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After the Fire 2
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After the Fire 1
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After the Fire 2
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After the Fire 3
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After the Fire 4
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After the Fire 5
The Wheelhouse – Brother and sister Sarah Squire and Jonathan Walker
‘It’s been unbelievably tough at times,’ said Sarah (pic above), as we sat down to try and sum up the last twelve months since the fire ripped apart the business her mother and father started 26 years ago. ‘Just half and hour before the fire started I said to someone I was having the best year of my life. I might be careful before saying something like that again!
‘We had no idea, initially, how devastating the damage would be to the building. Many people were fantastic and incredibly supportive. We needed that support because we had virtually no information on what was going to happen before Christmas. That was a very stressful time, but I think we are now looking to the future.’
Sarah said that, apart from the devastation of the fire, the worst thing about it was being forced to lay off staff – something the family had never had to do. ‘They were all amazing,’ she said. ‘Many of them have returned now, which is great.’
The two businesses owned by the family – the Wheelhouse and Skippers - had changed just before the fire. Skippers had stopped serving fish and chips and had concentrated on sandwiches. Now the family have moved the fryers back in.
‘We wanted to do fish and chips and I think it’s great to be doing them again,’ she said. ‘The hardest thing is to be so close to it all day, everyday. People have no idea how bad it is and how long it’s going to take to put right. But we’ve now started on a process of rebuilding and just want to get open again as soon as possible – after our rather dramatic pause!’
Smith Street Deli – Simon Entwistle and Marcelle Chownes-Dove
The couple from Smith Street Deli - Simon on the deli side, Marcelle creating beautiful flower displays - have both found ways of continuing their business.
Marcelle opened Flowersmiths with Heather Wilbourne (pic. above) in Anzac Street, and Simon has re-opened the deli opposite them in Anzac Street Bistro with friend Serin Aubrey.
‘It has been a very hard time, obviously,’ said Simon(pic.below). ‘But we want to say thank you to all our customers for their support - we have been bowled over by the amount of people who have come to seek us out.’
Marcelle immediately decamped to the couple’s garage after the fire to fulfil her wedding commitments. She worked from there for five months.
‘Heather and Marcelle are delighted by how Flowersmiths is doing,’ said Simon. ‘And when I got the chance to work with Serin and bring the Deli back I jumped at it. I’m thoroughly enjoying it – and will continue to work towards taking the deli back to Smith Street again.’
Singer and Singer – Lesley Challacombe
Singer and Singer Estate Agents – first established in 1972 - found themselves without a home after the fire, but needing to continue trading to allow them to support their long list of tenants and clients.
In stepped David Freeborn, offering them the office above his on the corner of Hauley Road and Lower Street. Grateful for a home, albeit temporary, Lesley and her staff got on with finding homes for those made homeless by the fire.
‘We are so grateful to David and Carol for helping us there,’ said Lesley. ‘But we quickly realised the impact it would have on our business – passing trade dried up completely.’
So nine months later, having trimmed sails and survived, the company moved into 3 Raleigh Street, and have found their fortunes turning round.
‘We have found more people coming in and more new properties coming onto the books,’ said Lesley. ‘We have a good base to build from as we continue to work towards the building being rebuilt. We now have planning permission and Lea Humphries is working for us, rebuilding the back wall up to roof height, putting on a new roof and then rebuilding and repairing the inside. There’s still a huge amount of work to be done, but we think we are on the road back.
‘None of the freeholders ever gave themselves the option of giving up, and we are coming through. It’s taken a long time, but we are getting there.’
Higher Street: the Old Work Exchange and Thai restaurant – Tim and Becca Way
The brother and sister team face the biggest challenge of all the freeholders – but continue to examine all the possibilities for the rebuilding of the beautiful carved façade to the building.
‘We took ownership of the building just a few weeks before the fire,’ said Tim. ‘Not exactly what you want! But we are slowly putting together the plans for how we are going to rebuild – though obviously there are many challenges – especially because the front is so fragile and must be maintained.
‘We are looking at various ways to rebuild – but have to use as much of the original building as possible. The idea is to take the building back to what it was before the Government officers decided to change it into the work exchange – it will be more authentic than it ever was!’
Higher Street Gallery – Mark Goodwin
Higher Street Gallery was – and will be again – a family business: Ken and wife Catherine ran it with son Mark until more than 15 years ago when Mark took sole control – and it has always been well supported by locals and tourists alike.
But it is the devastation to a family home which caused the greatest trauma for the family. They have always lived above the gallery, ever since they first moved to Dartmouth in 1982.
‘It’s been a very difficult time for all of us because Higher Street was where we had our happiest memories as a family, and that all went up in smoke,’ said Mark. ‘But looking back on the whole year we have had the most amazing support from the people of Dartmouth. Friends and customers have been so helpful and been so supportive.
‘We would like to say that now we have planning permission and can start to rebuild, things are looking up and becoming positive. We have always said that we are coming back and will be back as soon as we can.
‘Hopefully we will be able to create new memories in this wonderful old building which by some miracle has managed to survive the fire. We can think positively about the future now. It’s wonderful how the freeholders came together to get things going - Simon of Smith Street Deli has been amazing. I’m grateful to him, Lesley at Singer and Singer and all the other freeholders.’
Compass Office Shop – Emilie Clarke and Alan Heard
Emily and Alan found themselves having to operate out of their front room following the fire – the danger of their building falling in kept them out for three weeks – and dependent on trade customers for support.
‘We had to keep trading,’ said Emily. ‘The front room was full and three of us were trying to use it – frankly the stress was unbearable. We were absolutely amazed at the support we received from our trade customers – who were ALL ordering stuff, even if they didn’t need it, just to help us!
‘We put up signs everywhere and were running up and down the town with deliveries. Simon Geen, who works for us, must have felt like he was doing a marathon every day up and down the town. He was brilliant, and everyone who supported us made it possible for us to continue.’
After loss adjusters wrote off their entire stock, the couple had to redecorate and then deep clean the shop before re-opening with a fire sale, and donated much of the damaged stock to the Flavel, Dartmouth Pre School, Dartmouth Caring and Kingswear Primary School.
‘We have never experienced stress like it – though we also felt lucky that we hadn’t gone through the experience of those who had lost everything ,’ said Emily. ‘We are now finding that the goodwill from local people is really keeping us going – as the passing trade has gone with the site next door. We thought for a while we couldn’t keep going – but thanks to locals’ support we can see a future now, and for that we are very grateful.’
Lea Humphries and Paul Barclay
- Providing some visuals for the boards
Lea and Paul have worked together to produce the displays which adorn the hoardings around the stricken buildings – there to keep the public safe, but not the most attractive vista.
Lea has paid for the printing of the black and white images, using Paul’s trademark style, and Paul has donated the work for free.
‘We wanted to make the boards just a little bit more attractive,’ said Paul. ‘I think it’s great they are there and full marks to Lea that he has put his hand in his pocket to get them printed.’
‘I think it’s a good thing to do,’ said Lea. ‘Paul’s designs sell for lots of money, so its great he has donated these for free. As I’m doing the work for two firms around the site, I’m glad to help make the boards a little more attractive.’
Photos and words by Phil Scoble
First published July 2011 By the Dart