I won’t let my charity die, vows boss after shop blaze

The scene of the fire at Parkfield Garage on Bowerham Road on Wednesday afternoon.
The scene of the fire at Parkfield Garage on Bowerham Road on Wednesday afternoon.

A charity owner is vowing to fight on despite his Lancaster shop being completely gutted during a ferocious fire.

Stephen Wakelin and wife Amy, of Ellel, set up Wolfwood Animal Charity four years ago, creating a shop in Bowerham Road to sell goods to raise money to fund its work.

But the premises is a charred shell after a major blaze at the garage next door destroyed all of its rooms and ruined its roof, making it uninhabitable for months.

The neighbouring Parkfield Garage and several cars inside were completely destroyed by the blaze which happened at 4pm on Wednesday, September 19.

The fire service is treating the blaze as accidental.

Although insured, the charity faces a wait to decide what elements of the shop and its costs – like staff wages – are covered.

The devastation is more upsetting for Mr Wakelin who said it was only through the generosity and largely free services of the community coming forward to help create the shop, that it was able to get off the ground originally.

Mr Wakelin, speaking as fire crews and police pored over the property, said: “A lot of passion has gone into creating this – it was set up on nothing and built from nothing. I could cry thinking about it. Bowerham has been a great community to us and we have won awards but now we are having to start all over again.”

Fortunately, the animals the charity works with are housed miles away at a combination of kennels and a rural wildlife area near Ellel.

Since last week’s devastating fire, offers of help and support have flooded in. People have donated hundreds of pounds in cash and items for sale, while the charity is hopeful of signing a new contract to be up and running in an empty shop in Bowerham Road within a couple of weeks.

Mr Wakelin said: “We would just like to say a big thank you for the massive support we have had - we will be able to re-stock the shop two to three times over and people are offering to help re-decorate and help us get up and running again. It’s very heart-warming to know the community appreciate us.”

People wanting to give, can check out the charity website - www.wolfwood.co.uk. Mr Wakelin said: “Wildlife have no place to go between Carlisle and the middle of Cheshire. We have taken on dogs that have been abandoned and would otherwise have been destroyed.

“We’ve taken in doves, seagulls, pigeons, rabbits, birds of prey, foxes, deer and even mice that we have nurtured from tiny babies and then released back into the wild – the sort of animals others wouldn’t touch.”

Among the items destroyed were clothes, books, DVDs and bric-a-brac. Mr Wakelin said he was relieved that no-one had come to any harm.

He added: “It won’t ruin us. There is no stopping is and we will carry on.

“I am just concerned about how we can pay the staff and whether the insurance will cover it. What we get from the shop we spend, nothing is accumulated, it’s not run for profit.”

Also gutted by the blaze, was a convenience store.

It is believed the owner of the off-licence and convenience store, named locally as David, had only recently taken over the business.

Russell Walsh, who owns Potts Pies – next to Wolfwood – said they had a lucky escape from the blaze.

“Our garage was scorched and the van parked next to it was a bit melted,” he said.

“But we have been very lucky – your heart goes out to the people who have lost their livelihoods.

“The garage has been here for years – it was owned by my nana’s brother during the war.”

Paul Smith, who owns Bowerham Butchers, just up the road from the scene, said thick smoke engulfed the road shortly after 4pm.

“We heard an explosion and I thought maybe it was from a car driving past,” he said.

“But then we saw a massive plume of white smoke coming up the road.

“We couldn’t see through it, it was that thick. This was followed by black smoke.

“It was a bit chaotic at first, until the fire engines came.”

Police closed Bowerham Road along the stretch between The Park Hotel and The Bowerham Hotel.

Intersecting roads were also off limits.

Residents living close to the scene were advised by police to either leave their houses or move to the rear rooms.

Many were not allowed back to their properties until 9pm.

“One said: “There was smoke everywhere. We were asked to leave our homes or to at least move out to the back away from the smoke.”