Charity for autistic musicians targeted by arsonists

A Seaham charity worker has vowed to carry on after an internationally-acclaimed autistic music group was left ‘devastated’ by arsonists.

Wednesday, 18th September 2019, 12:22 pm
Updated Wednesday, 18th September 2019, 18:19 pm
Soot-covered keyboards and damage to the building's shutter. Pictures:Aukestra

Aukestra was set up by Jak Dixon, 43, four years ago and gives autistic people the chance to perform and record their own music.

Every day children and adults from across the North East travel to the Mary Sanders Memorial Hall in Durham Road, Birtley, to perform as part of a group that has traveled all over the world.

But staff who arrived at the hall on Tuesday found the building had been targeted by arsonists.

Soot-covered keyboards and damage to the building's shutter. Pictures:Aukestra

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Emergency services had been called at 1.30am that morning after two wheelie bins were pushed against the back door and set alight.

Only the rear door was damaged but the smoke from the fire seeped in to the building, covering instruments and recording equipment worth tens of thousands of pounds in soot .

“There is a lot of heavy smoke damage to the fixtures and fittings and all our equipment,” said Jak.

“That is tens of thousands of pounds of kit which is out of use.

Jak Dixon and one of the group's drum kits. Picture: Aukestra

“The fire was plastic, so the residue has got into everything.

“We have got microphones, pianos, guitars, all covered in dust. We are waiting for the insurance to come in and deep clean the whole building.

“The local community have been so good in terms of offering us support, from the use of instruments to space to rehearse.

“Two people have set up fund-raising pages and and £3,000 has been raised. Nothing is going to keep us down.”

Northumbria Police has confirmed it is treating the fire as arson. PC Steve Moore said: “This is just mindless vandalism and its impact goes far beyond any financial loss.

“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.

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

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