Locals hold Big Lunch at Wythenshawe Hall following ‘devastating’ arson attack

A Wythenshawe community group spent the day celebrating the Queen’s 90th birthday yesterday, despite arsonists burning down their historic 16th century hall.

The Friends of Wythenshawe Hall, who have set up a fundraising page to raise £250,000 for the grade II listed building’s renovation, opened up the hall for the first time since the devastating attack on March 15.

They joined hundreds of communities as they took part in The Big Lunch – the UK’s annual get-together for neighbours – to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s official birthday. 

Vice Chairman of the group, Paul Selby, said that today was all about bringing the community back into their beloved hall and told MM that the community have been very supportive.

“This is an iconic building within Wythenshawe and people’s love for it is so great – and that’s been demonstrated as the fire took hold, and as we’ve tried to continue as a friends group and do activities,” Paul told MM.

“It’s fantastic to be celebrating The Big Lunch and the Queen’s birthday obviously, and returning back to the building that we love so much.”

Recent research conducted by The Big Lunch – an Eden Project made possible by the Big Lottery Fund – showed that on average, a third of people in the UK can go a whole week without eating a meal with someone else and almost 70% have never shared a meal with their neighbours.

Paul said that the initiative has made such a difference to his community and this year marks his eighth annual Big Lunch day since it began in 2009 – although he has held more than one each year.

“Today our lives are so busy that we just don’t have time to communicate with one another and sometimes a simple ‘good morning, have a great day’ can make a massive difference to someone’s day,” said Paul.

“You don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors.”

Brooklands Ward Councillor Glynn Evans said any event like a Big Lunch at the hall is a great chance for friends and families to get together and enjoy the park and the building.

“It’s special, it’s been part of Wythenshawe’s heritage for over 600 years,” Glynn told MM.

“The civil war enactment took place here, it survived that – it survived the First World War, the Second World War.

“It’s a grade II listed building – it’s just a fabulous building and it’s been part of our heritage for so long that’s why people have taken it to their hearts.

“We’re all about communities here in Manchester, all about using our assets as much as we can – so having a Big Lunch here, your friends and families can come to enjoy the park and also the hall.”

Glynn also said the council are going to try and recruit local apprentices to get involved with the restorative process to make them a part of the local history and develop their skills.

“We’ll bring back the hall to its ideal best,” he said.

“It’s been here for 600 years and we want to leave it here for another 600 years for generations of people to come in here and enjoy it.”

But he admits it will be a long process.

ARSON: Current condition of 16th century ​Wythenshawe Hall

Paul said the fundraising page the group have set up is going ‘steady’, and they’ve so far made £4500 through online donations alone.

It will take at least a year for the building to properly dry out, however, and then another year for the restoration to take place.

Two sisters, Siobhan O’Connor and Anne-Marie Seymour, were helping out with the fundraising yesterday and said they remember using the hall when they were teenagers. 

Siobhan said they were so happy to be back there for the first time after the ‘devastating fire took place’.

She agreed with Paul’s remarks and said the support of the community was invaluable.

“What we found when the fire took place was that the community was behind us 100% because everybody in Wythenshawe, they all feel like they’re a part of Wythenshawe Hall,” she told MM.

“So they were really helpful and they wanted to support us. 

“We’re going to continue with our open days each month to keep the profile of the friends group high in everybody’s minds with the full support of the community which is fantastic.”

Everybody extended their praise to the firefighters who tackled the blaze and Bjorn Burdsall, Station Manager of Wythenshawe Community Fire Station, said they were pleased to support the public at the reopening of the hall.

Related Articles