Tom Bristow, Reporter
Monday, December 24, 2012
Children’s laughter, balloons and presents filled the hall of a Mile Cross community centre on Saturday – just seven days after it was attacked by arsonists.
The message from the Phoenix Centre as it hosted six-year-old Sade Woollard’s birthday party was clear – we have risen from the ashes.
Christmas lights, music and games replaced the ash, smoke and flames of last weekend when the centre was set alight and partially destroyed.
Sade’s mother, Charmain, said her daughter had been in tears during the week at the thought that her first big birthday party would be cancelled.
But thanks to the generosity of firms and volunteers across Norwich, the centre has quickly got back on its feet.
Charmain, 36, said: “When we got the phone call to say it was going ahead she was jumping up and down.
“She was over the moon. She didn’t think we were going to get the party.” Sade and her friends from Mile Cross Primary School enjoyed pass the parcel, dancing and cake at the party.
Sade’s father, John, 59, said: “We thought we would have to leave it when we saw in Monday’s paper how much damage there had been.
“But Peter Lemmon (trustee of the building) has been brilliant. They’ve done a wonderful job.”
Mr Lemmon has been overseeing the centre’s fundraising as it recovers following the devastating attack.
He said they had raised £2,500 since the fire with £1,000 coming from Aviva.
“The builders have been fantastic,” he said. “We thought we might have to call more events off but I didn’t want to. The local community has also been fantastic.
“All the Christmas bookings are going ahead. Everybody has just been so helpful and generous. We cannot thank people enough.”
There was little sign on Saturday that the popular community centre had been attacked a week earlier.
Schools and community groups have donated toys to replace the equipment lost, while Wendy Maxwell who runs a website for carers has given the centre on Mile Cross Road a computer donated to her by Talk Talk.
Mrs Maxwell said: “I was so touched by the sadness of such a worthwhile place being burnt down, that we wanted to help.”
Lord Mayor Ralph Gayton, a Mile Cross city councillor, has also launched his own appeal – and kick-started it with a £200 donation of his own.
Other groups which have come forward include Fairhaven Primary School, in South Walsham, which held a toy collection among its pupils and Langley’s toy shop in the Royal Arcade which gave the centre a £200 voucher. Norwich North MP Chloe Smith and Labour councillor Bert Bremner have also offered their support.
The centre was deliberately set on fire just before 10pm last Saturday, causing major damage to back rooms and serious water and smoke damage.
A third of the roof was destroyed. Two 15-year-old boys were arrested the following day on suspicion of arson and both were released on bail.