Sunderland sensory garden suffers devastating break-in - staff 'sickened' by the damage
A Sunderland voluntary group which supports children with autism and their families suffered a devastating break-in at the weekend.
After starting out as a small support group, Include 'In' Autism now offers workshops, accredited training and activity groups for hundreds of families.
It has a sensory garden at its premises at the Downhill Centre in Killarney Square, which provides hours of pleasure for the autistic children which the group helps.
It is a safe place for youngsters with additional needs and their families to go to explore their senses, enjoy some quiet time or to run about.
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But it suffered a break-in on Saturday night, with metres of wood ripped from its fence and equipment, including sensory tents, stolen from a shed, which was wrecked.
Marie Jevon, the founder and chief executive of the group, which was nominated for a Best of Wearside award last year, said she was "sickened" by the raid.
"We heard about it at about 3pm yesterday, and some of the volunteers went across. It was devastating. I felt sickened to the stomach.
"Whoever has done this must have come in and seen it was a place for kids, yet they've still done this. There are no words to describe how I feel.
"It broke my heart when I saw what had been done. I cannot comprehend why someone would do this, for the sake of some wood."
Include 'In' Autism runs various groups every week for people with autism and the garden plays a massive role in the sessions.
"We have a group which meets on Friday for 15-25 kids and another on Saturday, for between 12-15, and they might have to be cancelled," said Marie, who leads a team of 11 volunteers at the community interest company.
"We've tried to repair the fence so no one else can get in, but I'm worried about the effect this will have on the kids.
"Because of their autism, routine is important, and they like everything to be the same, so we may have to cancel this week's sessions."
Marie said she wanted to thank all the volunteers who turned out to help repair the damage yesterday - her husband John, Gary and Karen Curtis, Amy Hossack, Rachel Hepton, Bernadette Rice and Sam Brass.
"It's been brilliant the way everyone rallied round, and it just shows that the good people will always outweigh the bad," she added.
One of the volunteers, Amy Hossack, has also started a Go Fund Me page to help pay for repairs and additional security.
She said: "I am hoping to raise as much money as possible for repairs and to increase security, as it is a community interest company, run by donations and fundraising.
"All the money we get needs to be used to keep the group going, to support the families, rather than pay for damage."
To make a donation, visit the fundraising page here.