CHILDREN who wept when their school was destroyed in an arson attack have had their Christmas spirits raised by a kindly pub landlord.
Colin Burns, who manages the Cherry Tree in Runcorn, flung open his doors for an all-day festive bash - after hearing about the destruction of Halton Lodge Primary.
Scores of parents, teachers and school governors gathered at the pub on Friday to join in the Christmas disco and console the 230 pupils affected by the fire.
The occasion was further boosted by a surprise visit from Santa, and dozens of local shops rallied round to provide the youngsters with selection boxes, sandwiches, cakes and soft drinks.
Mr Burns, who watched as the school became engulfed by flames, says it is vital the community pulls together to conquer the devastation left behind by the firebugs.
Hand-made cards, decorations and nativity costumes were all burned when the roof caught fire and 50ft-high flames spread through the building.
Mr Burns said: 'When I came here eight months ago I didn't think there was much community spirit, and so this was my way of giving something back to the community.
'The fire came as a huge shock, and a great loss to the whole community.
'The Spirit pub company paid for the DJ and Santa, and crisps and food were also supplied - we just couldn't see them going without.
'It's important to pull something positive out of something so devastating.'
Staff of Halton Lodge Primary are also refusing to bow down to the arsonists, with headteacher Gaynor Dickson adopting I Will Survive as her anthem for 2004.
She said: 'We're truly grateful for the extensive support we've been getting from parents and staff, and would urge people to log any future fundraising activity with the PTA so we can thank everyone properly.
'We've been working hard to en-sure parents are kept informed of events at a weekly Friday assembly held at St Andrew's Church.
'As long as we stand firm together as a community, we'll build our school bigger and better than ever.
'Just like my favourite song, I will survive!'
The vision for the new school is to replace the timber construction with concrete, surrounded by sprinklers and top security.
And schools will be provided with an enhanced police presence by Halton's Community Action Team.
Meanwhile, mobile classrooms will be used at Halton Lodge while staff scan schools across the North West to select an ideal model.
It is estimated work won't be complete until about 2005. Police are renewing their appeal for people with information to ring DC Jason Hill on 01244 614917or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.