River Cottage blaze a warning to others

Fire chiefs say businesses should ensure they have an up-to-date risk assessment

Fire chiefs say the blaze which ripped through Hugh Fearnley Whttingstall’s River Cottage HQ at Axminster should serve as a warning to other businesses.

Officials at Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service are reminding companies that similar incidents can happen to anyone at any time.

Luckily no one was hurt in the fire, which severely damaged the cooking school at Park Farm earlier this year.

But a spokesman said: “It emphasises the importance for every business to have an up to date fire risk assessment like River Cottage. Completing a fire risk assessment is easy and only takes the investment of time.

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Supporting the call, River Cottage’s operations manager, Simon Dodd, revealed how they dealt with the aftershock of the devastating effects of the fire.

He explained: “For the first half day of the day after the fire we were all stunned, it was like being in limbo, but as the day progressed that feeling quickly vanished as we started to make plans.

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“One of the key triggers was that Rob Love our MD was around at the time and he was very firm in his conviction that the damage wasn’t a big problem and we would just sort it. His attitude gave us all a lot of strength and courage to keep going.

“We have a very strong, dynamic team and I know it sounds like a clich� but you don’t know what you’re capable of until your put in a situation. We all just got on with what needed to be done.

“By the afternoon, after the fire we had contacted friends who are involved with putting up pop up hotels. They just seemed the obvious people to speak to and they put us in touch with the people who built the new event and cooking school.

“Within 48 hours we had the new design and agreement in place to begin building, then in just 19 days we were open!

“We will go back to the original barn as it will be rebuilt within the year. But we feel what has happened is a real success story on many levels, to turn something so shocking to something quite wonderful. We are a stronger team now more than ever. It’s a new era for River Cottage and I feel it has been a real privilege to work here and be involved in this.

“We really appreciated the hard work of the fire service and the amount of support we received from all out river cottage fans, people were turning up at our gates with cakes which were very gratefully received.”

Mike Burroughs, fire investigation officer said: “A fire safety assessment is vital to every business and without it you are more likely to have a fire and less likely to recover from one, it is also a legal requirement when you employ five or more people. Making any necessary improvements could save the lives of your employees, customers or family members and ensure that your business stays open.”

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