THIEVES have smashed up a charity wishing well and stolen cash meant for underprivileged Old Town children.
The Winkle Club-run collection point on The Stade has been collecting pennies from passers-by for more than 50 years - raising £2,000 in the year alone.
It is usually emptied twice a year and was due to be cleared of cash later this week.
However, when builders returned to the Jerwood Gallery site on Tuesday following their festive break they were greeted by the sight of a wrecked well.
And the fear among Winkle Club members is that the thieves who plundered the collection could have got away with anything up to £1,000 in loose change.
The Winkle Club was formed in 1900 and has spent more than a century gathering money to spend on local good causes, including a Christmas party for poor youngsters living in the Old Town.
And, according to the club’s chaiman Richard Read, Winklers locally have been left devastated by the burglary.
“It is very upsetting,” he told the Observer. “A lot of hard work goes into the Winkle Club and everything we do is for the benefit of the community so for someone to steal from the wishing well like this is sickening.
“Whatever we collect we give away so these thieves have essentially stolen cash from out of the hands of Old Town children. It beggars belief.”
The wishing well is on the site of the new Jerwood Gallery and is currently boarded off from the main strip – meaning there is no way of knowing when the damage took place, only that it was sometime over the festive period.
And, according to Mr Read, the club has not reached a decision over whether or not to replace the well - which is actually owned by the Rotary Club but used by the Winklers.
“That wishing well is as much a part of the Old Town as the fishing nets,” said Mr Read.
“It has been there for as long as I can remember.
“It is such a shame it has been smashed up. I would have hoped the site would have had better security in place.
“We (the Winkle Club) will have to decide what to do with it - hopefully it can be repaired.”
Hastings Borough Council has already made a donation to the Winkle Club after hearing of the burglary, and the authority’s tourism spokesman Kevin Boorman said: “I was really disappointed to hear about the wishing well - it is absolutely mindless.
“This was a stupid attack on something which is there to support the poor Old Town children.”
n The Winkle Club’s annual dinner takes place on Monday evening at the East Hastings Angling Association on The Stade. All members are welcome to attend. It starts at 7pm.