MEMBERS of a Somali cultural centre which was destroyed by extremists have vowed not to be “cowards” as they prepare to move into their new home.

The Al-Rahma Islamic Centre, in Muswell Hill, was burnt to the ground in an arson attack in 2013 and the letters EDL (English Defence League) were found scrawled on the wrecked building.

But after three years of uncertainty, members were thrilled to learn planning approval for a new base in Tarling Road, East Finchley, was approved by Barnet Council’s planning committee.

Chairman Abubakar Ali, who founded the centre when he moved to Barnet from war-torn Somali in 1992, said: “From day one, we said we’d come back and we’d get stronger and stronger.

“Now we have the chance to be members of the community again and get back on our feet. We are not going to be cowards. It’s been a big relief.

“When it happened, it felt like we didn’t exist and that nobody wanted us. But the council and the community stood behind us and have supported us. That’s been very fulfilling.”

The 49-year-old is now hoping to attract the old members the centre lost in the last few years when they were without a place to call their own.

They have been meeting in East Finchley Library on weekends and weekdays from 5pm to 7pm but he said it never felt like “home”.

He added: “It’s been very tough. People kept asking when we were going to get our centre back – it was a question I got asked day in and day out. Everything was up in the air.

“It was so nice to be able to finally tell people what’s coming.”

The centre was first run from Church Lane, East Finchley, but moved to Muswell Hill in 1996.

Father-of-three Mr Ali was one of the driving forces behind the centre as he wanted to give people a safe place to meet and make friends.

He added: “We all came here as refugees from a broken country and our members struggled. Everyone was isolated.

“For our members, it’s a breathing space. It’s their second home and a place to leave the difficult things they saw in Somalia behind.

“That’s why we are looking forward to moving into our new home. It’s been such a big relief.”