Thieves strike at Lowestoft charity’s community farm at Corton
- Credit: James Bass
A Lowestoft charity put up a reward this week after thousands of pounds of vital equipment was stolen in a break-in at its community farm.
Members of the Aid and Assist project have been left angry and upset after tools worth about £3,000 were stolen from a locked shed on the site off the A12 near Corton.
The charity – which provides volunteering opportunities for people with learning difficulties and disabilities – had been planning to expand and open up its farm to the wider community.
But it may now be forced to ditch its plans as it will need to find extra money to replace the stolen tools.
During the break-in last week, one of the farm's geese was injured and another two are now missing, having apparently been stolen.
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The crime has so angered Aid and Assist's vice-chairman Hanif Jaffer that he has offered a £300 reward to anyone who can provide information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible.
Mr Jaffer, a local businessman, said: 'What really gets me upset is that the thieves have not stolen from the farm, they have stolen from the whole community of Lowestoft especially those with disabilities and learning difficulties or the disadvantaged.
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'There has been a lot hard work and effort put into this farm. We have a plan set up a mobile classroom so we bring schools and other groups here – but that may not happen if we have to replace all the tools.
'It is a major setback for us. The people who did this have not only affected us – they have affected the whole of Lowestoft. I don't know how they can look at themselves in the mirror.'
The community farm, off Stirrups Lane, was officially opened last June. It offers a chance for volunteers with learning difficulties and disabilities to boost their skills and confidence by planting vegetables, looking after its animals and maintaining the five-acre site.
The break-in happened between 5.30pm on Tuesday, June 18 and 8.45am the next day. A lawn mower, clearing saw, hedge cutter, two chainsaws, a brush cutter and two tool boxes were stolen from the shed and the farm's two-year-old goose, Ludlow, was injured during the incident.
Farm manager Tony Gunton was the first person to discover the thefts and the injury to Ludlow, which has left him nervous about human contact,
'It was sickens me to see what has happened,' he said. 'I hope the people who did this are proud of themselves, they have damaged the whole community.
'We have all put in so much work in getting this farm started and now this happens. It is hard to put it all into words really.'
Lez Pickford, who manages Aid and Assist's new shop in London Road South, and who has worked on the farm, said: 'This has really banjaxed us all. It has hit us all hard and may scupper our plans to get a mobile classroom.
'I don't know what goes on in people's minds when they do this sort of thing. Why would you want to do something that impacts on the whole community? It is beyond me.'
Aid and Assist, which has its headquarters in Lowestoft's High Street, was set up 30 years ago and provides day care, a furniture re-use scheme and a property maintenance service.
The charity set up the farm on a six-lease year after it received grants from the Suffolk Foundation and local Rotarians.
Waveney MP Peter Aldou was among the guests who attended its official opening last June/
He said: 'I am sorry to hear what happened at the farm. This sort of setback is upsetting to all those involved and I will do all I can to help Aid and Assist get back on its feet, as I know how important community farms are.'
A Lowestoft police spokesman said the breeak-in happened between 5.30pm on Tuesday, June 18 and 8.45am on Wednesday June 19. She added: 'We are keen to hear from anyone who may have seen anything suspicious in the area or anyone with information about those responsible.
'We would also like to speak to anyone who may have been offered similar tools for sale.'
?Anyone with information should call PC Steve Fisher at Lowestoft on 101 or Crimestoppers, anonymously if required, on 0800 555 111.