Arsonists strike at village hall

By Danielle NuttallCrime CorrespondentAN arson attack that destroyed a village hall has left community groups homeless and plunged wedding plans into disarray.

By Danielle Nuttall

Crime Correspondent

AN arson attack that destroyed a village hall has left community groups homeless and plunged wedding plans into disarray.

As villagers mounted a huge clean-up operation following yesterday's blaze at Chamberlin Hall in Bildeston, committee members were left counting the cost of the damage.

The hall, which was built in 1996, was fully booked until Christmas with weddings and party functions.

Last year's turnover for bookings amounted to more than £50,000 and hall representatives now fear thousands of pounds will be lost due to the damage.

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Uncertainty also now surrounds the plans of scores of couples and families who had booked the venue for a celebration.

Adrian Chinery, vice-chairman of the Chamberlin Hall committee, said: “We are absolutely gutted.

“We are booked solid until Christmas. We have a playgroup here five days a week, line dancing and bowling.

“What has not been damaged has been completely ruined by water. We have a lot of weddings coming up in June and July.”

Staff at the SkallywagsNursery, which was based at the hall, also spoke of their devastation at losing their permanent home and thousands of pounds worth of equipment built up over 10 years.

Donna Ashworth, nursery assistant, said: “We all feel gutted and just cried. To actually look in the cupboard and see all the hard work is devastating.

“The fire was on the same side as the cupboard that we store the equipment. There's nothing salvageable at all. Books, toys, all that we have been building up over 10 years.”

She added: “We spent a fortune last month in the Early Learning Centre. We also recently had an Ofsted inspection and had a really good result.

“All the assessments for the children before they go to school are all burnt and have to be rewritten.

“A lot of the children are in their last term before they start school. It's going to be upheaval for them. It's just horrible - how anyone can be so heartless to do that to anyone else's property?”

The playgroup is hoping to take up a temporary home in the church hall from next week, but nothing has been finalised yet.

However, co-leader Rebecca Brinkley-Gray said Chamberlin Hall had been the perfect setting.

“We loved the premises because we have an adventure playground and patio. It's horrendous. It's affected the whole community and the children,” she added.

More than 30 firefighters spent three hours tackling the blaze, while The Salvation Army was on hand to provide refreshments.

Assistant Divisional Officer Paul Seaga, of Suffolk Fire Service, said: “We received a call at about 5am from someone who thought a car was on fire.

“A crew from Hadleigh were first to arrive on the scene and they found the bins alight with the flames spreading to the roof.

“They immediately summoned further assistance and other crews arrived from Hadleigh, Needham Market, Stowmarket, Ipswich, Sudbury and Haverhill.

“We are treating the fire as suspicious as it looks like it was deliberately started.”

Anyone with information about the fire should contact Capel St Mary police on 01473 613500. Anyone wanting to donate toys or books to the nursery can contact Ms Brinkley-Gray on 01449 741205.

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