Inside view on the BNP

BURLY security staff in heavy, black coats guard the door while police pace outside the Frank Townend Centre in Cleveleys.

It's not the usual midweek sight outside the Beach Road community centre where children go for dance classes and ladies meet for art and craft sessions.

But it's not every night the BNP holds a rally in the quaint seaside town. And it's certainly not often the press get invited to see what goes on

behind those well guarded doors.

So when Clive Jefferson, North West BNP regional organiser, ushered me into their meeting room, I was quite taken aback.

Going inside, I pass a passionate group of anti-fascist protesters waving placards and shouting.

One protester, Jane from Blackpool Trades Union Council told me: "We will fight wherever the BNP stand. If we stand together, we will oppose them quicker."

Then there's an army of bouncers, wearing BNP badges, to negotiate.

I join around 40 people – BNP members and invitees – who have turned up to listen to the party's policies and their plans to form a branch in Wyre.

Stood in front of a large banner proclaiming "British jobs for British workers" with a Union Jack flag beside him Mr Jefferson said: "We are a legitimate party, we have a right to hold a meeting here. We want British jobs for British workers. We want the troops out of Iraq."

The audience – a few women but mainly men in their 50s and 60s – burst into applause.

But what about their ideas for Cleveleys?

James Clayton, candidate for next week's Jubilee ward by-election, said: "The major problems are anti-social behaviour and drug use in Cleveleys, needles being found on the Promenade, mess in the roads, grass cuttings and street lighting.

"A lot of people have shown interest in our party and this is our chance to show ourselves for who we are, which isn't the skinhead or thugs and yob image."

One member offers me a drink as he says: "We're not intimidating are we? We get a lot of bad press but we're not thugs."

But I don't like what I hear next as around six people put their hands up to request an application form to become a BNP member. One convert shouts: "I'll have an application form, but not a coloured one!"

It was greeted with laughter by most in the audience, and was a deeply unpleasant reminder of where I was. I had a distinctly uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.

While inside the building the recruitment drive was in full flow, it was a different story outside as four people got turned away. All were either black or Asian. There were no members of the ethnic minorities inside.

As I left a security guard told me: "After a while it was getting full up so we decided it had to be members only."

Strange that, as I was given a seat all to myself and I'm not a member. And I swear there was plenty of space.

Madhvi Chabba-Moudgil, 35, from St Annes, was one of those turned away, along with partner Vishal Moudgil and brother SK Chabba.

She said: "Allowing a party that only allows certain people to join only goes towards a breakdown of relationships between all sections of the community and further leads to spoil the good work of people who work towards integration and good relations between different communities and classes of society. In this day and age, for a society of this kind to require police presence at a community centre, is a very sad statement in humanity. What hope is there for integration of society?"

Stephen Howard, 32, who is black and from Cleveleys, who was also turned away, said: "When I asked why, they said: 'what does BNP stand for?'"

The refusals put Bernie Naughton off from going inside. The 42-year-old from Poulton said: "I came down to hear their opinions but then I saw they were not letting Stephen in I changed my mind."

Around seven police officers were outside to make sure the rally and protest passed off peacefully. Supt Richard Spedding said officers would be looking into the circumstances surrounding people being refused entry. He then praised protesters, including those from Unite Against Fascism, Lancaster Unity and Blackpool Fylde and Wyre Trades Union Council, for how they behaved during their demonstration.

Anti-fascist campaigners are planning a protest in London against the BNP leader's presence on BBC One's Question Time on October 22. Black writer Bonnie Greer will take part in a televised debate with far right party leader Nick Griffin. They will be joined by Justice Secretary Jack Straw – the first senior Labour politician to say that he was willing to appear on the show with Mr Griffin.

* The other candidates for the Jubilee by-election are: Roy Hopwood representing the UK

Independence Party, Wayne Martin for Labour and Tory David Walmsley.