‘Sacrilege’: Supporters of Shaolin Temple in Tufnell Park urge council to drop plans to move it

Baris Geyik and Shifu Shi Yanzi at Shaolin Temple. Photograph: Shaolin Temple UK

Supporters of a temple and martial arts centre said it would be “sacrilege” if it is forced to move by Town Hall bosses.

The Tufnell Park base of the Shaolin Temple UK has been earmarked by Islington Council as a possible base for Gypsy and Traveller families after it was told it had not come up with any suitable sites for seven pitches.

The temple has been at its Junction Road home for more than 20 years and has seen 10,000 students pass through its doors.

It features sacred hand-painted murals showing the journey to enlightenment, a courtyard with a waterfall designed for contemplation, kung fu training halls, and meditation and prayer rooms.

The council was told by the planning inspector that the provision of sites for the Gypsy and Traveller community in its local plan was not good enough.

The local plan is a “foundation” for planning and development in the borough.

Town Hall planners went back to the drawing board and came up with two sites in Junction Road, including the temple and Ronalds Road in Highbury.

A vacant job centre and empty Methodist church hall were among other sites deemed unsuitable.

Launching a petition to support the temple, Tianhao Xu said: “We believe Islington Council’s plan to rehouse the Shaolin temple is sacrilege. It is a place of national heritage and deserves to be preserved, treated as a listed site of cultural importance.”

Temple spokesman Baris Geyink said: “The Buddha Hall (prayer room) is consecrated ground and took over 10 years to arrange for the Abbott of Shaolin Temple China to come and bless it. This would be akin to the Archbishopo of Canterbury or the Chief Rabbi.

“Many of these renovations and structures, in fact, are consecrated grounds and blessed, and cannot be relocated and are site-specific.”

There are 500 active members who attend classes including meditation, martial arts and Chinese calligraphy.

A petition calling on the council to drop its plan said the temple is not just a martial arts centre: “It is a vibrant and much beloved community centre with deep roots. To move the temple to another site would mean destroying the sacred grounds and putting an end to a vital legacy for preserving an ancient Chinese culture dating back 1,500 years and lucky for Islington, residing in this leafy corner of London.”

Geyink said: “We and our community are deeply connected to this centre, and it does not only hold cultural, religious, health and spiritual value, but is also significant to generations of people and communities who continue to visit and revisit our temple.”

Amongst people who attend classes at the centre are parents who trained there when young and return with their own children and people with mental health problems and drug issues who are supported “in their recovery journeys”.

An Islington Council spokesman said: “We are aware that Shaolin Temple UK serves an important community and religious function, and are committed to working with them to identify a new site that is at least an equivalent standard and is as close as possible to the current site. The identification of such a site would need to take place before the premises can be redeveloped into a Gypsy and Traveller site. “

He said the planning inspectors will consider feedback from residents, including representatives from the temple.

The spokesman said the council considers the “equalities implications” of its local plan proposals.

A public consultation into the council’s ideas for the local plan runs until Sunday 30 October.