Ipswich: Hope that community centre dream will become reality after blaze destroys church

Ipswich: Our dream will still become a reality.

That was the determined pledge from the owners of an arson-hit Ipswich church today as they assessed the devastating damage caused by an inferno which tore through the historic structure.

Fire chiefs say they are “99 per cent certain” the blaze at St Michael’s Church in Upper Orwell Street was started deliberately.

The Victorian building was set to undergo a dramatic refurbishment which would have transformed it into a �1million Muslim-run community centre.

The bold proposals yesterday appeared to be smouldering in the ruins of the grade II listed property.

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But despite the blaze, which has left the building structurally unsafe, Muhammad Manwar Ali, chief executive of Jimas, the organisation that owns the uninsured church, is resolute in his determination to succeed.

As police step up the hunt for the arsonist, Mr Ali admitted there is a “long road” ahead.

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He said: “Our intentions were good. All our sacrifices, all our resources, it has gone up in flames.But this can still happen for the people of Ipswich – all is not lost yet.

“We will get there somehow, if the community comes together, we might just be able to make this dream a reality.”

Mr Ali, who was forced to stand watching as the building burnt, said Jimas was planning to launch a major fundraising drive in April to raise the �1m needed to turn the church into a community hub for classes, concerts, groups and meetings.

But he said the costs have now spiralled and urged the community to rally round to help ensure the plans do not end up on the scrap heap.

“This was to be a community centre for everyone in Ipswich, not just the Muslim community,” he said. “We face a long road. It hasn’t sunk in yet. It is all our savings, 25 years of savings – there are no bank loans, no lottery grants, nothing.”

The blaze broke out shortly after 10pm on Monday, but parts of the roof re-ignited yesterday prompting two fire crews to return to the scene at about 5pm.

Building inspectors and fire investigators scouring the remains were prevented from entering the structure, which was built in the 1880s, after concerns that the unstable roof was too dangerous.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk police said the incident is being treated as arson.

She said the fire is believed to have started in the rear of the building, but until the structure has been made safe more thorough investigations cannot take place.

If you you have information about how the fire started, call Ds Michael Brown at Ipswich CID on 01473 613500.

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