Community rallies round for church fire clean-up

IPSWICH: Priceless artefacts and historical treasures were lost as fire ravaged a church in the town.

But today the congregation, aided by the kindness of strangers, are coming together to put the pieces back together and clear up after the devastating blaze at St Mary at the Elms Church.

Investigations are today continuing to establish whether arson was the cause of the fire, which broke out at around 8.30am on Saturday at the Tudor church in Elm Street.

Among the casualties of the blaze, which engulfed the 15th Century church tower and the oldest working clock in Ipswich, were two door panels bearing the names of around 34 men from the parish who died during the First World War, a coat of arms of James II and precious frames dating from the 16th Century which can never be replaced.

Ann Peters, the church Sacristan, said she has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the congregation, strangers and the town’s dignitaries.

More than 50 people have signed up to help with the mammoth task of cleaning the church.

Already volunteers have been getting stuck in.

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Mrs Peters said: “It is unbelievable the amount of help we have had. People just keep coming to us saying they are so sorry and offering their help.

“It has been a real team effort, everyone has really pulled together, the level of support has just been overwhelming.”

Describing the moment when the enormity of what happened sunk in, as she gathered in the churchyard for Saturday’s service, Mrs Peters said listening to a psalm brought it home.

She said: “Hearing the words ‘how wonderful are our dwelling places’ I just cried. I burst into tears and couldn’t stop.

“It has been devastating for everyone. To think someone could have done this on purpose is dreadful.”

Praising the work of the emergency services, she added: “The fire service were just wonderful. They tried to rescue as much as possible. They saved so much.

“And the police were here within minutes.”

Mrs Peters said a second fire was discovered on Sunday morning when firefighters returned to tackle a pile of remains left outside from the first blaze.

Adding her support, Liz Harsant, leader of Ipswich Borough Council, said it was sad to see what had happened to the “wonderful church.”

She said: “It is an underestimated church. I was so sad to hear what had happened.

“It is so sad for the people so instrumental in the church. I offer any support we at the council can give,

“I know lots of councillors have personally offered to help with the clean up.

“I just want to say what a wonderful church it is, a real community church, that people pass and can just pop into for a moments quiet reflection, it is the town’s church.”

n What’s your reaction to the fire? Write to Your Letters, The Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or you can send an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

n Funding boost for another Ipswich church – page 9

n Opinion – page 6