Video and photo gallery: Norwich church community speaks of its heartbreak after church hall is devastated by fire
11:45 18 February 2014
copyright: Archant 2014
A Norwich church community is today counting the cost of a blaze that has caused thousands of pounds of damage to their much-loved church hall.
The building had survived the Second World War and was even used as a temporary church after St Anne, Earlham, was bombed during the war, but yesterday the hall, on the junction with The Avenues and Colman Road, was engulfed in a fire that is thought to have caused thousands of pounds of damage.
The Rev Clare Dowding, vicar of Earlham, said: “It is heartbreaking because it is a building that is used and loved by people in the church, and also lots of people in the community who use it for groups and events.
“It is a well-loved building and it is just a shock what has happened. It looks as though it is possibly arson and that makes it feel even more heartbreaking.”
She said it was too early to know how much the cost of the damage would be. “Obviously we are going to do all we can as a church community to deal and respond to this the best we can,” she said, adding that the church has already received an offer of help from the 33rd Norwich Scout Group which has a hut that adjoins the church hall.
She said: “There is a scout hut next door and they have already emailed to say they are very willing to do all they can to help, and the church itself has space at the back that we can use for groups too.”
Churchwarden Christine Moreton and buildings manager David Lansdell were among the first members of the church community to go to the scene yesterday, and they said it was devastating to see how the fire had wrecked the building which was a part of so many people’s lives.
Mrs Moreton said: “I got a phone call to say the church hall was on fire and came straight down. As I came up the road all the fire engines were there and the blue lights were flashing.”
She said the hall was used by many groups, including a mother and toddlers group, a women’s fellowship group, an art class, and a baby clinic, and she said it had taken the church community 12 years to save up for the hall’s fitted kitchen.
Mr Lansdell said: “During the war the church got bombed yet the church hall wasn’t touched, and it was used as the church through the war. The church itself was bombed and rebuilt in the 1950s.”
He said that as well as the church hall building being damaged, a lot of equipment had also been destroyed by last night’s fire.
“There were cupboards full of art equipment and all the mothers and toddlers group toys,” he said.
The blaze broke out at about 4pm yesterday afternoon and three fire crews - from Earlham, Carrow and Hethersett - were sent to the scene.
Rob Burling, white watch manager from North Earlham, said about 15 firefighters were involved in tackling the fire and he praised them for their swift work to contain and extinguish the blaze.
He said it took firefighters about half an hour to get the fire under control using main and hose reel jets.
“The fire was under control fairly quickly and we had a team in breathing apparatus that entered the building to fight the fire,” he said, adding that the crews also had to clear part of the roof and stayed at the scene for some time afterwards to damp down the building and check for hot spots.
Fire investigator Brian Walshe said nobody was in the building, or the neighbouring scout hut and church, at the time of the fire.
He said: “We are investigating a serious fire involving the church hall and its contents.
“Early indications suggest that it was possibly deliberate ignition. Police and the fire service will be carrying on the investigation this morning.”
He added: “The fire has caused severe damage to both the building and its contents. I should imagine the cost of it is going to be significant, many thousands.”
A Norfolk police spokesman said officers attended the incident yesterday to support the fire service and put a seal in place around the premises overnight. He said forensic checks would be carried out as part of the investigation.