation led its leaders to shut-up shop.

In March 2018 the Angunah-a-Burhani group purchased the Lambourne End property for £600,000 and now intend to turn it into a Muslim community centre.

The exterior of the church will remain largely untouched – aside from work to deteriorated windows and fences – with the inside brought up to a modern standard.

Group secretary Mustafa Poonawala said: “We are a small community who wish to continue the tradition of peaceful worship at this site. We intend to fully respect the church and graveyard.

“We opened our doors last Sunday to invite neighbours to meet our small community and give us the opportunity to introduce ourselves.

“Most importantly, we intend to be good neighbours and to respect the culture and values of this neighbourhood.”

Some from the area have concerns about the group’s activities however.

A letter signed by 11 residents claiming to be made up of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs outlines potential issues with parking exasperated by the group bringing in ‘huge numbers’ from outside the community.

It reads: “We wish to make it abundantly clear that we welcome all religions and in no way would want to discriminate against any religious denomination.

“Our reason for objecting to this project is the inevitable fact that it will create parking havoc in this present peaceful location.”

Two other letters are less magnanimous.

While the anonymous writers of both made clear their concerns ‘are in no way connected to any prejudice against any religion’, one argues the centre would ‘give rise to unwelcome extremist tendencies from which this community has so far been protected.’

The other added: “It is absolutely not the mosque which disturbs us all, but the people from outside attracted to the mosque which scares us.

“We have young children.”

Mr Poonalwala said: “We will liaise with the council and local residents to ensure that parking is not an issue and does not cause disruption.”