Sheffield's homeless have 'nowhere left to go' following arson attack on Cathedral

A “soul-destroying” arson attack on a Sheffield charity which supports the homeless has left some of the most vulnerable people in the city with nowhere left to go for support.

By Steve Jones
Friday, 15th May 2020, 3:30 pm
Updated Friday, 15th May 2020, 4:23 pm

Sheffield Cathedral’s Domino Hall, which is situated at the Campo Lane entrance to the church, was targeted in an arson attack which has left the multi-purpose room devastated and several other parts of the city’s oldest building – including the 900-year-old nave – smoke damaged.

Peter Bradley, the Dean at Sheffield Cathedral said the Grade I listed building’s nave is “vulnerable” to any damage due to its age.

He said: “Smoke travelled through the Archer Project offices and community centre and our meeting room and the coffee shop, then it got into the nave – the main part of the cathedral.

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Some of the damage in the Domino Hall.

“The fire was contained to the area where a lot of the Archer Project work takes place but the water used to extinguish the fire has caused more problems to our electric systems and there has been considerable damage in the community centre used by the Archer Project for the homeless.”

Dozens of donated shoes and clothing items inside the Domino Hall have been completely ruined during the attack around 6pm on Thursday.

The ceiling was also damaged considerably, with fixings hanging loose and scattered across the floor.

And there are fears the eighteenth century regiment standards in the nave have been smoke damaged, as well as the ceiling.

Fire at Sheffield Cathedral. Picture: Chris Etchells

Reverend Bradley said the standards are “precious for the history of the city and the region.”

A staff member described the damage as “soul-destroying”.

The Cathedral Archer Project has been running for 28 years after it was started by the church congregation.

Its services range from providing food, showers and clothing for homeless people through to helping them into accommodation and employment.

Some fittings had fallen from the ceiling in the Domino Hall.

The charity’s chief executive Tim Renshaw said it normally helps around 90 people every day.

He said the damage was a “body blow” which has left around 25 people in the city who are still homeless and in need of support with nowhere to go.

Before the fire Domino Hall was being used to prepare food for those who have been taken off the streets and placed into accommodation because of coronavirus. It is normally used as somewhere to “look at how people can stabilise and rebuild their life,” Mr Renshaw said.

He added: “Immediately it means there’s no service today (15 May) for this group of people, who at this moment in time have very little.

The Reverend Canon Keith Farrow where the break in happened. Picture: Chris Etchells.

“That will be the same over the weekend. We hope to open again by Tuesday.”

All the Archer Project was able to provide this morning was some packed lunches and bottles of water because of damage to the kitchen and the building’s electric supplies.

“To lose a big chunk of the centre is a massive blow,” Mr Renshaw admitted.

“Covid and arson together – that’s the biggest challenge we have faced.”

Work is now underway to “reorganise”, he said, so the charity’s 14 staff and 50 volunteers can still provide support while the building is repaired.

The cost of the damage is not yet known and staff refused to be drawn on the identity of the culprit or any motive.

Fire at Sheffield Cathedral. Pictured is The Reverend Canon Keith Farrow where the break in happened. Picture: Chris Etchells

A 40-year-old woman from Sheffield was arrested on suspicion of arson and burglary near to the scene after police arrived at around 6.30pm on Thursday.

Mr Renshaw said the only items taken were some boxes of food.

Reverend Bradley said the Cathedral had received “tens of thousands” of messages of support since the news broke.

He said: “There’s no doubt this is very distressing during any time. But during this time when we are all working through such anxieties, the Cathedral and the work of the Archer Project expressed something much bigger than the building. We hope we will get through all of this.

“The Cathedral has remained here through the Reformation, the Commonwealth, the Plague, and the Blitz and it holds a lot of the history of the city.”

An emotional Reverend Bradley added: “I find the goodwill and messages of support very moving and such a sign of some of the values we have in the city to support each other.

“If that’s how we are then we are going to get through coronavirus as well.”

Fire at Sheffield Cathedral. Picture: Chris Etchells