Fears that Chelmsford gin bar would increase ‘drink-fuelled Islamaphobia’

A gin bar and distillery planned for a building next to a central Chelmsford mosque could lead to an increased risk of drink–fuelled Islamophobia, Chelmsford City Council will hear.

The concerns raised ahead of a licensing meeting next week to decide the application of a new bar in Moulsham Street come three months after concerns were raised over potential plans to transform a Great Baddow leisure centre into a mosque.

Known formerly as the Farm Shop Café and then later Pause at 13 Moulsham Street, the venue is set to become a bar and shop on the ground floor, a gin distillery on the first floor and a gin school on the second floor.

There will be outdoor pavement seating to both the front and side of the building, with removable seating area barriers.

A planning application submitted to Chelmsford City Council proposes a change of use for the early 19th century building from a café to a bar.

A licence application has also been submitted to the council for the sale of alcohol on Thursdays from midday until midnight, Friday and Saturdays from midday until 2am and Sundays from midday until 11pm.

However, the plans have sparked a slew of objections from members of the Muslim community who have worshipped at the mosque for more than 40 years.

One anonymous objector wrote: “We believe there will be a huge impact on the safety of those visiting the mosque with anti-social behaviour, a rise in Islamophobia attacks, especially on our elderly.”

Ayman Syed, who has been secretary of the mosque for 10 years, said: “We’ve lived peacefully for over 40 years with our surrounding neighbours without a problem.

“We have faced a number of problems with drunks breaking into the mosque and we often have people vomiting outside the mosque or urinating, but the Imam has generally dealt with this as part of his duties even though he shouldn’t have to.

“Worshippers have also dealt with comments to and from the mosque over the years.

“With the bar looking to happen next door this really does increase the risk of potential conflict between worshippers and drinkers.”

He added: “I can foresee a number of drinkers coming into the mosque by accident considering how easy the mosque is to access.

“The past two years out of safety for the community we have had security guards during Ramadan. We cannot afford to have security guards as a permanent feature outside our mosque in case a customer outside decided to wander in or others using our area as a toilet or as I say other potential forms or risk.

“I am sure the owners of the gin bar will offer some concessions to allow their application to continue but after the children’s clothes store at 13 Moulsham St closed eight years ago, this premises has had five changes.

“My concern is that a new bar owner will come and not conform to the rules laid out by the predecessor. No matter how you look at things, there is a risk to children leaving the mosque and the elderly.”

Nikki Mendes – who has founded the Only Way is Gin – says the business will “bring a new gin experience to the vibrant city of Chelmsford” along with a “range of boutique craft gins, with botanicals celebrating its home county and landscape”.

The business plan comes as sales of gin rocket.

It is now the UK’s favourite spirit, having overtaken whisky, with over a quarter of the population purchasing gin in 2019, up from just over 10 per cent from four years previously.

Record gin sales, with the equivalent of almost 28 million bottles sold, were documented in the summer of 2018.

HM Revenue and Customs figures published in February showed that exports of UK gin rose by 15 per cent in 2018, compared to the previous year, with sales worth £612 million.

Objections to the bar come after Chelmsford Muslim Society acquired the Hampton Sports and Leisure centre for over £2million.

And although the new owners say the leisure centre will be available for the whole community, one of the most contentious issues regarding the proposals for the leisure centre is the closure of the venue’s three bars.

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter