Community fundraiser to refurbish church hall toilets after arsonists set fire during children’s martial arts class

Date published: 13 May 2022

A martial arts club in Heywood has started a community fundraiser to replace the toilets in the church hall where they train after arsonists targeted the building during a children's class.

Cobra Kai Jiu Jitsu was running classes at St James’ Church Hall on 26 April when parents began reporting the smell of smoke. It was later discovered that evening to be a fire originating from the ladies’ toilets in the church hall.

Police have since confirmed the incident is being treated as arson.

Sensei Julie Martin, who runs the club with husband Chief Sensei Dave, said that parents reported being able to smell smoke during the junior class, but nothing was found.  

She said: “We had children in from the age of five, parents, a mother with a baby in a pram, elderly grandparents. It would have been a nightmare if we had to evacuate the building. The smoke was toxic and babies’ lungs are only small; it could have been fatal. So many people end up in hospital being treated for smoke inhalation. It just doesn’t bear thinking about what could have happened; it could have been horrendous.

“The parents kept coming in and saying that they could smell smoke in the ladies toilets. We could smell it but we couldn’t see anything. We looked in the toilets; we looked all over. One of the dads went round the back to have a look and he couldn’t see anything except some kids sat on the wall at the back, but they weren’t doing anything.”


The ladies' toilets in St James Church Hall have been ruined by the fire; Cobra Kai hopes to raise enough money to replace the block
The fire burnt the window frame, shattering the glass


After the senior class – which follows the juniors – ended, one of those students said they could hear a crackling and strange noises, and the smell of smoke had become even stronger than earlier.

It was only when Sensei Dave investigated that ladies’ toilets were found to be on fire, with the full window frame alight and smoke on the wall.

Julie said: “Dave used the full fire extinguisher to put it out. The full wall of the ladies’ was on fire because the fire had started in the insulation in the roof, which is why we could smell it, but not see it. Dave said it was still smouldering afterwards.

“I rang the fire brigade and they told us we needed to get out because the smoke was toxic due to the insulation. Dave’s chest was so tight afterwards and he felt sick.”

Julie says that one of the firefighters who was at the scene later told her the fire originated from “twisted pieces of paper that had been slotted in under the roof and set alight.”

“We were told if we’d left it even 20 minutes later, the building would have gone. We’re near to the Heywood Pub which was set on fire a few weeks ago, and if the fire had been left and no-one noticed, the church hall would have ended up like that,” she added.


The ladies' toilets in St James Church Hall have been ruined by the fire; Cobra Kai hopes to raise enough money to replace the block
Repair work is needed in the toilets to replace the window and loft insulation


“What sort of individuals would set fire to a building knowing that there are people inside? There was a mother with a young child in a pram, and students on the mat from the age of five. This fire could have been fatal if not spotted in time. The kids know we’re in there. We’ve been running for 24 years; there’s massive windows and you can see that we’re in there.

“I don't class this as children getting up to mischief. This was a malicious act. Something needs to be done about these gangs of youths roaming around doing things that may one day result in a tragedy for innocent people.”

Major repair work is needed in the toilets, as the fire burnt the window frame, shattering the glass, whilst new loft insulation is needed.

Classes resumed a few days after the fire, but the toilets are out of bounds. The fire service also switched off the electrics after damage was caused, meaning the lights can’t be used either.


The ladies' toilets in St James Church Hall have been ruined by the fire; Cobra Kai hopes to raise enough money to replace the block


“Insurance hasn’t covered everything, and the church doesn’t have any money for repairs,” Julie continued. “Insurance said they’ll pay for the roof and brick up the window so people can’t climb up onto the ledge and get in that way.

“It’s a very popular church hall used for parties, funerals, christenings, a mum and toddler group, wedding receptions, loads of community clubs. It would be a shame to lose it so we asked if the church minded us setting up a fundraiser to rebuild the toilets. Everyone benefits from having a nice loo!

“We’ve already had so many donations and kind comments; we’ve even had donations from Canada from a couple we met in Cuba who have shared it around. One of the dads who is a plumber has offered to do the plumbing free of charge for us.”


Cobra Kai Jiu-Jitsu was teaching a junior class when smoke was detected
Cobra Kai Jiu-Jitsu was teaching a junior class when smoke was detected


A spokesperson for Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service said: “Just before 9pm on 26 April, three fire engines from Heywood, Bury and Rochdale stations attended a fire at a building on Tower Street in Heywood.

“Crews used a hose reel, extension ladder and various other equipment to extinguish the fire. Firefighters were in attendance for around two hours.”

A Greater Manchester Police spokesperson confirmed enquiries are ongoing.

Donations can be made via GoFundMe.

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