Arsonists target Phoenix Children’s Centre in Mile Cross

Arsonists have ruined Christmas for users of a children's centre in Norwich after setting part of the building alight and destroying many of the toys and equipment stored there.

The Phoenix Centre, on Mile Cross Road, was deliberately set on fire just before 10pm last night.

The blaze engulfed the roof of the central part of the former Baptist church, causing major damage to back rooms and serious water and smoke damage to a number of other areas.

It has left parts of the building potentially structurally unsafe.

Richard Herrell, group manager for Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, this morning confirmed the fire – which took more than two hours to get under control – was being treated as arson.

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He said: 'About 10pm last night, we received calls for a building fire. On arrival crews realised it was a serious fire in the roof.

'We used six appliances and an aerial ladder platform to deal with it rapidly.

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'I can now confirm the fire is being treated as deliberate ignition. The fire was started from outside the building. It's caused significant damage to this well used and valuable community building.'

The Phoenix Children's Project is a registered charity which runs the centre.

Peter Lemmon said the building was owned by the children of Mile Cross and run on their behalf by four trustees, including him.

He said: 'From what we can see at the moment, most of the roof is gone so it will need a new roof. There's a lot of other damage. They say in a couple of days' time the ceilings could fall down.

'We don't really know what damage is done inside. All the youth club's equipment has gone. That was destroyed in those back rooms where the fire started. We think it's a mixture of fire and water damage.'

The project, named after the bird which rises from the ashes, was created in 1999 after Norfolk County Council's youth and community services made the decision to close the area's former children's centre on Peterson Road.

It was handed over to the community and, in 2006, moved into its current building on Mile Cross Road after local people helped to raise �500,000.

Mr Lemmon said he hoped the recently-renewed insurance would cover most of the repairs and replacements but trustees were still anticipating a major fundraising campaign to cover some of the work and keep the project going during what was already a difficult time financially.

He said: 'There's no government funding any more. We were already keeping it open on a shoe string.

'A lot of the groups that hired it during the day relied on government funding so they don't meet anymore.

'We need to get money where we can – children's parties, we have three churches meeting here.'

Norfolk Police have confirmed that they are carrying out an investigation into a suspected arson at the children's centre.

Officers have spent the morning at the site.

In a statement, police said: 'No-one was in the property at the time of the incident and no-one was injured.

'Police are treating the fire as suspected arson and are carrying out a joint investigation with the fire service. A seal is in place on the location and enquiries continue.'

Anyone with information should contact Norwich CID at Bethel Street on 101 or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

Do you have photos of last night's fire? Share them with us through

Are you a community group using the Phoenix Community Centre? Get in touch with reporter Victoria Leggett on 01603 772468 or email

See tomorrow's paper for more on the arson investigation and impact on people who use the centre.

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