THIEVES stole laptops and cash from a charity devoted to helping people with learning difficulties.
Raiders smashed their way into the Shaw Trust building, in Seaham, before snatching the computers and £500.
The social enterprise works with dozens of people with learning difficulties, helping them prepare for work and make decisions about their future.
Elaine Duffy, project manager at the Shaw Trust, said: “It’s the fact that we are supporting 43 people with learning difficulties and it will be managing their disappointment that’s the really hard thing.
“It’s a little bit soul-destroying, but we won’t let this defeat us. We’ve taken a bit of a knock to our confidence, but we will get over it.”
The thieves made off with £100 in petty cash and £400 that Elaine had raised for the charity by completing the Seaham Coast Run.
The crooks managed to get into the trust, in Heathway, Parkside, by breaking the fence before unscrewing the locked doors.
Elaine, 49, who has worked at the trust for seven years, said: “They have bent part of the fence and got in through there and they have gone to the portable cabins and taken them from there.
“But the laptops are encrypted so they won’t be able to use them.”
The trust also runs a garden centre, training its clients in horticulture, and was recently awarded a lottery grant.
Elaine, who is from Seaham, said: “I don’t know if it’s because we have been successful with the lottery grant that someone has decided to break in.
“We are very well known in the community.”
This is not the first time the charity has suffered at the hands of criminals.
Earlier this year Elaine’s office was broken into and cash was stolen.
A spokesman for Durham Police said: “It was reported to us just after 8.30am on Monday October 3. The caller reported a burglary at Shaw Trust, Heathway, Seaham, they believed took place between Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning.”
Anyone with information that could help the police investigation is asked to ring 0345 6060365 or contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.