A CHARITY boss has promised it is business as usual at a shop which narrowly escaped a blaze which destroyed adjoining properties.

Arsonists struck earlier this month, badly damaging four businesses in Front Street, Stanley, County Durham.

The flames ripped through David Hawkins estate agent, Repair Hair Design salon, Pizza Land takeaway and Berties cafe.

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But Helen Mills, chief executive of Willow Burn Hospice in nearby Lanchester, said the charity’s shop next door to the affected properties emerged relatively unscathed.

Ms Mills said: “The direction of the wind helped save the shop. Had it been blowing in the opposite direction then the fire would probably have spread.

“As it was we had to close for a couple of days while our hard working volunteer staff cleaned up soot.

“But we were lucky to escape so lightly.”

She said the shop was now open again and welcoming customers.

Ms Mills said: “Business is actually quite healthy but some people may be under the misapprehension that the shop has been badly affected by the fire, which fortunately is not the case.”

She added party frocks, “ideal for New Year’s Eve,” were on sale at the Willow Burn shop at half price.

Meanwhile, a Christmas Fair for the hospice held at St Bede’s School in Lanchester raised £8,500.

And more than £4,000 has been raised from festive collections taken at a Tree of Remembrance in Matalan, Consett, and also trees in Asda, Stanley and Barclays Bank, Lanchester.

Ms Mills said: “We would like to thank all our volunteers, and everyone for their incredible generosity at this time of the year.”

Next year Willow Burn celebrates its 25th anniversary since its foundation.