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‘Our bills have tripled’: UK’s first Turkish mosque fights to survive in London


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Nestled among the kebab shops, Caribbean takeaways and flashy new-build flats in Dalston, north-east London, sits the UK’s first Turkish mosque. Like many things built by and for the deep-rooted communities in this heavily gentrified part of London, it is fighting for survival.

“Our bills have tripled, costs to maintain the building have soared and we are not collecting enough money,” said Erkin Güney, 59, who runs and owns Masjid Ramadan, also known as the Shacklewell Lane mosque. He said the mosque could be forced to close its doors by next Ramadan.

Monthly costs come in at about £4,000. “We get about £200 to £300 a week if we’re lucky,” he said. He recently received an electricity bill for £17,000.

When the Guardian visited the mosque last Friday, a funeral service was under way. This is the mosque’s main source of income. The rest is supplemented by donations that have sharply declined. The death of a loved one is not only a hit to the community, it often also means the loss of a regular donor.

Güney owns the land on which the mosque sits. He said the mosque could be forced to cave into offers from developers within the year. Ten years ago, he received an offer of £13m and in recent years a bid of £18m. “They want to take it down and turn it into flats. It’s tragic,” he said.

If the land is sold to developers, the current building would be knocked down and it is hoped that a “mixed-use mosque” would replace it. “If we have to redevelop it, we would have a mosque and some retail outlets on the ground floor and flats on top. It wouldn’t have the same energy,” said Güney.

A funeral service takes place in the Shacklewell Lane mosque. Photograph: Andy Hall/The Observer

The mosque was first built in 1903 and was initially used as a synagogue for the Jewish community. By the 1970s, the building was abandoned and taken over by Erkin’s father, Ramadan Güney, who turned it into the UK’s first Turkish mosque. “In those days, it was thriving, it was heaving with people and support. There were no financial issues back then,” said Güney.

In recent years, the Turkish Cypriot congregation who used to attend the mosque have “passed away, moved out or they can’t get here”, said Güney.

Dalston has undergone heavy gentrification since the 2000s and campaigners have fought to keep the nearby Ridley Road market out of developers’ hands. Nonetheless, rents have soared and many longstanding locals have been forced out.

Güney said: “A lot of the community has moved out because they couldn’t afford to live in the area. They moved out because they can’t afford to exist. We’ve lost our community.”

Younger generations of British Turkish Cypriots have also stopped attending the mosque because they are “westernised and disconnected”, said Güney. “We keep reaching out to them and encourage them to come back. We try to build that bridge but it’s difficult,” he said.

There has also been increased competition locally, with about 10 mosques opening in the area since Masjid Ramadan opened. Rising costs are also hitting those who worship at the mosque. “The congregation is not strong around here, everyone is on the breadline,” said Güney. Some people have resorted to putting buttons in the collection box.

Güney took over the running of the mosque about 12 years ago. Before this, he used to own a nightclub. “One day I said, ‘I’m not doing this no more’, and I shut the doors,” he said. Michael, the “good Christian boy” who helps maintain the mosque, has been by Güney’s side throughout. “He has gone from John McVicar to Gandhi,” he said.

The sound system that used to blare funky house in the nightclub now sits in the mosque. Sometimes, the speakers are put on the roof while the adhan, the Muslim call to prayer, plays out to the streets below. “I am not your average mosque chairman,” said Güney.

He is calling for regular donations to keep the mosque afloat. “If 100 people are giving us a fiver or a tenner a month, it will take the pressure off,” he said. He is also raising money for repairs to the historic building. Recently a broken window in the mosque’s roof cost more than £2,000 to fix.

Güney said: “I’m not here for money, if I was, I would have sold the building and gone. It’s a mosque, it shouldn’t be up for sale, it shouldn’t be interfered with. It’s a sacred place.”

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