Arsonists leave autistic music group devastated as recording studio gutted by smoke and fire
Arsonists leave autistic music group devastated as recording studio gutted by smoke and fire

This  is the scene of devastation autistic musicians were met with when they turned-up for rehearsals.

Arsonists are believed to have targeted the hall used as a recording studio and performance space by Aukestra, a non-profit organisation that gives vulnerable adults the opportunity to play in a band.

Police are today hunting the reckless firestarters, who left  trail of destruction after they struck at the hall, in Birtley , Gateshead.

And today Jak Dixon, who set-up Aukestra to give adults with autism the chance to perform and record their own music, has told of his disgust that anyone would target his premises.

The 43-year-old said: “It’s absolutely devastating to be honest. I don’t know if they realsied what the premises is used for or if it’s just been arson.

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“There’s a chance the whole place could have gone up in smoke.”

Aukestra staff discovered their base, at the Mary Sanders Memorial Hall on Durham Road, had been targeted when they turned-up for work on Tuesday morning.

After opening the door they found the newly refurbished rehearsal space and recording studio gutted by fire and smoke, and around £30,000 worth of music equipment was buried beneath a pile of soot and rubble.

Not long after some of the group’s clients, who are all vulnerable adults with autism or learning difficulties arrived for their rehearsals.

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But the musicians, many of which rely on Aukestra for friendships, support and interaction, had to be sent home.

“We just had to do the best we could,” said Jak. “We have 15 clients all on the autism spectrum. Some of them were quite upset by it. and by the fact that their normal routines had been disrupted.

(Image: handout)

“But this is not going to stop us doing what we do. We work with a client group whose lives are already challenging

Jak later discovered that emergency services had been called at around 1.30am after people living nearby heard the sound of explosions coming from the building.

Police say two wheelie bins were pushed against the back door of the building and set alight.

Jak and his staff are still counting the cost of the damage.

But he says the autistic people who use the premises have already been affected by the disruption.

“We are an autism support service but we are also a professional touring band that travels all over the world.

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“It is a full-time project and people attend the hall five times a week from all over the North East.

“We have £30,000 or £40,000 worth of equipment inside that is just covered in smoke and soot because of the fire.

“This is a premises that does an awful lot of good for people that aren’t very well represented and who don’t get many opportunities to do what they do.

(Image: newcastle chronicle)

As police continue to probe the fire the local community has been rallying round Aukestra.

More than £2,300 has been donated to a GoFundMe page been set-up to help the group get back on its feet, so far

“It has really hit a nerve and people are angry about what has happened but we have been inundated with messages of support,” said Jak.

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“We have had two funding pages set up, pubs have offered us space to perform and local musicians have offered to loan us some instruments.”

PC Steve Moore, who is based out at Gateshead Police Station, has asked anyone who saw anything suspicious to get in touch.

He said: “This is just mindless vandalism and its impact goes far beyond any financial loss.

“The equipment and building is insured but the impact it will have on the vulnerable people who use it cannot be overestimated.

“We are determined to get them some answers and an investigation to identify those responsible is ongoing.

“I would ask anyone who saw anything suspicious in the area of the hall on Monday night or Tuesday morning to get in touch with police.

“If you think you know the people involved, or if you are the ones responsible, then we would ask you to do the right thing and call us.”

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Aukestra had been due to perform for Look North cameras on Thursday as part of BBC Music day.

And Jak is determined the show will go on and is working to find alternative premises.

“They were going to interview the clients about how music has a positive impact on their mental health,” Jak explained. “But now we have got no instruments, no PA system and no performance space.

“I’m now frantically looking around for somewhere we can use.”

Anyone with any information is asked to contact Northumbria Police on 101 quoting log 72 17/09/19 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

You can also email PC Moore on  [email protected]  or report online at the Northumbria Police website.