FAMILIES left devastated by a Kendal house fire have celebrated Christmas but continue to live with uncertainty.

Claire Holden and Tim Graham, whose attic the fire started in at Sandylands Road, spent the day with Claire’s mum in a temporary return to normality.

But three weeks on from the fire they still have nowhere to live with their five children, relying on family and friends to look after them.

Ms Holden, who is expecting a baby in February, said she was angry after a meeting with South Lakeland District Council just before Christmas.

The family learned it had been downgraded in the council’s choice based lettings scheme to a category E, when A is classed as an emergency.

“We would like to know what an emergency is,” she said.

“You couldn’t get more of a crisis at this time of year.

“We have been told to look for rented accommodation but it is proving difficult because nobody wants to let in a family of seven with three dogs.”

A spokesman for the council said it is working with the family and doing all it can to help.

Neil and Jennifer Armstrong, who lived next door with daughter Anya Maycock, 11, and their son Max, 2, spent Christmas Day with Jennifer’s sister.

Mrs Armstrong said it was nice for them all to take their minds off the fire.

“The run up to Christmas has been marred by the fire and in the last week I have felt very sad about it all,” she said.

But Anya and Max’s big day was made more special thanks to the generosity of the Westmorland Shopping Centre, where director Alan Green arranged for all their Christmas presents to be replaced, along with Neil’s son Daniel, whose gifts were also destroyed in the fire.

Mrs Armstrong said: “It was brilliant for the kids; Santa came to see them and Max was telling him about our ‘broken house’ and making sure he knew where we are staying.

“We’d like to say a massive thank you to Alan and everyone at the shopping centre who made it possible.”

Grandfather Cyril Jenkinson, who lives two doors down from the fire also had to move out.

“I have been at the Castle Green Hotel but I am being kicked out on New Year’s Eve as they don’t have any rooms then,” he said.

“All the things that are smoke damaged need assessing properly but of course everything closes down for Christmas.”

Jonny Gios from Sandylands Methodist Church paid tribute to the community, including the Sandylands Residents’ Association and other church members, who have rallied round to help the families.

He has handed over ‘hundreds of pounds’ in donations, saying “I am filled with astonishment at how much we have been able to raise for the families affected by the house fire.

“They truly are grateful and our thoughts and prayers are with all the families as they seek to get back into their properties next year.”

The new landlady at The Sawyers Arms at Stricklandgate in Kendal, Jacqueline Hadley, is organising a fund-raiser for the affected families, and is appealing for donations of lots for an auction.

She met Mr Graham when he came into the pub and pledged to do everything she could to help.

“With five children and one on the way, it must be severely stressful,” she said.

Anyone with items to donate can call into the pub or call Ms Hadley on 01539 729737.