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Dorset church severely damaged by fire

22 July 2022

CHRISTCHURCH POLICE UK

All Saints’, Mudeford, near Christchurch, in Dorset

All Saints’, Mudeford, near Christchurch, in Dorset

A SERIOUS fire began in a church while a group of parishioners was in the adjoining church hall, which was then evacuated.

Fire broke out at the 19th-century All Saints’, Mudeford, near Christchurch, in Dorset, on the night of Thursday of last week. A group in the church hall heard a noise and went outside, to discover smoke billowing from the church.

About 70 firefighters fought the blaze for hours through the night, but were unable to prevent significant damage to the church and the hall. The roof has been destroyed, and stained-glass windows have melted, and it has not yet been possible to assess the damage further, as the building has been declared unstable.

Residents came out to watch the fire, as water was pumped up from Mudeford quay to quench the flames.

The Revd Helen Griffiths, who was a priest at the church for 11 years, told the local paper, the Daily Echo: “It’s totally devastating. This is the hub of Mudeford, and to see it in flames like this is really devastating.”

The Assistant Archdeacon of Winchester, the Revd Gary Philbrick, said that forensic teams from the fire brigade were still examining the damage, but it was believed to have been started accidentally. He said it was not thought the recent high temperatures had been a factor in the blaze.

Insurance assessors from Ecclesiastical Insurance are looking at the case, he said.

In the mean time, an appeal set up by an ordinand, Joanna Criscenti, who grew up in the parish, has raised more than £3500. She said that the church was a “sign of hope for the local community. . . It is a place which feels like a second home for many of us, where we know we are safe and loved.”

Mr Philbrick said that the church was active in the community, with a congregation of about 80 people. Many local residents had come to the scene the morning after the blaze to share their memories of the church. “It was very moving to hear from people what the church meant to them and their lives,” he said.

The church will be rebuilt, he confirmed. The parish is currently in vacancy, but recruitment for a new incumbent would continue, he said.

A service last Sunday was held outside on a green near the damaged church building, led by the Acting Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Debbie Sellin. She told members of the congregation that they had the support of the whole diocese.

“I share your sadness. I’m here today because I want to stand with you in what you have experienced, and in what will continue to be your journey,” she said.

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