Quakers in cinema dispute

A GROUP of Quakers has said it may leave its town-centre base because its silent form of Sunday morning worship is being disturbed by staff from a nearby cinema.

A GROUP of Quakers has said it may leave its town-centre base because its silent form of Sunday morning worship is being disturbed by staff from a nearby cinema.

But last night the manager of the Colchester Odeon, Geoff Sale, said the complaint was an "absolute mystery" as his employees did not start work on Sundays until just before the cinema's opening time of 12 noon.

The Colchester Preparative Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends has issued an objection to the licensing of the cinema from 9am on Sundays.

In a letter to be considered by borough councillors, the Quakers' co-clerk and convenor Dick Oliver said their particular style of worship, which takes place in the Friends' Meeting House, Church Street, was especially vulnerable to noise.

"Our main meeting is between 10.30 and 11.30 on Sunday mornings … we do not have ministers or leaders. We wait as a body in silence," he wrote in a letter to go before the council's Licensing and Regulatory Committee.

"Broadly, we aim to empty our minds and unite them in the hope of divine inspiration. This can be very hard," he wrote.

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"Someone may be inspired to offer spoken ministry to the meeting, sometimes the whole hour is silent. Even the slightest disturbance can, at times, inhibit us."

He also wrote: "Already the cinema has caused disturbance when staff arrive before opening at mid-day on Sundays. This has been mainly vehicle parking and loud greetings,"

Mr Oliver said the Quakers could only carry on where they are if their need for quiet on Sunday mornings was respected, and they might have to consider going elsewhere if it was not.

This would jeopardise use of the premises for other community groups that met there when the Quakers were not using the building, he added.

Colchester Quaker Honor Chamberlain said: "We do not hear the noise of the projection. It is people arriving in cars and the coming and going of the staff.

"It has made our worship very difficult. Silence is essential. From time to time people stand up and speak of their inspiration. A sudden noise is very off-putting."

However Mr Sale said: "We do not open on Sunday mornings because there is a planning condition that doesn't allow us to.

"Staff do not arrive until just before 12 when they start work. None of the property at the back of the building belongs to us.

"We do not have any car parking spaces around the back and all the entrances are in Head Street – there are only emergency exits at the rear."

Mr Sale added that although there were parking spaces at the rear of the building, they were rented by a separate business, which operated from the same property, a former post office that has been used as a cinema since 2001.

"We have had no repair work done on a Sunday. This objection is an absolute mystery to us."

He added that although a separate application to open earlier on Sundays had been made to the council's planning committee, in his view it would have no impact on the Quakers.

Colchester Borough Council's Licensing and Regulatory Committee will meet to discuss the issue at 6pm next Wednesday in the town hall.

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