Fraud probe into Nepalese community centre project

Customers have been warned to check bookings after the building row
Customers have been warned to check bookings after the building row

Directors at a Leith arts and culture centre in dispute with a former contractor have urged customers to check their bookings.

Planning permission to turn the former swimming pool for Dr Bell’s School on Great Junction Street into a Nepalese Cultural Centre was approved in 2012 and the current owners purchased the site in 2013.

But a series of setbacks including losing over £23,000 to contractor Neill Connell Forgie who the directors claim failed to carry out work, means the project remains a building site.

Half of this money was taken out of a £55,000 pot raised by the Nepalese community in the Capital to aid those devastated by an earthquake back home in April 2015.

The board of directors said they even had to change the locks of the building in October last year so Mr Connell Forgie could no longer gain access to the building.

But a number of clients have come forward claiming to have made bookings for the centre through Youth Juice Creative Limited – a business run by Mr Connell Forgie which went into liquidation in March.

The move has angered the board at the Himalayan Centre who say that their reputation has been “tarnished” before they have even started.

Investor Mike Ward said: “Neill got in touch and said he would finish the work with the help of an additional £30,000.

“We’ve invested a lot of money into this so we can give Leith a great new venue. We want to save a building which means a lot to us. No one wants to see it empty or demolished. We are aware of two bookings that have been made from an alternative source and we’re wary there could be others out there.

“It is giving us a terrible name. We just don’t want anyone else to be a victim to this and if they have been, they should get in touch asap because dates are being taken up quickly and we may not be able to help.”

New investment has revitalised hopes for the centre with its doors expected to open in August for community groups and functions on weekends.

Bookings have currently being taken for the end of this year but the board were alerted recently to the fact a third party has been taking unauthorised reservations for the building.

Police Scotland confirmed to receiving a report of potential fraud via Action Fraud on June 16, with inquiries ongoing into the full circumstances.

Neill Connell Forgie failed to provide a comment when approached by the Evening News.

The city council’s 
licensing board last week gave the project a reprieve, giving the owners until next year to complete it.

Cllr Cammy Day said: “If this building is unsafe then we need to hear what the real plan is and the time-scale for it. It’s getting to the point where it’s getting unrealistic.”

The Himalayan Cultural Centre could be used to host weddings and community events with directors determined to now finish the project.

But it is claimed Neill’s contribution has now split the Nepalese community in the Capital.

Manish Khatri, 25, said: “There was no progress in the work and we thought we’d get the money back once the centre opened. We have learned a lot from this. The money for Nepal is being spent on a toilet at a school. In Nepal we trust a lot and what he has done has affected the whole community.

“We need to be clear that Neill is not part of this centre anymore. We urge anyone else who may have been affected to contact us immediately.”