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Christian camp to close

12 July 2013

PLANS to sell off a Christian centre that provided outdoor activities for thousands of children for almost two decades have been described as a "huge disappointment" by the man who started it.

Keith Leighton, who has managed the centre, Woodland Camp, in Lambourne End, Essex, since 1995, said that he was "heartbroken" that its owners, the Methodist Church in Tower Hamlets, had put it on the market.

"Their only interest is in getting as much money as possible," he said. "This is such a wonderful place to bring young people to God. . . They are losing a potentially massive asset. They are looking inwards instead of outward. They forget that what we are meant to be doing here is following Jesus; it's tragic.

"This place has brought many, many people to Christ. It is a Christian centre, bringing Christians from all round the world as well as Britain; but this is the end of it."

The camp, which is expected to sell for well above its guide price of £740,000, is on the north-east edge of London, in green belt land, yet is less than a mile from the nearest Underground station.

The Methodist Church has owned the 17.3-acre site since 1938, when it acquired it in a deal with Essex and the former London County Councils. It was originally intended as a charity, providing holidays for children from the East End of London, but Mr Leighton said that it was derelict when he approached the owners 18 years ago with a plan for a young people's activity centre.

"It has taken nearly 20 years to get to this position," Mr Leighton said. "Now it's a fantastic place; people love coming here; they call it God's Little Kingdom. How can a Church, a Christian organisation, do this?"

The chief executive officer of the Methodist Church in Tower Hamlets, Peter Barlow, said: "It's not a core part of the charitable business for the Methodist Church in Tower Hamlets. So, rather than just manage a pile of liabilities . . . the funds will be much better used in work that we can do directly for the young people of the East End. . .

"As an asset, it could be sweated a lot harder, but that is difficult for us, given its remoteness from Tower Hamlets, and it would probably be better run by someone whose industry that is."

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