Chorley mechanic who lost livelihood in devastating Charnock Richard workshop blaze is being helped by community

A businessman who defied life threatening injuries to launch his own business has spoken of his devastation after a blaze tore through his workshop, causing more than £80,000 damage.

By Stef Hall
Wednesday, 31st March 2021, 7:00 am

The blaze, which is under investigation by police and the fire service, broke out last Monday night at an industrial unit at Hilldale, a small farm in Charnock Richard, Chorley, opposite the crematorium.

The unit was packed with about £80,000 of car repair equipment and it will cost around £30,000 just to rebuild the workshop shell.

Neil Stoneley, 57,whose car workshop has been based at the site for 25 years, also said he was "humbled" at the community response, which has included setting up a Go Fund Me fundraising bid to claw back money to help him rebuild his life's work.

Fire crews and police are investigating the blaze

Mr Stoneley is well known in the area for rescuing locals who have broken down.

In a tragic twist, Mr Stoneley had parked a car transporter at the doors of the unit and fitted extra locks to deter intruders after an attempted break in the previous night.

It is understood the blaze started in one of the cars on the transporter, then spread.

But it is feared insurers will not pay out due to a clause about having vehicles parked a certain distance away from the work premises.

Mr Stoneley with the charred remains of his workshop

Neil said: "It's catastrophic,

"I've been here for 25 years and had no issues at all but had a break in over the weekend. The thieves couldn't get in but I had a sneaking suspicion they would come back due to the value of the equipment inside.

"I parked my truck at the doors to make it hard for them to get in.

"On Monday I got a phone call from the farmer saying it was burned down to the ground. I was devastated and by the time I got there, there was nothing left.

Mr Stoneley

"It's a lifetime gone.

"At the moment because a lot is going on it hasn't sunk in properly, it'lll be further down the line when it hits me. It's like a disaster movie.

Teacher Frances Grayken, 29, whose father also has a unit on the same site, launched a Go Fund Me crowdfunder to try to help Mt Stoneley raise enough money to rebuild his business.

Almost £3,000 has been donated to the fund so far.

Frances Grayken launched a fundraiser

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"Neil is one of the kindest and most caring people I have ever met and I couldn't even guess the amount of times he has been there to answer my many motor related phone calls.

"Every time I have called he'd be there at the drop of a hat. Not only is this is business and livelihood, it is also a community where everyone comes together.

"This fundraiser has touched the hearts of so many people, including one of the pupils in my class who has very kindly donated £3.50 of his own pocket money to the cause. The generosity has been exceptional. Every penny helps and will all be greatly appreciated by an extremely humble man."

Neil's friend and landowner, Lord David Arends, believes the blaze was deliberate and linked to the previous break in.

He said: "There was damage to the wagon which looks like they have prized the doors trying to move it, but in the long run were unable to and then they probably noticed the extra new locks on the door and gave up.

"One of the cars on the back of the transporter set on fire and the flames spread to the whole building, causing a massive amount of damage.

" Neil Stoneley is a mild mannered kind man who would help anyone at the drop of a hat.

"He has been there nearly 30 years and took over a disused farm building and set up business repairing cars at a reasonable rate for the trade and general public.

"He became very busy and started to transform his building into a large modern industrial unit at his own expense over several years and built up a very busy business.

"He is the kind of man to whom his work has been his life, and everything he owned was his workshop and his vast array of equipment and his recovery vehicle that he referred to as his pride and joy.

" He would go out at any time of the night and rescue anyone in need, sometimes for nothing if they couldn't afford it, especially young lasses that would be in danger, he gave special attention to their safety.

"He hasn't just lost a building or a few pieces of equipment but absolutely everything he's ever worked for.

" This couldn't have happened to a nicer and more caring man and it's truly both shocking and heartbreaking at the same time.

" It would mean the world to us all for small donations to help him get back on his feet and try and rebuild the place where he spent most of his days."

It is the second blow Mr Stoneley has suffered.

In 2002 he was pushed over a stairwell in a crowd rush at Fivces nightclub in Preston, falling 30ft from a balcony. Doctors said he was unlikely to survive and he spent many months in hospital, contracting MRSA, which complicated his injuries.

He said: "The community is wonderful. We are a close knit family who all help each other in different ways.

"I still have all that to deal with. I didn't work for six years but it was my livelihood that kept me going."

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