Community steps up after vandals destroy autistic children’s sensory garden in Sunderland

Heartbroken members of a Sunderland autism support group have been overwhelmed by support from the community after their sensory garden was destroyed by vandals.

The Downhill Centre in Killarney Square, where the ‘Include ‘In’ Autism’ group are based, was broken into overnight on Saturday 23 February. Vandals ripped metres of wood from its garden fence and shed and stole equipment, including sensory tents, from inside.

Members of the group were left “devastated” by the heartless crime. However, some of their faith in humanity has been restored, as a fundraising campaign – set up to pay for repairs and fund increased security at the site – has raised more than double its target within days.

The group, which is run by dedicated volunteers, opened the garden in October 2018, to provide a safe environment for young people with additional needs to enjoy and explore their senses.

“We are absolutely devastated by what has happened,” said Marie Jevon, founder and chief executive of Include ‘In’ Autism. “My heart is broken for the children, and I hope those responsible can live with themselves knowing they have caused such upset and anguish as a result of their actions.”

The Go Fund Me page, set up by volunteer Amy Hossack, has so far raised over £1,000.

Local building company Jewson Sunderland, who provided materials and helped build the garden last year, have also stepped up again, donating new materials to help restore the site to its former glory.

Posting on the group’s Facebook page earlier this week, Ms Jevon thanked the community for their support. She wrote: “Your messages of support and donations have been overwhelming and has shown that there is more good than bad in circumstances like this. The community have truly lifted our spirits as they have rallied around and helped in so many ways including money and materials to help us get it back on track.”

She continued: “I can’t honestly put into words how I feel about the kindness and love and support Include ‘In’ Autism have had over the past few days.”

An investigation has been launched to find those responsible for the damage, and police are asking the public to come forward with any information they have to assist their enquiries.

PC Daniel Armstrong, of Northumbria Police, said: “Crimes like this understandably cause a great deal of emotion and anguish among the community. This is a local support group run by volunteers who show incredible levels of determination and kindness to help some of the most vulnerable individuals in our area. For vandals to break in and cause such levels of devastation is absolutely disgraceful.”

Anyone with information is asked to call 101 quoting reference 759 240219 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Click here to donate to the Go Fund Me page. 

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