“IT WAS a scene I can never forget,” recalled Pastor Andrew Cleverly remembering the fire that ripped through his beloved church a year a

And it was a night many in Newport will remember as the fire engulfed and reduced Bethel Community Church, in Stow Hill, Newport to ash and rubble.

As the flames lit up the sky above the 130-year-old Grade II listed church, 83 fire-fighters in 10 fire engines battled to stop the fire from spreading.

Residents were forced from their homes on nearby streets, and crowds gathered to gasp as debris fell from the burning roof.

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The fire started in the old Zanzibar nightclub next door to the church, with videos later emerging showing the interior strewn with waste and drug paraphernalia.

One at the scene that night, Joel McCormick from Baneswell called the fire a tragedy as he watched the building's facade collapse.

"I could smell it from about half a mile away," he added. "I just can't believe it."

Evacuated residents were taken to the nearby Newport Leisure Centre, passing huddles of exhausted firemen, taking a break from their back breaking work.

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Dean Shave, of Stow Hill, said he couldn't believe what he was seeing.

"It's just devastating," he added. "It's heartbreaking - they only restored it a few years ago."

Church member Linda Lewis told South Wales Argus reporters on the night that she was finding it hard to know what to pray for.

"All things happen for a reason," she said. "But sometimes it's hard to remember that."


The day after the fire, parishioners rallied together outside the still smoking remains of the church, and vowed to rebuild.

An outdoor service in the shadow of the ruins was attended by hundreds, and the city opened its heart with offers of money, supplies and places of worship. Many Argus readers sent in their memories of the church through the years.

Eventually, the church found a new temporary home at Havelock Street Presbyterian Church, and announced that architects Caroe & Partners had signed on to help restore the ruined building - with hopes high of saving the tower and the facade.

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He said: “I will never forget it,” said Bethel Community Church Pastor Cleverly, speaking a year on from the fire. “I was at home on that evening and I got a call.

“I was told that the building next door was on fire and had spread onto the roof of our church.

“By the time I got there it was well ablaze, and I thought then it would be difficult to control.”

All that remained the following day were the four main walls.

“Everything was destroyed,” said the 56-year-old.

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(Pastor Cleverley)

“The fire had caused the floors to collapse and nothing inside was salvaged.”

But Pastor Cleverley said that the congregation’s devastation has now been replaced with optimism because of “exciting future plans”. And by the end of this year the whole site will have been cleared, meaning refurbishment and re-building can commence.

“If we keep looking back it will keep upsetting us,” he said. “Our sadness has been replaced with excitement and the main thing is that we are looking forward.

“Now there is a sense of excitement.

“I am a little frustrated because I would have loved for it all to be finished now. But, in reality, that cannot be.”

He added: “We have appointed Caroe and Partners which has a long history of refurbishing old church buildings.

“The future looks very bright. The plans will make the new church a great asset to Newport.

“By the end of this year, I am told by our structural engineers, the whole site should be cleared.

“The main issue is that the building is basically land-locked so there are difficulties with getting vehicles near it.”

He also revealed that 2021 is the scheduled date for when the new church will reopen.

The pastor added: “I would like to thank everyone who has supported us and many thanks to Havelock Presbyterian Church for allowing us to use their church for our worship.

“I cannot go into all of the details, but the new church will be bigger and better than ever before.”