RESIDENTS took refuge at St James’s, Weybridge, last week, after a fire gutted the town’s health centre.
The Rector, the Revd Brian Prothero, described this week how he had cycled to the church just after midnight on Wednesday of last week, and opened it to offer hospitality to those evacuated from their homes near the fire.
The health centre, which contained two GP practices and other services, including physiotherapy, had been “severely damaged”, and would not reopen in the near future, the NHS said. Eight fire engines were sent to fight the fire, along with two aerial ladder platforms and three water carriers.
“I could see smoke, and smell acrid smoke,” Mr Prothero recalled on Monday. “I put the kettle on. The Curate, Theresa [Ricketts], arrived, and we made tea and coffee.” Local shops provided food, and the Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, was among those who arrived to help. Evacuees were later moved to a community centre, but members of the emergency services and NHS staff continued to come to the church all day.
“Twenty-five thousand people depended on that centre, and I pay massive tribute to everyone,” Mr Prothero said. “The police and fire services — under-resourced as they are — and the doctors, nurses, and admin staff [were] all there as a team. The impact on the community is massive. . . It was, looking back, an amazing privilege to help just by giving people tea and coffee, and, if there is a miracle here, it is that nobody was hurt or killed.”
An investigation is taking place to establish the cause of the blaze.