WINCHESTER Muslims have met civic chiefs to foster good relations as the group seeks to establish a permanent base in the city.

A delegation from the Winchester Muslim Cultural Association (WMCA) was welcomed at Hampshire County Council’s headquarters, by the Leader of the county council, Roy Perry.

They met as part of the WMCA’s request to its local authorities to establish space in Winchester for Muslims to enjoy community and cultural activities such as meals, festivals, prayer and educational classes.

Until now a room at the Guildhall is set aside for Friday prayers.

The WMCA has been looking for a permanent building in the city for several years. At one time it was interested in buying the chapel in Stoney Lane, Weeke, but the Roman Catholic church decided against the sale.

Cllr Perry said: “It’s very important for us to extend our support to local Muslims so they do not feel isolated, following some horrific incidents around the world.”

Margaret Mason and Daisy Nessa, of the WMCA, were pleased at the spirit of collaboration and goodwill present at the meeting. In a statement they said: “We’re so happy that Cllr Perry recognised that our community has now tripled in numbers, with more people working at the hospital, businesses and professions - or just moving to Winchester, as a great place to live and bring up family.

"Women and children especially, need a place to enjoy religious and cultural activities – we have so many churches in the city but no Islamic centre.”

Abdul Kayum, secretary of the WMCA, added “We’re very pleased that the planning inspector, Nigel Payne, has modified the Winchester City Council’s plans so that community space within existing and new buildings can be considered.

"We’re enthused that the city and county councils have asked us to provide activity lists and as a community we’ve also modified how we think of the space that we might need.”

The WMCA founding chairman, PJ Qureshi, said “Previously we’ve had a lot of fantastic one-off successes – we helped set up the Hampshire Interfaith Network with Cllr Perry and Hampshire County Council, the Three Faith Forum with Tim Selwood, and an arts weekend with Winchester City Council. Other than that, we’ve relied on very limited funds – so the goodwill of the people of Winchester and establishing collaborations are key to moving forward.”