Couple's big day saved

By Danielle NuttallWHEN firefighter Dale Willings took a report of a serious blaze at a community hall, he could have been forgiven for feeling a little more panicked than usual.

By Danielle Nuttall

WHEN firefighter Dale Willings took a report of a serious blaze at a community hall, he could have been forgiven for feeling a little more panicked than usual.

For Bildeston's spectacular Chamberlin Hall was to be the setting of the dream wedding reception that Mr Willings and his fiancée had booked just a week before.

But the Hadleigh retained firefighter was forced to leave the blaze to his colleagues because was due to work a shift in the Ipswich fire control room, where he nervously kept an eye on the situation.

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Despite the efforts of the firefighters, the flames engulfed 100% of the hall's roof, ruined thousands of pounds worth of equipment and left the venue all but destroyed.

Mr Willings had booked his wedding reception for August 2005, but as committee members surveyed the full extent of the damage following last year's blaze, it looked unlikely that the hall would be rebuilt in time.

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But 17 months on and thanks to the completion of a £400,000 rebuilding project, Mr Willings and his fiancée, Louise Brooks, 23, will be able to enjoy a lavish wedding reception at the hall after all.

The pair, of Benton Street, Hadleigh, will be only the second couple to celebrate their wedding reception at the venue after repair work was concluded only two weeks ago.

Mr Willings, who works full-time in Suffolk Fire Service's control room, said: “It's a relief. As soon as it was finished, we were able to sort out the table plans and get the caterers in to have a look around.

“We never called to book anywhere else, but we were getting more and more worried.

“Because my fiancée is from Bildeston and we had Chamberlin Hall for a venue for my dad's 60th birthday, it was ideal and the church is only a half a mile down the road. It's a lovely place to have a wedding.”

The fire, which was treated as suspected arson, happened on April 27 last year and more than 30 firefighters were drafted in to tackle it.

“I got the call between 5.30am and 6am. Because of my shift pattern at fire control, I had to ignore it and go into work and deal with that side of the incident,” said Mr Willings.

“Obviously we were devastated, but the organisers for the hall had said 'No problem, the hall will definitely be rebuilt by August next year'.

“Although we knew it was a year away, we were concerned it wouldn't be ready and it was such a beautiful hall. As we got closer, we were calling them every two months.”

The couple have decided to keep to a fire theme at the wedding, with Miss Brooks expected to arrive to the church in an old fire engine loaned from the Ipswich Transport Museum.

Most of the community organisations using the hall - including toddler groups, bowls clubs, line dancers and the parish council - have already moved back into the premises.

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