Belfast Crystal rises again from ashes of fire
Owners raise glass to 2018 just months after inferno
A man who saw his family business go up in flames has told how he is ready to make a new start in 2018.
Tony Abbate of Belfast Crystal lost his life's work and savings in the blaze in July.
He told the Belfast Telegraph how the fire broke the heart of his Italian father Antonio, who started the firm 40 years ago, and how an incredible show of support from the business community allowed it to keep trading from a Portacabin.
Now, the family are overjoyed that their workshop will be fully rebuilt early in the new year.
"It is totally unbelievable to think we have got to Christmas with the vision of making a fresh start to 2018," Mr Abbate said.
"Everything I had was tied up in the business."
The blaze took hold on the evening of July 1 at Kennedy Way industrial estate in west Belfast. Some 40 firefighters battled in vain to save the factory.
Mr Abbate said that without the support of his wife Angela and children Amy, Carla and Marco, it would have been "impossible" to start again.
"There were many days I found life difficult and dreaded the thought of going to the factory. I thought many times of giving up, but the support of my father with his encouragement gave me the strength to go on," he added.
"Heart-warming" support from business contacts also helped. And his children set up a GoFundMe page that proved "invaluable". Some £7,000 was raised via the page, including an anonymous donation of £1,000.
In addition, other businesses donated the Portacabin, a shipping container for storage and two costly glass cutting machines. And salvaging as much stock as possible proved crucial.
"Most of the damage was concentrated at the rear of the factory where most of our finished stock was stored. Luckily the fire was brought under control by the extremely brave firemen before it spread any further, which has enabled us to repair the building," Mr Abbate explained.
Police are no longer treating the incident as arson.
"The fire started on the ground with trees between our premises and the one next door," he said. "It was extremely hot that day and they've put two and two together. There may have been broken glass there, which acted as a magnifying glass.
"They could see my father going home on the CCTV at 3pm, the fire started three hours later, and they can't see any suspicious activity. It's just one of those things."
Mr Abbate said one of the toughest hurdles was an assumption that he was out of business.
He added: "I was able to contact most of our corporate clients such as football and golf clubs, PR companies, banks and so on, and let them know we are still in business. Their support through their orders has been invaluable.
"The part we have suffered most from has been from casual customers looking for a wedding or birthday gift, which we had no contact details for."
Mr Abbate said rebuilding had been an exhausting process.
"Initially I saw my father grow 10 years older in a few weeks, but now when he comes down to check on things, I think I can see him improve too," he said.
"We lost practically all of our normal Christmas trade, but seeing our walls and roof go up, we hope to have a brighter future than I could have envisaged six months ago."