Churchgoers ‘remortgaged homes and sold cars’ to help fund collapsed musical Heaven on Earth
Parishioners of a village church in the East Midlands claim to have lost hundreds of thousands of pounds after allegedly being asked to help fund Christian musical Heaven on Earth.
It has been claimed that some of the church members remortgaged their homes and sold property to donate to the musical’s production costs.
The show collapsed in 2017 leaving estimated debts of £2.6 million.
It was to star Kerry Ellis and Hugh Maynard, and had been due to play five months of arena dates across the UK.
However, it was cancelled in November 2017, three weeks before it was due to open, with its producer Eden International going into administration.
At Companies House, the directors of Eden International are listed as Andrew Burt, John Burt, Christine Jeffs, David Jeffs, Sara Jeffs, who is also the writer, and John Hibbert – who resigned in October 2017.
Hibbert is understood to be one of the founders of the International Church in Mansfield Woodhouse, in Nottinghamshire, to which other members of the production are also understood to be connected.
According to an investigation by BBC Radio Nottingham, members of the congregation were asked to donate to the musical, with some people allegedly remortgaging their houses and selling their cars.
Local resident Yessika Oakley, a former member of the church, claimed that friends and family members lost money donating to the project.
She told BBC Inside Out East Midlands: “People sold their cars, their houses and put their savings in. In their minds they were giving to God.”
She added: “It was large amounts of money from people that didn’t have much. But because they did it in the name of God they were put under the pressure that if you didn’t give then you’re not being faithful and God isn’t going to be very happy with you.”
One parishioner, who was not named, told BBC Radio Nottingham: “They put my scooter in the boot, drove me down to the bank and I transferred £3,000.”
The International Church in Mansfield went into liquidation in June last year.
According to liquidators Baldwins Restructuring and Insolvency Limited, the church owes around £350,000 to different creditors, which will be paid back in full once the company’s assets are dissolved.
However, the liquidation funds cannot be used to pay back people who donated to the musical, as this was a separate entity, Baldwins director Richard Tonks told The Stage.
One of the church leaders, who was not named, told BBC Inside Out that “people had only been asked to donate on a free-will basis”.
The Stage has attempted to reach members of the church leadership for further comment.
The Charity Commission said it was aware of “serious concerns” about the International Church in Mansfield and that it would be engaging with trustees to assess the concerns further.
A spokeswoman added: “The public rightly expect charities to behave to the highest standards of ethical behaviour and attitude. That includes making sure that they put their charitable mission and purpose first in everything they do.”
Paul Fleming from Equity said: “The impact that has for our members is enormous. So they have to go right back to the drawing board, right back to their agents to desperately try to find work.
“There wasn’t any professional general management behind it as far as we can see or know.”
He added: “It was an incredibly peculiar, speculative bet for people who have never produced a show before.”
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