WHEN a devastating fire and heartless burglars struck at a Prestwich church just days before Christmas last year the congregation had to put all festive celebrations on hold.

Arsonists smashed their way into Heaton Park Methodist Church under the cover of night and made off with a stash of valuable items, before the destructive blaze took hold.

However, a year to the day and the congregation was back at the historic church, which has been restored to its former glory, and celebrating as they should have been able to 12 months ago.

Reverend Jez Hackett, the church’s minister, said: “It’s a great feeling to be back and to have everything returned to normal and to be able to celebrate Christmas as we had planned to do last year.

“It makes everything that little bit more special being able to celebrate in you own church.”

Christmas 2018 was turned upside down for the church when fire crews and police were called to reports of a fire and break-in at the historic Bury Old Road building at 8pm on December 22.

It is believed that the burglars had been searching for valuable items to take when the fire started by unconfirmed means. They then fled the scene, stealing a laptop and projector.

The blaze principally affected a prayer room, adjoined to the church’s altar, although there was also smoke damage, including to the chancel.

It is suspected that the fire was a deliberate act of arson.

Following the incident, the congregation was forced to move and relocate its homeless shelter while costly repairs were carried out.

All services were cancelled at the church during the Christmas period and first few months of this year, and worshippers temporarily merged with nearby Prestwich Methodist Church.

Thanks to a heroic community effort extensive repairs were carried out and the church fully reopened in April.

During Advent and the build up to Christmas the church has had a busy schedule with services, carol singing, gift giving and spreading the Christmas message on the doorstep; and it is also looking forward to 2020.

Rev Hackett said: “In some ways it feels like we have never been away and we are looking to hopefully reach out and become a real community church.

“I would like to thank the community around us once again for being so brilliant.”