church fire
© Unknown
The Bureau Centre for the Arts, former Church of St. John the Evangelist
Firefighters are tackling a huge blaze at one of the oldest church buildings in Blackburn.

It started just before 05:30 BST in The Bureau Centre for the Arts, in the former Church of St John the Evangelist, which opened in 1789. The Grade II-listed building is thought to be the oldest church in the town.

The Dean of Blackburn Cathedral, the Very Reverend Peter Howell-Jones, tweeted: "Very sad to see.......just praying now one was hurt."

Blackburn with Darwen Council, which owns the building, said it would work with the Bureau's directors to discuss its future. Watch manager Chris Archer said the cause of the fire was not suspicious.
church
© Lancashire Fire Service
Putting out the fire and assessing what remains.

Kerris Casey-St Pierre, one of the centre's directors, said: "It's a massive shock - a massive loss. We are devastated."

David Coggins, who fought to prevent its demolition in the 1980s, added:
"This building is such an important part of the town's architectural history. It's an absolute tragedy. If it was in London it would be a national treasure. It's not the Glasgow School Of Art so I cannot see it being rebuilt."
The building, which is believed to have been modelled on the Chiesa di San Marcuola in Venice, was deconsecrated by the Church of England in 1975 and was handed over to the local council.

There was a long-running debate about its future and from the 1990s to 2014 several community groups used the building including the Citizens Advice Bureau. For the last five years it has been run as an arts centre by a Community Interest Company with six volunteer directors.

Firefighters are trying to save its stained glass windows and other historical features.