Despite a blaze completely destroying the main hall of a well-used community centre in Lincoln on September 22, centre managers have vowed to keep it running.
As previously reported, a fire started at Croft Street Community Centre around 6.44am on Sunday morning, though despite firefighters’ best efforts, most of the community hall was ruined.
Police suspect the incident was due to arson.
A few of the other rooms were saved from the fire, however most cannot be accessed either due to smoke damage or the door handles melting away.
On Monday, centre manager Caroline Boltz and caretaker Phil Spendlow set up an “office” outside — a table, armed with a diary and a kettle — with the task of organising the 20 community groups and parties that use the hall.
The pair have been at the centre since Caroline was alerted to the fire by the alarm.
“I was in my nightie and my slippers, and I jumped into the car,” Caroline said, “because I just thought ‘oh well it’ll be alright, I’ll just go turn off the alarm’.
“As I pulled over the fire engine was just coming down to the centre. I just couldn’t believe it.
“Poor Philip, who was standing there, I gave him a jolly good thump! I wasn’t very happy yesterday morning.
“But I soon picked myself up and got organised.”
Offers of help
As well as clearing the items from the hall and surrounding rooms, Caroline’s main task was to help the various booked parties and community groups find somewhere else to go.
Fortunately, a number of Lincoln community halls, churches and other organisations are coming forward to help.
“We don’t have any electricity and we cannot get into the office, because it’s all been secured, so rather than do nothing I am keeping calm and carrying on!
“I am working with what I can possibly use — my diary and two phones — so I can sort out all the people who have offered places and people that need places.
“We’ve had various offers of help; about 10 places before 9am today, and the offers are still coming in!
“Some community groups have been housed, it’s just the parties we don’t have any places for.
“Now we’re moving all the boxes out because we’ve found somewhere for the items to go. Some items couldn’t go to St Swithins’ Church because it’s too cold.”
Caroline and her volunteers are also happy for residents and businesses to come forward to help, but offers a bit of advice before heading down:
“Wait until tomorrow, because we’re now waiting for the insurance assessor and it’s just not safe,” she said.
Showing The Lincolnite around the building, Caroline explained the worst damaged parts.
The worst affected area is the community hall, with many of the smaller rooms, such as toilets, offices and meeting rooms, protected from serious damage.
“The hall is the worst part, but the fire doors did their job, as did the fire wall.
Despite all the damage, after the damage has been assessed and community groups organised, the volunteers are keen to get started again.
“Oh yes, we’re coming back! The smaller groups, once we get the power back and the doors unsealed, we hope to put in the meeting rooms. For now though, we’ll accommodate all we can in St Swithin’s Church.”
Lincolnshire Police are treating the fire as suspected arson and have been carrying out investigations at the scene since Sunday.
The local neighbourhood policing team are stepping up foot patrols in the area.
Meanwhile, they are appealing for anyone who was in the area at the time, or who has any information about the incident to contact them on 101 quoting incident number 105 of September 22.
Alternatively, anyone with information can call the charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.
Still going ahead
The Croft Street Community Centre was due to hold a coffee morning on Tuesday, September 24, and it is going ahead with the event in their car park.
The local policing team will be present at the coffee morning to answer any questions from the public and anyone is welcome to attend and lend their support.