An internationally-acclaimed autistic music group has been left "devastated" after being targeted by arsonists.
Aukestra was set up by Jak Dixon, 43, in Birtley four years ago and gives autistic people the chance to perform and record their own music.
Every single day children and adults from across the North East travel to their home at the Mary Sanders Memorial Hall on Durham Road.
There they hone their craft and perform as part of a group that has travelled all over the world.
But staff were shocked when they arrived at the hall on Tuesday and found that the building had been targeted by arsonists.
Emergency services had been called at 1.30am that morning after two wheelie bins were pushed against the back door and set alight.
Thankfully only the rear door was damaged but the smoke from the fire seeped in to the building.
Instruments and recording equipment worth tens of thousands of pounds has been covered in soot and Mr Dixon still does not know the full extent of the damage.
But he says the fire goes beyond financial loss as it has robbed those vulnerable people who use the hall from playing their music.
Mr Dixon, who lives in Seaham, said: “We are an autism support service but we are also a professional touring band that travels all over the world.
“It is a full-time project and people attend the hall five times a week from all over the North East.
“We have 30 or 40 thousand pounds worth of equipment inside that is just covered in smoke and soot because of the fire.
“This is a premises that does an awful lot of good for people that aren’t very well represented and who don’t get many opportunities to do what they do.
“It has really hit a nerve and people are angry about what has happened but we have been inundated with messages of support.
“We have had two funding pages set up, pubs have offered us space to perform and local musicians have offered to loan us some instruments.”
Mr Dixon added that the band were set to perform at the hall for the BBC next week as part of BBC Music Day.
Thankfully the fire has not cost the group the opportunity to take centre stage after the BBC invited them to perform in their Newcastle studio.
Police have today (Wednesday) said they are treating the fire as arson and have launched an investigation to try and identify the culprits.
PC Steve Moore, who is based out of Gateshead Police Station, has asked anyone who saw people acting suspiciously in the area to get in touch.
He said: “This is just mindless vandalism and its impact goes far beyond any financial loss.
“The equipment and building is insured but the impact it will have on the vulnerable people who use it cannot be overestimated.
“We are determined to get them some answers and an investigation to identify those responsible is ongoing.
“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.
“If you think you know the people involved, or if you are the ones responsible, then we would ask you to do the right thing and call us.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or report online at the Northumbria Police website.