The Church of Scientology will open a major centre at a Grade-II listed building in Birmingham on 21 October where protesters are expected to greet its leader David Miscavige - anticipated to cut the ribbon on the day - and his devout followers.
IBTimes UK understands the controversial church has finished renovating the iconic property, called Pitmaston House, which it purchased 10 years ago, and lies in Moseley, a leafy suburb of the West Midlands city. Hundreds of Scientologists from across Europe will descend on the estate for the opening, and members of the local community are also invited.
The grand unveiling comes just a week after another Scientology hub, or "Ideal Org", was opened in Dublin with a large security operation to keep out a group of vocal protesters and the media. Miscavige was in Ireland for the opening.
Ex-Scientologist-turned-fierce critic Pete Griffiths told IBTimes UK he would be heading over to Birmingham from Ireland along with a handful of others who believe the church is about nothing more than making money – a claim Scientology strongly denies – to join other protesters.
Griffiths said: "There will be serious security. I have no doubt there will be loud speakers to block out the noise of the protesters. If you are a Scientologist, they'll let you in through a narrow entrance to take part in this 'wonderful' event.
"Hopefully the protesters will be well behaved because some people get very upset. It'll be people holding signs and if any members of the public want to ask questions and talk then that's what it's all about. It's about sharing information and telling the truth."
Griffiths said he hoped members of the local community would also make their way to Moor Green Lane to voice their opposition to the secretive organisation that boasts a large celebrity following, which includes Tom Cruise.
In the 2011 census, 51 people from Birmingham identified themselves as Scientologists. The figure was 88 for the entire West Midlands.
In May 2016, IBTimes UK revealed that Pitmaston was part of a multi-million pound UK property portfolio held by the church but had been empty for years. Other sites are in Gateshead, Portsmouth, and Trafford.
Moseley residents expressed concerns that such a historic building was left languishing after it was bought for more than £4m pounds in 2007. But the completion of its renovation was largely welcomed by the community as a new chapter for the historic building. Fiona Adams, chair of local conservation group the Moseley Society, said it is "better that it's used and looked after by someone that can afford to keep it up".
However, Adams said that some people living in the 25-30 houses and flats on the Pitmaston Estate were distressed that large signage at the front of the hall gave onlookers the impression that everyone using the driveway was a Scientologist. She also mentioned concerns the society had about increased traffic and overflow parking in the area.
Labour MP for Birmingham Hall Green, Roger Godsiff, said previously that he is "not a fan of the Church of Scientology, which is essentially a money-making cult" and expressed concerns about Pitmaston. But he has now praised the church for its work to restore the building to its "former glory" and said he was disappointed to be unable to accept an invitation to the opening due to other commitments.
Asked more generally about the Church of Scientology, Godsiff said: "I take as I find. I have not had anyone come to me and say 'my friend or family has had a bad experience'. I have an open mind. My concern was that this prestigious building shouldn't go to wreck and ruin."
The Church of Scientology declined to comment.
However, in a previous statement, Graeme Wilson, its spokesman in the UK, said: "The Ideal Org programme is entirely about creating churches which provide an ideal environment for people to engage in religious services and as an emanation point for all the church's social programmes – including drug rehabilitation and education, criminal rehabilitation, human rights and moral education, youth literacy and disaster and suffering relief.
"It is not about anything else. It is contributed to by parishioners who support this purpose – in exactly the same way that followers of other religions contribute to better churches and places of worship for their religions, the world over."