Across Northern Ireland 20 brides’ lives have been plunged into chaos as their dresses were caught in the Cathedral Buildings fire in Belfast city centre last Monday.
They are among dozens of pieces of precious clothing belonging to the customers of Perfect Fit, a dressmaking company based on the ground floor.
Seamstress Hazel Alderdice, owner of Perfect Fit, is not just dealing with the stress of losing her business and the customers it has affected; she’s also eight months pregnant.
She said: “I’ve been growing this business for 15 years. I’ve lost everything that I’ve accumulated over that time – years of making patterns , buying technical pattern books, buying specialist machinery, mannequins, fabric, thread – every little tool in a dressmaker’s arsenal.
“Yesterday I had to go out and buy myself a needle and thread. I was completely broken.
“But the worst thing? 20 brides have lost their wedding dresses. Possibly the most significant piece of clothing they will own in their lifetime, chosen with the greatest of care, now gone.
“Their weddings are fast approaching and their options are running out. My heart bleeds for all of them.”
Throughout the building 14 businesses and organisations including culture, arts and voluntary spaces watched on Monday October 3 as over 50 firefighters tried to bring the blaze under control.
Around 40 people who worked in the building have been left displaced and concerned about the future.
Chiho Tang, lead creative at Oranga, a graphic design agency in the building said: “Waking up to the news on Monday was an absolute shock.
“Not only do I have the majority of nearly a decade of my portfolio in that building but all our tech equipment was very recently replaced with very high spec machines.
“My staff are devastated by this.
“I had hoped to attempt a recovery of our server as we have client work on it spanning the last 9/10 years.
“We have had to spend the last week redrawing artwork for clients.
“It’s all so surreal. We’ve been there five years and worked hard on creating a great space to work in and welcome clients to. Really difficult to take in to be honest.”
Media and marketing company Excalibur Press were also among the affected businesses. They employ eight staff and had four offices, one of which was a newly set up photography and videography studio.
Owner Tina Calder said: “I can’t even begin to articulate how I feel. Although it’s no comfort saying it, many of the tangible assets will be able to be replaced in time.
“However, what I cannot replace is 27 years of journalism and media history. I’ve hard copy clippings of every single story I’ve ever written, every publication I worked on and edited. Literally everything I have achieved in my career is evidenced in that building.
“I have gone from crying inconsolably to trying to be practical and working on our rebuild all week. But it’s exhausting. Emotions are high, everyone has lost so much.
“I keep thinking of silly little things like our little mascot Sir Lancelot the purple dragon we would take to events and stuff. I went to replace him the other day as a sign of us rebuilding only to find out he’s a collectors item worth hundreds of pounds.
“My staff are devastated. We lost a huge amount of technical equipment. 14 MACs, camera and studio equipment, radio equipment and more.
“Our offices were also home to Merlin Arts CIC, NI Festival of Writing, BAM magazine and Belfast 247 radio station. Everything of theirs is gone too.
“Despite being able to see our things seemingly untouched by fire through windows we have been told we’re not going to be given access to the building to conduct a salvage operation. It is gut wrenching.”
Many people in the building watched on Monday as their studios and offices were completely eviscerated by the fire.
Paul Kelly, design director at Form Native, a brand and digital design studio, was one of those people. He arrived to work as normal on Monday to find his studio engulfed in flames with eight fire trucks at the scene.
Paul said: “The fire at Cathedral Buildings has profoundly impacted my business. Design is all about communication, bringing different things together to create something new, exciting, compelling.
“That’s what we had in Cathedral Buildings, a mixture of people, experiences, skills and attitudes that make working in the city rewarding.
“My studio held the physical library and archive of twenty years’ practice – the irreplaceable things that nourish your creativity and give you a working home. Like so many others we are heartbroken to lose that. Now we want to work hard not to lose our community as well.
“I am deeply grateful that no lives were lost and now aware that we want space where we are not just surviving but able to thrive again.
“I want this to be another opportunity for us collectively to think about what a city is and who it is for – liveable and alive for everyone.”
One thing tenants will mourn is not just their possessions and life’s work. Many of them are heartbroken at the loss of their community.
Declan Murphy, accountant and musician who was based on the first floor said: “I have lost equipment and some sentimental items in the fire but the greatest loss is losing the presence in the Cathedral Quarter.
“An exciting and vibrant part of the city and a building that contained a friendly and eclectic mix of people and businesses.
“The strength of character of tenants is evident in our resolve to bounce back, hopefully finding space in the immediate area of the Cathedral Quarter.”
A crowdfunding campaign has now been set up to support each of the tenants in the building who all have differing needs but who are committed to working together to develop a new hub of creativity within the heart of arts and culture in the Cathedral Quarter.
For more information on how you can support the tenants of the Cathedral Buildings fire go to >> https://igg.me/at/cqcollective
Businesses and creatives impacted by the fire are:
Luke Godson & Tim Farrell (Landmark design)
Paul Kelly (Form Native)
Chiho Tang (Oranga Creative)
Declan Murphy (Accountant & Musician)
Christine Boyles (Hair Friendly)
Gareth Young & Ritchie Stokes (Never Never)
Tina Calder (Excalibur Press)
Hazel Alderdice (Perfect Fit)
Ryan & Oisin (Neighbourhood Cafe)
Fimmaker Nicky Larkin
Black Mountain Zen
Aidan Mulholland Violins
Digital Arts Studios