Words by Tony Bugby and Gary Carter
A DEVASTATED business owner has revealed tens of thousands of pounds worth of work, which took more than 10 years to complete, went up in smoke in the Ray Mill fire.
Leon Patel could hardly believe his eyes when he woke up to find his property and products were gutted.
The owner of Global Grooves, who make large figures that are used at carnivals and street parades, is now speaking to insurers after the 110-year-old mill was destroyed by the huge blaze.
However, whatever happens none of the precious artefacts that he and a nationwide team of artists helped create will be recovered.
Mr Patel, who grew up in Mossley but now lives in the Whalley Range area of Manchester, said: “I woke up on the Sunday morning and went on to Twitter and saw a Tweet from Jonathan Reynolds MP who said he was really sorry to hear about all the businesses that had been affected.
“It was only then that I realised, ‘Hang on, that’s where all our stuff was.’
“I can’t get to the building as it’s structurally unsafe but I’m told and it’s pretty clear that nothing whatsoever survived.
“We had all of our stock in there, stock that goes out to events throughout the year to things like street carnivals and parades and things that are made by artists from all over the world. We even had artists from places like Trinidad and Tobago.
“There are also people all over this country who had contributed to that work, then there’s a volunteer team as well – people who had put blood, sweat and tears into those puppets.
“Now they can’t ever be replaced. These were one-off creations that are never going to be seen again.
“It’s probably more shock than anything else. It’s a bit of a nightmare to even work out what the next step is.”
Mr Patel hopes to raise £20,000 to get back up and running after revealing Global Grooves had not had a unit at Ray Mill for very long before the fire.
The 38-year-old, who also has a workshop at The Vale in Mossley, added: “We only recently took a floor of the mill and we had everything in there.
“We were getting everything prepared for the summer season and making sure all of our puppets were ready to go.
“But now everything has been destroyed. Some of those puppets cost in the region of £10,000 to make.
“Twelve or 13 years’ worth of work has just gone like that. I feel most sorry for all the artists who have invested so much of their time and money into them.”
Ray Mill was also the home to dance troupe TCA Tycoons, which only moved into the mill last September after a costly process of transforming a unit into a studio.
They have been offered temporary bases at their former home at Silver Springs Academy and All Saints Catholic College.
“It has been all hands on deck and we have not sat about moping and found other places to train,” explained head dance coach Vanessa Murphy-Wood.
Vanessa estimated £20,000 worth of equipment, including sound systems, computers and printers, have been lost, but added a GoFundMe page has already raised more than £4,000.
News about the blaze was bitter-sweet as TCA Tycoons were competing in Nottingham at the time.
Vanessa explained: “We won which qualified us to compete in the world championships in Florida next year.
“The competition didn’t end until midnight and we got back to the hotel and opened a bottle of prosecco to celebrate.
“Within five minutes I received a Facebook message saying Ray Mill was on fire. It was awful as it was only about an hour after finding out we had qualified for Florida. It went from one extreme emotion to another.”
Ray Mill will now be demolished over the next month and road closures in the area are likely to remain in place.
Although most of the fire was extinguished within two days, the root of the fire was deeply embedded in layers of rubble so it could only be fully extinguished as demolition work took place.
Smoke continued to billow over Stalybridge town centre for days after the incident.
The site is being treated as a potential crime scene and police and fire officers are investigating as they gained safe access to the building.
People living nearby were told to stay indoors and close all doors and windows as the fire raged and Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service kept that advice in place.
Road closures on Clarence Street, Tame Street and on some surrounding roads stayed in place until further notice.
A Tameside Council spokesman said: “We wish to extend our thanks to those who worked extremely hard in very challenging conditions to bring the fire under control and to ensure the safety of the public, particularly Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service.
“We also want to recognise the efforts of those who have worked throughout the night to ensure that 80 bus vehicles could be removed from nearby transport depot to ensure that disruption to public transport is minimised.
“As the council’s main operational depot is next to the seriously damaged building, we will make all possible efforts to ensure that key services such as gritting and waste collection continue and to minimise disruption, this will be dependent on building surveys and safety considerations.”
Global Grooves have set up an internet page where people can donate. You can visit it online: https://secure.thebiggive.org.uk/projects/view/29262
TCA Tycoons has also a fundraising page that can contributed to online: gofundme.com/help-tca-rise-from-the-ashes