AN Islamic charity has raised more than half a million pounds to buy a former pub and turn it into a cultural centre.

South Essex Islamic Trust raised the cash to cover the full cost of buying the former Barge Inn, in High Road, Vange.

However a petition – set up by far right group, Britain First – has called for a halt to the proposals.

In a statement, the trust said: “We have been successful in raising funds to complete the purchase for the culture centre.

“The journey has just begun and we need your continued generous donations to refurbish the culture centre and help the young community to stay on the righteous path of Islam.”

Aidan McGurran, Labour councillor for Vange, said the charity must be transparent on its plans.

He said: “Although the South Essex Islamic Trust appears to have raised the funds to cover the purchase of the Barge site there is still significant confusion over what they intend to do with the site and whether they can raise the additional funds they still need.

“The buyers of the Barge site will have to submit plans for consideration; it is not necessarily a case of delivering whatever the landowner wants.

“I would like to stress I, personally, have no issue with working with the trust to see if their plans fit with what the council would like to achieve for the area and I would urge them to start this dialogue as soon as possible.”

Residents said they are happy to see something is being done with the site.

Kerry Davis, 70, of Polsteads, Vange, said: “I have great memories of the pub and attending events there.

“Karaoke nights were always great.

“I think it would be nice to see it restored into a pub or even some sort of community centre.

“It should be put back into use like it was.”

Pauline Potter, 35, of Moss Drive, Vange, added: “As long as we can keep the outside of the building the same I don’t mind what it’s used for.”

A petition has been set up by far right group, Britain First, calling on Basildon Council to halt the charity’s plans. It has been signed by almost 6,000 people. The site was sold for £450,000 at auction on Monday, September 23, more than double the £200,000 guide price, by Savills.

Historians say the site has been used as a pub for 400 years.

The Islamic charity was contacted for additional comment while Basildon Council said: “No petition has been received by the council on this matter and we are not in receipt of any planning applications.”