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Through fire and water

10 May 2013

Case study: St Mary's, Charlbury

Fire damage: tarpaulin covers the affected area at St Mary's, Charlbury, in Oxfordshire

Fire damage: tarpaulin covers the affected area at St Mary's, Charlbury, in Oxfordshire

WHEN fire takes hold in a church roof, the resulting damage can run into millions of pounds. But St Mary's, Charlbury, in Oxfordshire, was lucky - the fire in the 12th- century church was spotted just minutes after it is thought to have taken hold.

The fire destroyed some of the oldest section of the roof, dating from the 15th century, and further damage was caused by firefighters, who had to cut sections of the roof away in order to tackle the blaze.

The fire, after a Sunday service in February 2012, is thought to have been caused by an electrical fault.

The insurers Ecclesiastical were on the scene the next day. Sandra Cooper, who handled the church's claim, said: "I went out straight away with the loss adjuster to see what can be done - to assess if the church could still be used. Although the damage to the roof wasn't massive, compared with some churches I've seen, there was a lot of smoke damage.

"We didn't want to have to close the church. It is well used, and is in the heart of the community. [It is] used throughout the week, not just on Sundays. We cordoned off the worst area, and got contractors in to clean the remainder of the church."

Part of the church was able to open again for services the next Sunday, and new chairs were bought with some money given by Ecclesiastical the day after the fire to cover immediate expenses.

A churchwarden, Michael Summers, said that the insurers were very reassuring. "They said: 'Don't worry about it: we will do what we can to get you going.'"

It took several more months to get plans drawn up for repairs, and passed by the DAC, and quotes approved, before work on the roof could begin at the end of August.

Mr Summers said that the church used that time to see what other work could be done to improve the church. Insulation was added, and a new roof-alarm was paid for, all by funding from the appropriately named Phoenix Fund, raised from fund-raising events organised by members of the congregation.

A reordering service was held when the work was finished on 25 November, and Sandra Cooper attended. "It was lovely to go and see the finished work," she said.

The cost of the claim for the clean-up and repairs amounted to £240,000.

Mr Summers, who is now stepping down as a churchwarden after 13 years, said that the church was now in "sparkling condition".

"Getting over the fire was a challenge. I went to the church every day for ten months, and I'm a bit knackered now, to be honest. But it's good to be able to hand it over to the new churchwardens in such a good shape. It's unfortunate that the fire happened, of course, but the church really is better now than ever before."

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