AN Islamic group founded due to the growing Muslim population in Colchester has defended its bid to convert a pub into a community centre.

Colchester Islamic Community Centre was established in 2017 and began looking for a property to offer a community space for Muslims.

The charity set its sights on the Beehive, in Bromley Road, Colchester, after spotting the pub had been placed on the market in March.

Sohail Choksy, chairman of the centre, said: “We have been looking for two years.

“We put in bids for four or five properties which never reached fruition before we saw this property on Right Move around March.

“We got excited about it, visited the property and straight away thought it was a good fit.

“There is a mosque in town and this would be a modest prayer facility, a place women can come as well as men.

“There are no real places in Colchester where the Muslim community can go.

“We carried out a pre-application process with the council and heard positive things as this is for a community use.”

The centre hopes to change the use of the pub, which closed in August, to provide a space for coffee mornings, classes, clubs and prayers.

Starting out with £150,000 of funding, the charity managed to raise the remaining £325,000 to meet the asking price.

However, residents founded the Save our Beehive group, hoping to retain the building as a pub and have it run by the community

Mr Choksy, who works as a surgeon at Oaks Hospital, added: “We completely understand the feelings about losing the pub but also disappointed as we put the money in and bought it when it was on the open market. There was nothing secretive about it.

“The sellers preferred we didn’t advertise we were buying it as they were worried about the response and we, of course, granted their request.

“The immediate neighbours had no issues as they were glad it was going to be a community use.

"The alternative was it would lie empty or a developer could have bought it and built houses on the field at the back.

“There will be busy periods but a busy pub would be far noisier than what we are proposing.

“I am not criticising people who are passionate about it, but that process could have been followed before the pub was sold.”

Mr Choksy hopes the community centre will also enable the charity to build bridges between Colchester’s 4,000-strong Muslim community and non-Muslims.

Colchester Council will have the final say on the plans.