In the 1990s there was a growing need for the East London Mosque to have more prayer and project space.

Then, in 1999, the community learnt that the empty land next to the Mosque had been earmarked for luxury housing.

Campaign to buy the land

There followed a successful campaign to persuade Tower Hamlets Council to redesignate the land for community use; hundreds of people marched in support – a grass-roots mobilisation in partnership with new community groups such as The East London Communities Organisation (TELCO).

Campaigning for the land next to the Mosque

The council agreed to sell part of the land for £600,000, with the rest reserved for social housing. The community responded magnificently, raising the money within six months, paving the way for expansion.

The idea for the London Muslim Centre

Although more prayer space was needed, it was increasingly recognised that creating spaces for use only once a week or in Ramadan would not best meet the community’s needs. With a growing number of projects based in the Mosque, a multipurpose building was seen as the answer.

This led to the concept of the London Muslim Centre, a more ambitious development for a community aspiring to bring greater benefit to society.

It coincided with opportunities for funding from both the European Union and national initiatives. There arose a wonderful win-win situation: the inclusion of Waqf in the development – about 18% of the development area was devoted to income generation, in the form of a Business Wing. The costs were covered entirely through grants. The LMC Business Wing would to help fund the Mosque’s services, as well as creating local jobs.

Plaque in LMC Business Wing recognising EU funding

The main part of the London Muslim Centre would be for community purposes, including halls, classrooms, and project space.

Public consultations for the concept of the LMC received a very favourable response. Architects were hired to develop more concrete proposals, turning the vision into meaningful designs.

Turning the vision into reality

Despite the support and the availability of grant funding, the project almost didn’t get off the ground. When the development was put out to tender, all the quotes were far too high, and none of the prospective developers could complete the project in the timescale required for the grant funding.

This is when Bamfords Plc came on board, a family company led by Mohamed Zabadne, which had already undertaken charitable building projects in places such as Bangladesh and Nigeria. They committed to deliver the LMC in time to meet the grant funding deadline, and at a cost far lower than all other quotes.

The project was able to move forwards, beginning with an inauguration ceremony in November 2001, with HRH Prince Charles as the chief guest.

HRH Prince Charles with Dr Abdul Bari (left) and Yaqub Johnson

Building work commenced the following year. New architects were brought on board, and Bamfords increased the amount of usable space. At the same time, a huge campaign was under way to raise the £10m cost.

Children marching through Tower Hamlets to show support for the LMC

Even allowing for the grant funding, this was a huge amount for the community. But such was the enthusiasm and commitment, Muslims not only locally but throughout the UK helped in the fundraising, through children’s marches, TV appeals, and many, many more initiatives – including a billboard on Whitechapel Road, both raising funds and advertising the LMC.

Billboard design displayed on Whitechapel Road in 2001

Soon, the LMC began to take shape, only adding to the excitement in the community. Building work continued throughout 2003.

The LMC seen from Whitechapel Road – 14 Aug 2003

The opening of the LMC

Construction continued at a frenetic pace into 2004, finishing just in time for the opening on 11 June 2004. Thousands of people came for the Friday prayer on that first day, even more than the new building could accommodate. Soon, both Fieldgate Street and even Whitechapel Road came to a standstill, as people prayed behind the Imam of Makkah for this unique occasion. This was all covered by the national and international media, such as the BBC.