A year on from a devastating arson attack that gutted a beloved church, its vicar has vowed it will "be better than ever" as the ball gets rolling for plans to rebuild.
The whole community was left stunned when the 153-year-old All Saints Church in Fleet was set alight on June 22 last year.
“It was a terrible event which caused great shock and sadness for the whole community of Fleet,” said the Rev Mark Hayton, vicar of Fleet.
“All Saints was one of the few older buildings in Fleet, and considered by many to be the most beautiful.
“For the church community in the Parish of Fleet it has been an extraordinary year.
“There have been some times of real sadness and despair, but also there has been great joy at how wonderfully well people in our community have responded – offering help, raising money, and supporting us in all sorts of ways.
“The last year has been spent clearing the debris, making the church safe for people to work in, securing the church and the monuments inside, meeting with all sorts of experts and interested parties, and making plans for the rebuilding of our church.
“We held a wide reaching consultation with our local community about how the church should be rebuilt in order to honour the heritage of our church whilst restoring it in such a way that it can be a building for our whole community for the century and beyond.”
A new ‘tin hat’ and scaffolding was erected around the church in April to protect the fabric of the church until the rebuilding is complete.
Mr Hayton said church officials are now talking with architects and making plans for the rebuilding to begin.
“None of us anticipated just how complicated this whole process would be, or how long it would take,” he added.
“We want our church back as soon as possible, but we are more concerned about doing it right than doing it quickly.
“We are hugely grateful to all those who have supported us along the way – the police and fire service, the media, the local authority, our insurers, architects, salvage teams, scaffolding erectors, stone masons, the diocesan authorities, our local schools, and so many in our community who have run, cooked, sewed, danced, played bridge, sold cards, and raised money by all sorts of other imaginative means to support our cause.
“The whole community are determined that the church will not only be rebuilt, but will be better than ever.”
Daniel Finnerty, 17, of Fleet, admitted spraying a cross on the wall near the altar with deodorant and setting it alight on June 22 last year. He was jailed for four years in November last year.
Mr Hayton said: “As many will know, a young man is serving a sentence in a young offenders unit for having caused the fire.
“We are sad about his situation but comforted that justice is taking its course.
“We hold no malice against him, and we pray constantly for him and his family. We pray that they will get all the support they need, and be able to get on with their lives in a more positive light once justice has been served.”
Worshippers gathered at the Parish Community Centre next to the church on Sunday (June 19) to remember the events of a year ago, give thanks to God for the blessings of the last year, and dedicate themselves anew to his service.
“All Saints Church is still here,” said Mr Hayton. “We are the people who worship together in our church hall week by week.
“We have carried on our life of service to God and our community and met all our commitments over the past year.
“We are people who proclaim resurrection, and look forward to seeing All Saints Church arise from the ashes in the not too distant future.”
More than £58,000 has been donated to the All Saints rebuilding fund.