A GRADE II listed church in Salford which was nearing the end of a ten-year makeover, which had cost £750,000, was reduced to a smouldering shell in a suspected arson attack last Sunday night. The Priest-in-Charge of the Church of the Ascension, Salford, Canon David Wyatt, spoke this week of his hurt and frustration. But he also praised the “heart-warming” response from people in his parish.
“It has been an incredible experience to see the goodwill,” Canon Wyatt said.“It is not always apparent to the clergy. You have 25 to 30 people on a Sunday morning, and then find literally hundreds of people who all say ‘This is our church and we want to see it restored.’”
He told how, when demolition contractors began dismantling an unsafe gable end, scores of children from the River View Primary School next door poured out into the playground. “They were all shouting: ‘Stop damaging our church.’ It was amazing,” he said.
“My experience over the last few days has been incredibly heart-warming and affirmative of the value that people see in our churches. There have been the most amazing gifts already: one elderly lady offered to sell her piano for us, women want to come and clean — although that’s hardly appropriate just now — and strong men helped rescue a stone finial cross which I hope one day to replace on the roof. There have been offers of all sorts of practical help.”
An internet appeal for £100,000 towards the restoration reached £1500 within 48 hours.
Canon Wyatt said that he felt “so frustrated” that, having nearly completed a ten-year makeover, the church was “losing it all now. I wasn’t so much disappointed as hurt that anybody could do this.”
The church is the last remaining 19th-century building in the inner-city district of Lower Broughton, which has been cleared for new housing. “It has created a new parish, and it was important to the developers that the church should remain, otherwise it would have just been an overspill housing estate,” Canon Wyatt said.
A meeting with the insurers had filled him with hope that the church could be rebuilt. “I have no idea yet of the cost, but we are probably talking about many millions. I think it can — and should — be done. This is the House of God, and it certainly brings the recognition of God to people’s minds, even though they may not do everything about that recognition that we would wish them to. There is clearly a need for the church, and it is so very good to know that this is recognised, not just among churchgoers but widely in the community, as a place that gives significance to their lives. They feel that they have an ownership of it.”
Greater Manchester Police have released CCTV footage of a young man running away from the church shortly before the alarm was raised.