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Media Articles - 1990s

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3 December 2002
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The community chest:
Village has a 175,000 whip-round to
buy up property earmarked for ex-junkies

By BILL MOULAND

Daily Mail, 1 March 1997


IN the tranquil village of Burton Leonard, life seemed just about as perfect as it could be.

Two tree-lined village greens, a post office and shop, a couple of pubs and a primary school for 52 children. Across the road, for those at the other end of the age scale, a nursing home.

When the crisis hit the little community near Harrogate, North Yorkshire, it was about as big a crisis as it has known.

In place of the Crown House Nursing Home, which owner Rosemary Swann had been trying to sell for three years, there was to be a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre.

Despite protests, the council approved the building's change of use. So the residents of Burton Leonard, who include a former deputy chief constable, an ex-Bank of England official and other comfortably-off professionals, decided on drastic action - to buy Crown House for themselves.

In three days, families willing to take 500 shares in the house had pledged 175,000 to buy it. And yesterday, three days after that, they exchanged contracts on it.

The deal was struck after the firm which had been buying the house on behalf of the American-based charity Narconon, which stands for no narcotics, offered to pull out if the village matched its offer.

'As a charity we are not in the business of frightening old ladies or young mothers, although they have nothing to fear,' said spokesman Kenneth Eckersley, who has accused 'liars and manipulators' in the village of poisoning his plans.

As the village made plans for a celebration march tomorrow, postmistress Gerlinde Godber, a leading light in the campaign, said: 'We felt the safety of our children would be in danger if this centre opened. Buying the house was the only way we could stop village life from being threatened.

'We needed to act quickly and we did. It took from Sunday morning to Tuesday evening to get the money we needed.

'People have sacrificed a great deal. From putting off buying new cars and taking holidays, to breaking into life savings, everyone has tried to do their bit.'

One of them was former deputy chief constable of South Wales, David Mellor, who has shelved plans to replace his four-wheel-drive lsuzu Trooper and renovate his garden.

He and his wife Bridget have two daughters, Bobby, nine and Rachel, eight. Mrs Mellor said: 'We moved here because it's the best place to bring children up. They can walk to the shops on their own, to school, Brownies and cubs, all without danger. With this centre across the road from the school, we didn't feel they could do that.'

Denis Muldoon, the former Bank of England official who is now chairman of the village's own property company, Burton Leonard Management Ltd, said the house would be resold to a more suitable buyer.

'We are all so relieved. People objected to the prospect of having former drug addicts in the village and reacted with a positive demonstration.' Despite bowing out, Mr Eckersley said: 'There has been talk about drug addicts running screaming and barefoot through the village. We've even been accused of belonging to the Church of Scientology. It's just not true.

'We are not a halfway house and nobody on alcohol or drugs is allowed in any of our premises. We are a teaching establishment, there to educate people who have previously been on drugs and alcohol. These people are not dangerous.'