A martial arts club in Rochdale is “horrified” after arsonists set fire to their building while young children were inside, taking a class.
On Tuesday April 26, in the evening, Cobra Kai Ju Jitsu Club was running a class with more than 20 children present at St James’ Church Hall on Tower Street in Heywood, when parents began reporting the smell of smoke.
It turned out to be a fire coming from the ladies’ toilets in the church hall, which belongs to St James Church, situated opposite. The fire is thought to be an arson attack after the perpetrators allegedly climbed onto a window ledge outside before setting fire to the toilets from there.
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Sensei Julie Martin, from Heywood, who runs the club with her husband, Chief Sensei Dave and their daughter, coach Jade, told the MEN about the “terrifying” ordeal.
She said: “We started our classes at about 6pm and we had children in from the age of five, and mums with their babies in prams. And the parents kept coming to me and saying ‘we can smell smoke in the ladies toilets’. Nobody realized it was a fire until it had properly caught an hour later.
“We could smell the smoke, but we couldn’t see anything. So one of the dads went round the back to have a look and he said he couldn’t see anything. B ut what we didn’t realize at the time was that the insulation in the roof was alight, so there was this horrible smell coming.
“After the senior class ended, one of the senior students said ‘ the smell is absolutely awful and I can hear clicks and cracks. I am going to have a look, because it’s not right.’
“It was only my husband, Dave and two of the senior students left in the building. Dave went to investigate and when he went into the ladies’ toilets, the full window frame was alight and there was smoke all down the wall.
“I used a fire extinguisher to put it out, that’s how fierce the fire was. The smell, oh my God, the smell.
“I rang the fire brigade and the fire brigade said ‘you need to get out, this is toxic smoke.’ So we did.”
Fire crews arrived to tackle the fire and contacted the police, who classed the incident as Arson. Julie continued: “The police said it was Arson because there were young people who were hanging around the building who had set fire to it.
“The firemen said: ‘if you hadn’t have phoned us when you did, and Dave hadn’t have used the fire extinguisher, it all would have been gone.’ We would have lost the whole building. was just scary, terrifying to think what might have happened.”
Julie said the parents were “horrified” when they found out about the fire. The incident has raised concerns about anti-social behavior in the area.
The mum-of-three explained: “The parents have gone absolutely berserk. When we posted about the fire on Facebook, they were saying, ‘my children were in there- what if the building had gone up in flames?’
“There was a mum with her baby in the pram – it could have been fatal for the baby. I have been having nightmares, thinking, children only have little lungs. It’s absolutely terrible.
“Parents have said this is disgraceful and they want to find out who was responsible. We’ve had young people who have tried to enter the building before to cause trouble.
” The children inHeywood seems to be running quite wild. People have been saying 14-year-olds are stealing cars. It seems to be quite bad at the moment.”
The fire left a “horrible” mess in the building, and Dave even reported feeling unwell after extinguishing the fire.
“The mess was awful,” Julie described. “It was a lot to clean up afterwards. Breathing the smell in must have been horrible. My daughter said to Dave, ‘Dad, you stink.’
“He went to work a night shift afterwards and called me and said ‘my chest feels so tight’. He also had hot sweats and was feeling sick, but he’s doing fine now.”
Major repair work is needed in the toilets, as the fire burnt the window frame and shattered the glass, leaving rubble and charcoal all over the floors. A new loft insulation is needed and a cupboard on the bottom of the wall has been ruined.
Classes were able to resume a few days after the fire, but the ladies’ toilets are out of action for the time being.
Julie added: “The fire brigade switched off all the electrics because the fire had burned through on that side. So we can’t use the loos and we can’t have any lights on.
“Luckily, the hall lights are okay, so the parents have been taking their children to the disabled toilets, using their mobile phone torches on, which isn’t ideal.
“We want to get new toilets, cubicles and sinks. I suggested we should brick the window up, so that people can’t climb onto the ledge and enter the building from there.”
Now, a mum has started a GoFundMe page for the martial arts club, to help them pay for damage and rebuild the toilets. So far, £335 has been raised, in just three days.
To donate to the GoFundMe page, visit here.
Kind messages have also been pouring in for Julie and Dave, who have been running the Cobra Kai club since 1998.
Julie explained: “I wanted to set up a fundraising page and one of the mums offered to do it for us. The church hasn’t got any funds to pay for repairs.
“Unfortunately, insurance hasn’t covered everything. It’s a very popular church hall- it’s used forpartieschristians, bar mitzvahs, funerals, music classes, and a mum and toddler group.
“I’m so touched by all the donations and messages from people. One of the dads has offered to do the plumbing for free for us. We aren’t going to be closed down by some mindless morons who think it’s funny to do this. We are going to keep going.
“A lot of people have said ‘Dave and Julie do so much for the community.’We only charge £3.50 per hour andwe teach children self defense and to be respectful and kind.
” We want to give the kids something in their lives, so they are not hanging around on street corners.That’s why we started the club.”
A spokesperson for Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) said: “On Tuesday 26 April, at around 8:45pm, we were called to reports of a fire at a building on Tower Street, Heywood. The fire involved a bathroom and window area of the premises.
“Three fire engines from Heywood, Bury and Rochdale fire stations attended the incident. Firefighters used one hose reel to extinguish the fire, and carried out an inspection of the building to ensure no further spread. Crews were at the scene for around two hours.”
GMP added that they are investigating this incident and no arrests have been made.
If anyone has any information, they should contact GMP online or via quoting incident 3191 of 04/26/2022.
To donate to the GoFundMe page, visit here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/st-james-hall?utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet&utm_medium=chat&utm_source=whatsApp.
Follow Cobra Kai Ju Jitsu Club on Facebook.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.