AN ISLAMIC charity is praying for public and council support to open a new cultural centre in a former pub.

The South Essex Islamic Trust has raised the more than half a million pounds to buy the Barge Inn, High Road, Vange.

The charity wants to have a Muslim centred facility but one that is open to everyone.

A petition has been set up by the far right group Britain First which has already gathered about 6,000 signatures from its supporters nationwide on its website.

The petition is due to be sent to Basildon Council, according to the website.

However supporters of the cultural centre have spoken of the positive aspects it could bring to the community.

A spokesman for the trust said: “We want to foster multi-cultural contacts and understanding and make it a place where anyone can walk in and be part of the activities.”

“Having a cultural centre would meet these wider needs.

“There are no plans to change the outside of the building but just to make internal alterations, and deal with its really bad disrepair.

“This will be a costly and lengthy exercise and we would not foresee the building being open to the public for some time. We then plan to hold an open day where all members of the community are invited and will be welcomed.”

The spokesman added: “It is unfortunate that a petition that has been set up against there being a mosque, without people giving us a fair hearing.

“We can’t imagine there being a petition against an application for a church and if there was, we Muslims would not be signing it.

“We realise that some people can be fearful of change or prejudiced against other religions but we are sensible, reasonable people who just want to get on with our neighbours who will find they have nothing to fear.

“We would also point out that we bought this building under fair and open competition after it was publicly advertised for sale on the open market.

A spokesman for Basildon Council: “No petition has been received by the council and we are not in receipt of any planning applications relating to the building which was recently sold privately.”