A CONSERVATIVE Club in Portland described as the 'heart of the community' has closed its doors and been sold - leading to fears it could be developed into housing.

Island Community Action (ICA) had hoped to purchase South Portland Conservative Club, in Easton Square, so it could continue to serve the community as a club and events venue, as well as a base to host charitable activities.

The group's hopes were raised when a businessman agreed to purchase the site and rent it to the them.

But, despite offering the full asking price, the venue has instead been sold to an unknown buyer, leading to uncertainty over its future.

Mark Lewis, a 57-year-old property developer from Bristol, visited the club to see if he would be interested in buying it. He said: "As soon as I walked in I just thought, 'this isn't a development opportunity, this needs to be kept as an asset for the community'."

He met with the ICA and decided he would buy it for the asking price then rent it to the charity on the promise that he would sell it to them - once they managed to raise the funds - for the same price he bought it for. In his bid he also requested a building survey and asbestos report.

Mr Lewis said he was made aware that another offer was made, but that he was not told how much it was. He said: "I told them I did not want to get into a bidding war as I wasn't doing this for business, I was doing this to save the building for the community."

Now the building has been sold to an unknown bidder. Mr Lewis said: "It will probably be developed into houses or flats now. They have ripped the heart out of this community."

Katie Pascoe, one of the managers of ICA, said: "Mark could see that that it was the heart of our community and felt very strongly that it shouldn't be developed into housing. We were very very excited and optimistic and hopeful.

"As a group we used the conservative club for volunteer thank you parties, volunteer training, we supported the activities they ran by running transport to their bingo sessions, we did fundraisers like quiz and curry nights and auctions in the main hall.

"We obviously are extremely disappointed that the Association of Conservative Clubs did not accept the asking price offer despite the social value and that the community was not given that opportunity to try and retain that really valuable asset.

"Lots of people on the island have grown up using the building for birthday parties, football club celebrations, PTA fundraisers, wedding parties, funeral wakes and of course all of the regular pub sports and clubs that regularly use the building.

"We feel it's in the heart of our community, overlooking Easton Gardens, and once lost that location can never be found again. We don't have our own building, we rent spaces all over the island. It would have given us an opportunity as a charity to safeguard our future by having a base of operations and an opportunity to generate income."

As the offer made was in the name of Mark Lewis, a spokesperson for the Association of Conservative Clubs said: "The ICA did not submit an asking price offer, or any type of offer, to the ACC. Indeed, at no stage have we been contacted by the ICA nor have they raised with us any concerns over the sale of this property. The property was placed on the open market providing an opportunity for any organisation to submit an offer for the property."