Video and photo gallery: Great community support shown after Norwich church hall is devastated by fire

Rev Clare Dowding outside the devastated church hall at St Anne, Earlham that was set on fire. Photo: Steve Adams Rev Clare Dowding outside the devastated church hall at St Anne, Earlham that was set on fire. Photo: Steve Adams

Wednesday, February 19, 2014
7:00 AM

The vicar of a Norwich church which saw its hall devastated by fire has spoken of how she has been extremely heartened by how the local community has rallied around to help following the blaze.

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The devastated church hall at St Anne, Earlham that was set on fire. David Lansdell, buildings manager, with the salvaged photo albums that include one of his wedding photos. Photo: Steve AdamsThe devastated church hall at St Anne, Earlham that was set on fire. David Lansdell, buildings manager, with the salvaged photo albums that include one of his wedding photos. Photo: Steve Adams

And she said the “resilient” church congregation was determined to bounce back following the tragedy.

The church hall of St Anne, Earlham, was devastated by a fire on Monday afternoon, and police have confirmed they believe the fire was started deliberately.

Meanwhile a fire service spokesman has said it is understood that children may have been involved in the incident.

The Rev Clare Dowding, vicar of Earlham, said it was heartbreaking seeing the full extent of the damage in daylight yesterday and that it was likely the hall, on the junction with The Avenues and Colman Road, would need to be rebuilt.

The devastated church hall at St Anne, Earlham that was set on fire. Insurance representative surveying the damage.Photo: Steve AdamsThe devastated church hall at St Anne, Earlham that was set on fire. Insurance representative surveying the damage.Photo: Steve Adams

But she said the support from local people has been amazing.

“These sort of things happening are terrible but they can be a really powerful way of demonstrating how communities work together,” the Rev Dowding said.

“The one thing that has been really heartening is the community support - just walking here yesterday I spoke to lots of people who were asking how they could help, and I’ve had lots of emails, texts and tweets.

“The parent and toddler group mums have offered toys to help, West Earlham Infant School has also been in touch and the local clergy in the deanery have been very supportive.”

She also paid tribute to churchwardens Christine Moreton and Margaret Lansdell, and buildings manager David Lansdell for all their efforts in dealing with the aftermath of the fire.

She said the church community was in shock at what had happened, but added: “They are a resilient congregation - they lost their church in the war. Most feel they will pull together and we will manage.”

At this stage it is difficult to tell what the full cost of the damage will be.

“It is certainly thousands. I would imagine it will probably need to be a complete rebuild. The internal structure and the roof are damaged,” the Rev Dowding said.

The windows were blown out by the fire, while tables, chairs, toys, books and art equipment were among contents destroyed, and the kitchen was also damaged, but some very special mementoes were thankfully retrieved from the wreckage.

“There were two or three photo albums going back to the 1950s and they have been salvaged,” the Rev Dowding said.

She said the church hall being out of action would effect many people and groups across the community, but it was hoped the groups could meet instead in the neighbouring scout hut or the church, and that nearby churches had also offered up their halls.

She said the wealth of support already given meant that they were now able to manage fairly well in the short term, but may need more specific help in the longer term.

“Thank you to everyone who has offered support,” she said.

“We appreciate the ongoing prayers and support of the community and if there are ways that in the coming months people can offer support, we will certainly be very grateful.”

The Venerable Jan McFarlane, Archdeacon of Norwich, was among the people to offer assistance and she has been in touch with both the Rev Dowding and the churchwardens.

“We are doing all we can to support them. The Rural Dean, the Rev Canon Alan Strange, has also been in touch,” she said.

“As Christians we believe in life after death and resurrection and new life so I am sure that in the fullness of time St Anne’s will get a new hall, but of course it won’t have all the memories.”

Fire investigators and police spent yesterday morning investigating the cause of the fire.

Fire investigator Brian Walshe said: “The fire appears to be deliberate ignition. We understand that children may be involved and we believe it’s forced entry to get inside the building.

“When crews first attended the scene...they reported that one of the windows had been broken and a fire exit door was not secure. The only way you can make that not secure, other than by forced entry, is by the inside to let a person out of it. So basically the building was not secure when the service arrived.”

A Norfolk police spokesman confirmed that officers were investigating the fire, which was believed to have been started deliberately.

• Anyone who has any information which could assist enquiries is asked to contact Norwich CID on 101.

• Anybody who would like to offer support to St Anne, Earlham can email vicarofearlham@gmail.com

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