Arson attack on St Albans Earthworks charity centre

A CHARITY has vowed to come back stronger than ever before after its centre was destroyed by a devastating arson attack at the weekend.

Earthworks, a charity offering work placements to people with learning difficulties and mental health problems, was targeted by arsonists for the second time this year on Friday night.

The fire tore through their central building on Hixberry Lane which contained their kitchen, tools, clothing and personal items.

Used as a meeting point, a shelter in the colder months and an arts and crafts centre, the building was completely gutted in the fire and the charity have had to close the site to the trainees this week.

Phil Maitland, project leader at the horticultural day centre, said: “We’ve had to close because we can’t have our trainees, who are very vulnerable people, see it like this. The impact of this would devastate them.

“This is very much a community project and the consequences of this fire have a knock-on effect. The homes that many of our trainees live in are already under pressure because they are short staffed and because the trainees can’t come here, this adds to that pressure.

“Many of our trainees take great comfort in the routine of coming here and some of them will find this disruption very hard to take. It can have a negative impact on their behaviour too. It’s very sad.”

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But Phil said that he, the staff and the trainees would not be downbeat for long and were even more determined to continue with the work they did.

He added: “We will pull together and as a team we’ll be united.”

The charity’s newly completed toilets were remarkably unscathed, but the damaged building and the adjoining under-cover area used for woodcutting have been reduced to ash.

The kitchen was only refurbished earlier this year and as the colder months set in, it was hoped trainees would be able to take their lunch and tea in the building where there was a wood burning stove.

Bianca Badham, one of the project co-ordinators, said the extent of the loss was still not fully known. “It’s not just the big items like the barbecue but we’ve lost all our stationary, our seeds, some of the fruit we’d harvested. And then there are the personal items, like the plaque in memory of a former trainee who died. Those are irreplaceable.”

A lifeline was offered to the charity on Tuesday afternoon when the district council offered temporary accommodation in a nearby property which had been leased to the county council but was due to be handed back to them next week.

The building, used by Countryside Management Services until recently, will be available for Earthworks to use until early December.

Cllr Chris Brazier, who intervened on behalf of the charity to ask whether it would be possible for them to move into the building, welcomed the decision. I’m really pleased with this news because it means, most importantly, that the trainees will be able to come back and work can begin again.

“They do such a wonderful job and this will give them some breathing space. They will get some funding from my locality budget too, so that they can get back on their feet as quickly as possible.”

The charity will not be able to reopen to trainees until the damaged building is made safe or demolished and removed completely.

Earthworks are appealing to any local businesses who are able to supply tools or members of the public who can help with a cash donation to contact them on 01727 847311.