THE manager of St Leonards WRVS has vowed to keep the centre open after it was trashed by burglars last weekend.
Sue Adey was devastated when she discovered the extent of the damage at the centre which provides valued services to older people and meeting space for community groups.
She said: “We see over 1,000 people a week, and we are not closing, we will not let them win.”
When she received news of the break-in at the centre in South Street, St Leonards, which took place in the early hours of Sunday morning (April 1), initially she could not bear to see the damage for herself.
“I sent my husband down. We have had four in 12 months, and I thought I really can’t handle this again.
“I spent all afternoon crying at home, because of all the work we had put in.”
She praised the efforts of the volunteers and centre users who were helping to clear up the mess.
Items stolen included a large plasma screen TV taken from a locked room, a Wii console and games, a projector given to the centre as a gift, kitchen equipment including an expensive butcher’s knife, and a large quantity of sweets.
The cost of the burglary will run into thousands, as not only was equipment stolen, damage included doors and cupboards broken, paint thrown over walls and floors, and a graffiti tag scratched into the dance floor.
A figure cannot be placed on the damage to items of sentimental value such as old photographs, which formed part of a heritage project that had been three years in the making.
The police were called to the centre after neighbours were disturbed by noise from the break-in. The investigation is continuing.
The centre receives no external funding, and all the equipment was bought with money raised from events such as raffles and a street cleaning drive.
Mrs Adey, who has worked at the centre for six years, said: “It was just unnecessary, that’s what annoys me more than anything.
“It is pointless. Why break into an old people’s centre? It could be their grandparents.
The centre is open every week day and staffed by around 70 volunteers, offering lunch, a community cafe, and a range of activities including exercise classes, computer classes and arts groups.
There are also outreach projects such as a good neighbours scheme.
Mrs Adey is hoping that the insurance will cover some of the cost of the burglary, but is adamant that what is really needed is CCTV.
“There is no way that we can afford it,” she said. “And the police have said there is not enough money.”