Campaign rallies for victims of Harrogate fire

NADV 1403256AM3 Harrogate fire donations. Shar Bunce and Stephanie Williams sort through some of the many donations.  (1403256AM3)

NADV 1403256AM3 Harrogate fire donations. Shar Bunce and Stephanie Williams sort through some of the many donations. (1403256AM3)

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The tearful victims of a huge fire in Harrogate have said they are “overwhelmed” by a campaign to help which has been backed by thousands of people.

More than £13,000 has been raised in donations to help the 13 families left homeless after last Tuesday’s blaze – with an incredible £10,000 given by a single anonymous donor.

Thousands more has been pledged through vouchers and free meals at town centre stores and restaurants after the blaze, which destroyed Albert Street’s Prezzo restaurant and 13 flats above.

The whole town has rallied, say campaign organisers, with rooms filled with donations and gifts as residents have given what they can to those who lost everything.

“These people have to replace their lives,” said Gayle Wise, from NatWest Bank, who helped set up the fund. “I just can’t imagine, having nothing but the clothes you are stood up in.

“But people’s generosity has been astonishing. Thousands have contributed.”

The fire, which broke out in the kitchens of Harrogate’s Prezzo restaurant last Tuesday lunchtime, quickly spread to the 13 housing association flats above.

Nobody was hurt but some pets were killed, a number of flats were destroyed, and the remainder have been left blackened and sodden from smoke and water damage.

The heartbroken victims, who watched in horror as their homes went up in smoke, have since been housed in hotels or with friends as the council looks to find them new homes.

And, after a flood of support from town residents and businesses spurred into action by their plight, they have given their grateful thanks.

“I’m overwhelmed,” said resident Allan Tenant, who lost all his possessions in the blaze.

“The people of Harrogate, who have gone out of their way to donate, have been amazing. I can’t thank them enough. Every one of them deserves a medal.”

A total of 13 families were left homeless after a fierce blaze broke out at Harrogate’s Prezzo restaurant last Tuesday lunchtime, quickly spreading to the flats above.

Nobody was hurt but the huge fire completely gutted the restaurant and several flats above, killing pets and leaving homes smoke-ridden and water damaged.

Victims of the blaze, who had watched in horror as their flats burned, have now been told it could take up to 18 months to repair the building.

They have been housed in hotels or with friends and family as they wait for news, many left with nothing but the clothes they were wearing on the day.

“Everything I own has been destroyed,” said resident Allan Tenant, 54. “It’s like a bomb has been dropped in the middle of my flat.

“I’m one of the lucky ones - I am one of two covered by insurance. I will get a new home. But I’m devastated. My flat, my home, is gone.”

Allan, speaking to the Advertiser at the scene of the fire last week, had told of his fear for the lives of his two cats, Growler and Fuzz, who were trapped amid the flames.

It’s now emerged both cats - along with five others in the building - survived the blaze. And, touched by Allan’s story, dozens of people have come forward to help the displaced pets.

Harlow Carr Cattery is now housing five of the cats free of charge, while Oakbeck Vets is providing the food.

Pet lovers in Harrogate have donated cat food, and even a cat bed for when Growler and Fuzz get to go home.

“The people of Harrogate, who have gone out of their way to donate, have been amazing,” said Allan. “I can’t thank them enough. Every one of them deserves a medal.”

His story, and of the others displaced by the fire, has struck a chord in Harrogate.

Miss Wise, who saw the fire burn in the town centre last Tuesday, was among the first who sprang into action to help.

“A customer came in on the Tuesday afternoon - he only looked about 16,” she said. “He stood there, in his jeans and T-shirt, and said ‘this is all I have’.

“I couldn’t get him out of my head, I was worrying about him all night. So, with the help of my manager Stephanie Williams, we decided to help.

“By Wednesday morning, there was a queue of people waiting outside the door. And they haven’t stopped coming.”

Miss Wise, along with a team of volunteers, has been collecting at the town centre bank all week.

Rooms have now been filled with bags of clothes, toiletries, food, and gifts. Store rooms are filling up with furniture, there have been donations of jewellery and even cards and teddy bears.

“One lady, a soft furnisher, has donated a big bag of curtains and promised to fit them when the residents are back home,” said Miss Wise, 37.

“Another man came in laden with Asda bags, I thought it was from the shop. But he had bought it out of his own paycheck.

“And then a letter came in the post on Tuesday. In it was a cheque for £10,000, from someone who wants to stay anonymous. I was just shaking.”

A choir in Harrogate has now pledged to donate half the proceeds from its fundraising concert last Saturday.

Rock Up and Sing!, which had planned a concert at St Peter’s Church to raise money for its youth choir, has now decided to give away half of what it raises to the fire victims.

Musical director Rhiannon Gayle said: “We were all completely shocked by last week’s fire and the impact on the people who lived in the flats affected has been awful. However, when we saw how well the town rallied around the victims to ensure they had clothes, toiletries, food and everything else they needed in the following days, it reminded us what a fantastic town we live in.”

Alexander Gibson Estate Agents has decided to donate one third of its fees on all homes that it lists for sale until the end of April.

And Harrogate company CNG, pledging to do all it can to support the fire victims, said this must be a long-term campaign.

“The fire was just a street away from our offices,” said Shah Bunce, who has coordinating the company’s collection. “It was horrific.

“When I saw what was happening, on the Advertiser website, I came straight down to help. But it will take time.

“In three month’s time, if someone needs a wall painting, we will be there.”

l Cash donations and vouchers - particularly for food - are urgently needed. Cheques can be made payable to the Harrogate Fire Appeal and sent to NatWest Bank in Harrogate.

More information, contact ruby.kitchen@jpress.co.uk or call 01423 707509.

WHAT NEXT FOR THE VICTIMS?

Families living in the 13 flats destroyed by the blaze have been housed with family, friends, or in hotels as the housing association which owned the flats finds them new homes.

Among them is Jessica Scott, 32, who lost her pet rabbit Thumper and two hamsters in the blaze.

Her flat was left water and smoke damaged, but escaped the worst of the flames and she has been told she can move back in seven or eight month’s time.

“I just don’t know if I want to, after what’s happened,” she said. “I’ve had absolutely fantastic support though - I’ve been given vouchers and clothes, and time off work.

“But I’m just so emotional and worried - how am I going to move and store my furniture? I don’t have a lot of money and now I have nowhere to live.”

Susan Taylor, 38, had two pet cats Simba and Snoop trapped in her flat. They survived the blaze, but she is now struggling to look after them as she is staying in a hotel.

“I’m not insured,” she said. “And now I’m floored. We are lucky that nobody was hurt or killed in the fire. But I am in a panic now - where do we go from here? How do we go on?

“The town has really rallied together. But I’m just heartbroken with the stress of it all.”

Harrogate Borough Council (HBC) has been asked by Housing Association Places for People to rehouse nine households.

A spokesman said that while it couldn’t provide accommodation in the town centre, it was working to find new homes for people in the Harrogate district.

ROLL OF HONOUR

Wagamama has donated meal vouchers

M&S donated £1,500 in vouchers

Oakdale vets are providing the pet food for the five cats

Jakes has given food vouchers

Deano’s has given food vouchers

Grape and Graze has given food vouchers

Harlow Carr cattery is putting the cats up for free

Katrina Hughes dance school cash donation

Harrogate Magistrates Court has had a collection box and filled it every day

Pure Wool has given duvets and pillows after calling its stores across the country

Boots has donated towels and bags

Tesco Express has given food

Russell and Bromley have held a bag raffle and cake stall

The Friday Friendship Club donated £500

Procter and Gamble have given toiletries

Citadel has donated a giant Bettys egg to be raffled off

Rock Up and Sing fundraising concert

Donna from Debenhams has given perfumes and makeup

Little Red’s Homemade Gifts is to hold an auction

Regency Bar

Market Town Taverns has donated dozens of meal vouchers for the Old Bell and Swan on the Stray

CNG are to host community fundraisers as well as pledging time and financial support

Wills and Parker donated pamper vouchers

Harrogate Mumblers and Grumblers members

Stevie Jackson volunteer

Emblazon has donated new clothes

Coco Tan has given Asda vouchers