In the wake of the destructive fire at the Royal Clarence Hotel, and several other recent fires in the city, Exeposé have spoken to the business owners whose lives have been disrupted.
The community has pulled together to ensure businesses reopen for the overall benefit of the city centre. There has been an abundance of praise for the efficiency of the emergency services, alongside aid from the council and support from local businesses during times of crisis.
Firstly, the electrical shop Richer Sounds (adjacent to Exeter hall of residence James Owen Court) was severely damaged during August and was forced to close for three weeks.
Seven days before Freshers’ Week, popular music venue Cavern was forced to close down due to extensive fire damage, with owners estimating it will reopen in February 2017, if all goes to plan.
On 8 October, Exe Coffee Roasters experienced a temporary closure of one week after a fire outbreak from a pizza oven in the building’s basement.
The most recent and most destructive has been the absolute ruination of the Royal Clarence Hotel, affecting surrounding businesses in the Cathedral Yard and beyond.
Since the destruction of the Royal Clarence Hotel, Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue services have said they were “overwhelmed” by messages of support, thanking residents and business owners for their support. The Fire and Rescue service acknowledged the inconvenience caused by road closures – particularly for the businesses which have been closed – and said that the public have been very patient and helpful during this time of crisis, noting that all these procedures are put in place to protect public safety.
The firefighting crews, working around the clock to bring the fi re under control, said they were overwhelmed by messages of support, offers of assistance, and free food and drink.
Mark Healey, Chair of the Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue authority, said: “The support of the public has been amazing. I visited the scene with the chief fire officer and we spoke with a number of local business owners to say thank you for their support to our crews.
“In difficult times, communities come together and the events of the last few days has seen this happen on a large scale. Despite the loss of a number of buildings, it could have been so much worse. I’m just so pleased no one has been injured.”
Mark Healey, Chair of the Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue authority
At the height of the incident, 150 firefighters were at the scene to prevent the fire spreading to other historic buildings. Emergency services reported that the firefighters were exhausted from battling the fire, which started at 5am.
In a press release, Exeter City Council informed Exeposé that the “recovery phase”, following the emergency response phase, has begun; Cathedral Yard has now been re-opened. Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue have formally handed the Royal Clarence Hotel back to their owners and contractors.
Andrew Brownsword, owner of the Royal Clarence, has said he is incredibly pleased with the emergency services’ response, and the support from the local community amidst the tragedy…
In a statement, Brownsword said: “I would like to thank the city of Exeter and the many, many people who have helped us since the events of Friday. We are so grateful for the incredible efforts of the emergency services, especially the fire service who attended in huge numbers to assist in the effort to save The Royal Clarence and surrounding buildings.
“We’d also like to extend our thanks especially to the Council and to The Mercure Southgate Hotel, who offered every assistance to help both our staff and guests including refuge and temporary office space.”
Strategic demolition of sections of the hotel will now take place once comprehensive risk assessments have been carried out by contactors, to avoid further damage and ensure public safety. A spokesperson for Exeter City Council said: “This is a much loved and extremely valuable historical building.
“We have been working at a pace to get the city centre back up and running as much as we can. We now need to give the contractors, hired by the Royal Clarence Hotel owners, enough time to take every precaution considering the next steps for the building.
“It is an extremely complex operation but we are confident that everything will be done to salvage what can be protected. Safety remains the primary focus.”
Exeter City Council has been working with over 200 businesses along with a host of partners since Friday’s fire, to get them open again.
The Council promises that the cordon around the fire has shrunk at every stage possible, and will be constantly monitored should safety allow for a reduction. Such a disastrous event has prompted the Cavern owners to reflect on the community support they encountered when they experienced a similar event in early September.
On the night of 7 September, Cavern caught fire due to an accidental electrical fault starting in the basement, which took firefighters several hours to tackle. Crews – requested from further afield, as far as Crediton – continued to fight the fire until 2:08am.
There were fortunately no injuries caused by the fire as the venue was not open that evening.
David, co-owner of Cavern, told Exeposé that he “arrived at the Cavern at the same time as the emergency services, when smoke was already pouring out of the street-level ventilation.”
The electrical fault, where the fire began, was in complete darkness in an underground cellar which David recollected was “a fireman’s worst nightmare”.
David said “I started to sketch out a plan of the building, but luckily one of the firefighters was a regular at the Friday night event ‘Magic Hatstand’ and knew where everything was! He helped them put out the blaze in a relatively short time, otherwise the whole building would have turned into an inferno.”
The Cavern initially thought that the damage was so severe that they might never re-open. The owners reflected: “We’d just completed our programme for Freshers’ Week, so it would have been the busiest time of year for us – the worst time to have this happen.”
Satisfied with the emergency services response time, David also added that he was gratified by the level of local support. The first person to phone David was George Sloane, owner of Timepiece, who had experienced a similar situation when The Hole in the Wall caught fire. George told Dave: “Anything you need from us – anything – it’s yours.”
Furthermore, the Phoenix and the Lemmy have given venue space to Cavern, hosting their shows during the refurbishment process. Cavern has plans to reopen in February 2017, in time for its 26th birthday.
Reflecting on the fire at the Royal Clarence Hotel, David said “The Cavern is basically run by a group of friends, so the disruption caused by the fire has affected us on a personal as well as fi nancial level.
“What has happened in the Cathedral Yard is our situation times a thousand, so our hearts go out to all the people who’ve been affected. It will have a devastating affect on the businesses in that area.”
David, owner of the Cavern
Owner of Exe Coffee Roasters, Steve Pearson, informed Exeposé that support he received after his shop was damaged by fire was primarily through local family and friends, not from the council.
Steve has said that the quick turn around for reopening happened solely from his own hard work, and friends and family contribution. He said: “Before the council could react and help us, we had done it all ourselves.
“I would like to thank friends and family who collectively contributed 240 hours of their time and with lots of cleaning and repainting, the shop was only closed for 1 week.”
Steve Pearson, Owner of Exe Coffee Roasters
Furthermore, he was disappointed at Exeter Express & Echo’s exaggerated depiction of the fire, which implied that the shop was practically beyond repair. Steve added: “They exaggerated the situation to sell the papers”.
However, the local roaster Crankhouse did offer to roast their coffee during closure, so that there would be no disruption to the supply and demand at Devon Coffee.
Since the fires, Cavern owners are currently hard at work for the venue’s reopening; Exe Coffee is bustling with business, and the Cathedral Yard will be restored slowly but surely.