“I AM devastated. They have destroyed part of my life.”

These are the words of Fred Salter, the owner of Children’s Pleasure Park in Southampton, after part of his business has been destroyed by a fire and vandalised.

Emergency services rushed to the funfair near Southampton Sports Centre shortly before 6am yesterday after reports of a fire on open land.

A marquee used for children’s birthday parties has been completely destroyed by the flames.

Some sheds and a children play train have also been vandalised.

Hampshire police said nothing was stolen and confirmed the incident is being treated as arson.

A fundraising campaign has now been launched.

Mr Salter and his family have been running the funfair for the last 45 years.

The 53-year-old said he had just invested his last savings in it, spending about £30,000 to revamp the facilities.

But now he has been left counting the costs after the blaze destroyed the party room worth several thousands of pounds.

“I am absolutely devastated. All this fair does is to give entertainment to young children and they have just destroyed it. This is all my life. My mum and dad spent their whole life building this park. We have done our best to keep it going and keep it in the family,”he said.

Mr Salter runs the business with his daughter, son and brother.

“We have been here for 45 years and we have never experienced anything as devastating as this,”he added.

He said the funfair, which is usually open on weekends, was going to be open every day this week to give children and families a chance to enjoy the school holidays.

Several birthday parties were also set to be held in the marquee but will now have to be cancelled.

Mr Salter said he does not know yet how much it will cost to rebuild the marquee.

He is now appealing to the community to help him raise some of the money needed and help with the investigation.

“We need the community to help otherwise we need to close. We do this for the Southampton community. Any help in finding the unscrupulous people who have destroyed it would be much appreciated,” he said.

A fundraising campaign has now been set up in a bid to raise £2,000.

A message on the online fundraising page reads: “We are raising money for repairs for the party room after the fire. This will cover the clearing of the area and the expenses for new materials to rebuild.

“As a family, we were devastated to hear the news about what had happened. We are very grateful for all of the messages of support from the community and it’s given us the hope to carry on."

Dozens of people donated yesterday afternoon and showed their support to Mr Salter and his family.

A message left online by a resident reads: “This was my childhood play area right on my doorstep. I even remember it being built. Hope this helps to get it running again for yet another generation of children.”

Another resident added: “I am devastated. I took my children there and have been taking my granddaughters there each year. It was a very unique place and I hope it can be rebuilt in some way.”

Talking to the Daily Echo after the fire, Mr Salter’s daughter Caitilin Ann Hayward said: “I’m trying to be optimistic. All we can do now is to clean up and try again.”

A spokeswoman for Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service said fire crews from Eastleigh and Redbridge fire stations were called to the funfair at 05.45am and the fire was put out by 7.15am.

Police were informed and officers were sent to the scene.

A spokeswoman for Hampshire police said: “Officers were called to the scene just before 7.20am. Officers are currently investigating following an incident of arson and criminal damage at the fun fair at Southampton Sports Centre. Anyone with any information should call Hampshire Constabulary on 101 quoting 44190058890.”

City councillor Satvir Kaur said the council will continue to support emergency services and partner agencies with their investigations.

She added: “Very sad to hear about this incident. It is a much loved facility that is enjoyed by many local communities and coming from a family business myself, I know just how crushing something like this can be. It is really upsetting when individuals destroy family play areas for fun, ruining enjoyment for others and potentially people’s livelihood. “

To donate visit www.gofundme.com.