Thieves target Ashford day centre

HEARTLESS thieves are waging an on-going campaign of crime against a specialist day centre for people with learning disabilities. The Wholelife Project, which offers adults and youngsters day placements on a working farm, has been plagued by thefts and va

HEARTLESS thieves are waging an on-going campaign of crime against a specialist day centre for people with learning disabilities.

The Wholelife Project, which offers adults and youngsters day placements on a working farm, has been plagued by thefts and vandalism since it opened in Ashford, near Barnstaple, in the summer of 2007.

Founders of the not-for-profit Community Interest Company (CIC), Matt and Emma Burridge, from Braunton, say they have lost count of the number of break-ins during the last two years.

The young couple say they have struggled to keep the centre running with a small group of volunteers and that the thefts are hampering their ambition to eventually be able to provide free day placements for clients.


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On Sunday, April 18, they received another set-back when thieves broke into their Land Rover in broad daylight, smashing a windscreen and driver's side window to steal power tools including battery-powered drills and a chainsaw.

"It was so upsetting to come back and find it left like that," said Emma, 28, who said the couple had been forced to remortgage to keep the project going.

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The smallholding, between the Tarka Trail and the A361 opposite the Trelawney Garden Centre, gives people with learning disabilities or behavioural problems the chance to learn how to grow organic fruit and vegetables, rear organic livestock and try craft skills such as woodworking, basket making and pottery.

In July 2008, even before the project had officially opened, eight hens and a cockerel were taken during a night-time break-in, while in November the same year, �2,000 worth of equipment was stolen, including power tools and computer hardware. In August last year, the centre suffered its seventh break-in in 12 months when thieves broke into a shed a stole tools and a brand new generator, despite it being bolted to the floor.

The couple estimate that they have been burgled at least eight times, with an eight-foot security fence cut three times and a shed broken into on four occasions.

"We love what we do and wouldn't change it for the world but it's extra pressure we don't need and we are becoming more and more disheartened," added Matt, 31.

"We harvest our own rainwater and currently generate our own electricity but because of the break-ins we can't continue to operate the way we want to and will have to install mains power and CCTV cameras."

PC Rod Lomas from Braunton Police Station said: "Matt and Emma are an extremely positive young couple who are giving disadvantaged people the chance to get involved in activities they would never normally get the chance to try. They run a fantastic project and to get targeted like this is not doing them any favours at all.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the police on 08452 777444 or ring Crimestoppers on 0800 555111, quoting crime number CN/10149. For more information about the project, telephone Matt on 07977 112678 or (01271) 816418 or visit www.wholelifeproject.co.uk

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