'Lee Henderson - you were a light for us all', says a plastic sign beside a blackened, boarded-up shopfront in Bedfordbury, a small street off Covent Garden.

On the ground below lie heaps of flowers. Attached to the grid over the shopfront are more flowers, bows, cards, poems, photographs. Some of the contributions are from local pubs and shops - often bouquets with their small sachets of plant feed still attached. Some of the cards - with poems and tributes - are clearly from close friends.

Others - sometimes just scraps of paper or card - bear messages in wobbly handwriting, suggesting the work of an elderly hand.

Partly it's the sheer quantity of cards and flowers, and partly the fulsome and intimate nature of many of the messages that make the effect quite arresting.

Passers-by stop in their tracks. A middle-aged lady asks, somewhat hopefully: 'Oh, did something ghastly happen?'

Something ghastly has indeed happened. On the morning of Saturday 14 May, Lee Henderson, the manager of the Millenium boutique, locked up the front of his shop while he went down into the basement where the stock was kept.

Two men working in Scott's Sandwich Bar across the road noticed that the shop was on fire. They rushed over, broke the window with a chair and shouted down to Henderson.

People from neighbouring shops - Waterstones, Arthur Middleton's antique scientific instrument shop, Peter's gents hairdressers - ran out with fire extinghuishers, but the Millenium, which was decorated with swathes of cotton drapery and filled with cotton clothes, was consumed by the flames.

Henderson made a run for it from the basement and was horribly burnt. Only his legs, encased in leather trousers, were left unscathed.

The neighbours put him under a shower in a nearby flat until an ambulance came and he was airlifted to Queen Mary's University Hospital at Roehampton.

Eleven days later Henderson died, and, within hours, the bouquets began to pile up on the pavement, acknowledging that Henderson was well known and popular in the area, and that, in the heart of London, a sense of community can still thrive.

Henderson, 25, was one of the best-known and liked individuals in the neighbourhood. Born in Newcastle and trained as a hairdresser, he had been working for several years in Millenium, a designer clothes store for men. He also sang in a variety of bands and knew the local club scene well.

A tall, dark, handsome young man, very thin and gaunt-faced, interested in rave music, and dressed in ripped jeans and clumpy boots - Henderson may not fit most people's preconception of what makes an ideal neighbour.

Yet he was a generous, friendly man with an outgoing, sunny disposition. In good weather, he used to sit outside his shop all day, chatting with who-ever went past, and doing the occasional beer, or lollipop round for neighbours.

He knew many of the pensioners on the Peabody estate down the road and would ask after their health. Old ladies, hoping to fatten him up a bit, brought round cakes to the shop.

In the basement of Millenium, Henderson cut local people's hair for free. David Sayer, a shop assistant at Waterstones, described him thus: 'One of the warmest people I've ever met - always a smile on his face. He made people feel good about themselves.

'You can see I'm not trendy, but that sort of thing never made any difference to Lee.

Carl Robson, a barman who has lived in the area for eight years and has bought several beautiful T-shirts from Millenium, said: 'He was always good to get into a club - you just followed in his wake. They've been saying round here that he'll come to the gates of heaven and say, 'Lee plus eight' and we'll all go trooping in behind him.'