Horror when arsonists set fire to a building, as children’s class is held inside

A martial arts club in Rochdale is “horrified” after arsonists set their building on fire while young children were inside taking a class.

On Tuesday evening, April 26, the Cobra Kai Ju Jitsu Club was holding a class with over 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’s Church opposite. The fire is believed to have been arson after the perpetrators allegedly climbed onto an outside window sill before setting the toilets on fire from there.

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Sensei Julie Martin, from Heywood, who runs the club with her husband, Head Sensei Dave and their daughter, Coach Jade, told MEN about the ordeal.

She said: “We started our classes around 6pm and we had children from the age of five and mothers with their babies in strollers. And parents kept coming up to me and saying ‘we can smell smoke in the ladies’ restrooms’. No one realized it was a fire until it had been properly lit an hour later.

The ladies’ toilets were damaged in an arson attack at St James Church Hall in Heywood while a martial arts class was in progress.

“We could smell the smoke, but we couldn’t see anything. So one of the parents went around the back to take a look and said he couldn’t see anything. B But what we didn’t realize at the time was that the insulation in the ceiling was on, so this horrible smell was coming.

“After senior class was over, one of the seniors said, ‘ the smell is absolutely horrible and i can hear clicking and cracking. I’m going to take a look, because it’s not right.

“Only my husband, Dave, and two of the seniors were left in the building. Dave went to investigate and when he entered the ladies’ restroom the entire window frame was on fire and there was smoke all over the wall.

“He used a fire extinguisher to put it out, that’s how fierce the fire was. The smell, oh my God, the smell.

Photo of Chief Sensei Dave Martin giving a class
Chief Sensei Dave Martin giving a class

“I called the fire brigade and the fire brigade said ‘you have to get out, this is toxic smoke.’ That’s how we did it.”

Fire crews arrived to douse the fire and contacted police, who classified the incident as arson. Julie continued: “The police said it was arson because there were young people hanging around the building and they had set it on fire.

“The firefighters said, ‘If you hadn’t called us when you did, and Dave hadn’t used the fire extinguisher, it would all be gone.’ We would have lost the entire building. It was scary, scary to think about what could have happened.”

A shot of the hall of St James's Church on Tower Street in Heywood
Hall of St James’s Church on Tower Street in Heywood

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 mother-of-three explained: “Parents have gone absolutely crazy. When we posted about the fire on Facebook, they were like, ‘My kids were there, what if the building had burned down?’

“There was a mother with her baby in the pram, it could have been fatal for the baby. I’ve had nightmares, thinking that children only have small lungs. It’s absolutely terrible.”

A photo of students from Cobra Kai Ju Jitsu Club Rochdale
Cobra Kai Ju Jitsu Club Rochdale teaches children and adults

“Parents have said this is disgraceful and they want to find out who was responsible. We have had youth try to enter the building before to cause trouble.

the children inHeywood seems to be running pretty wild. People have been saying that 14 year olds are stealing cars. He seems to be in pretty bad shape right now.”

The fire left a “horrible” mess in the building, with Dave even reporting feeling sick after putting out the fire.

A photo of the debris and fire damage inside the restrooms in the church hall.
Debris and fire damage inside restrooms in church hall

“The mess was horrible,” Julie described. “It was a lot of cleaning up afterwards. Breathing in the smell must have been horrible. My daughter told Dave, ‘Dad, you stink.’

“He went to work the night shift afterwards, called me and said ‘my chest feels really tight.’ He was also breaking out in hot sweats and feeling sick, but he’s fine now.”

Major repair work is needed in the restrooms as the fire burned through the window frame and shattered the glass, leaving debris and carbon all over the floor. New insulation is needed in the attic and a closet in the bottom of the wall has been ruined.

A photo of Chief Sensei Dave Martin giving a class
Chief Sensei Dave Martin giving a class

Classes were able to resume a few days after the fire, but the women’s restrooms are currently out of service.

Julie added: “The fire brigade turned off all the electricity because the fire had burned out on that side. So we can’t use the toilets and we can’t have any lights on.”

“Fortunately, the hallway lights are fine, so parents have been taking their children to the disabled toilets, using their mobile phone flashlights, which is not ideal.

“We want to have new toilets, cubicles and sinks. I suggested we should brick up the window, so people can’t climb onto the ledge and enter the building from there.”

A photo of damage to the ceiling and a window in the women's toilets at St James Church Hall, after an arson attack
A photo of damage to the ceiling and a window in the women’s toilets at St James Church Hall, after an arson attack

Now, a mother has set up a GoFundMe page for the martial arts club, to help them pay for the damage and rebuild the bathrooms. So far £335 has been raised, in just three days.

To donate to the GoFundMe page, visit here.

Kind messages have also come in for Julie and Dave, who have run the Cobra Kai club since 1998.

Julie explained: “I wanted to create a fundraising page and one of the mothers offered to do it for us. The church does not have the funds to pay for the repairs.

“Unfortunately, the insurance has not covered everything. It is a very popular church hall, it is used forparties,baptisms, bar mitzvahs, funerals, music classes and a group of moms and toddlers.

A photo of St James's Church on Tower Street in Heywood
St James Church on Tower Street in Heywood

“I am very touched by all the donations and messages from people. One of the dads offered to do the plumbing for us for free.” we are not it’s going to be shut down by some mindless assholes who think it’s funny to do this. Let’s move on.

“A lot of people have said ‘Dave and Julie do a lot 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 children something in their lives, so that they are not left in the corners.That’s why we started the club.”

A photo of students from Cobra Kai Ju Jitsu Club- Rochdale Dojo
Cobra Kai Ju Jitsu Club- Rochdale Dojo has been in operation since 1998

A spokesman for the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) said: “On Tuesday 26th April at around 8.45pm we were called to report a building fire in 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 a hose reel to extinguish the fire and conducted an inspection of the building to make sure it didn’t spread any further. The teams were on site for about 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 by citing 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.

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