Parents fight back to save vandal-hit garden project

THOUSANDS of pounds have been raised to rebuild a community garden that was trashed twice in just a few weeks.

A member of staff examines the damaged polytunnels at the garden. Picture: Neil Hanna

Vandals went on a wrecking spree at The Hermitage in Morningside, a social enterprise which supports people with severe autism.

Parents of the users managed to raise almost £3000 to repair the polytunnels which were destroyed in the first incident earlier this month, and are now aiming to double that figure.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Lisanne Valente, whose son Michael, 31, is a regular attendee at the site – which is operated by Autism Initiatives Scotland – said the impact the crime has had on the users could not be underestimated.

She said her son had benefited from the gardening project, in which he and other autistic adults built fire pits and a pizza oven, created a pond and planted a variety of plants and fruit.

Ms Valente said: “I’m at a loss as to why wanton vandalism is of fun to anyone. The function is to give these adults a purpose and understanding while developing their capabilities in a safe environment.

“Change is difficult for Michael to accept. Closure of this facility, even for a day, represents ending and change. It’s not just a case of ‘let’s have fun and smash all these trees up’ – that can be fixed – but so much else is involved that these young thugs don’t care about.”

Comedians Janey Godley and Hardeep Singh Kohli are among the high-profile names who have offered to help fundraise.

Richard Ibbotson, national director of Autism Initiatives Scotland, said the incidents had been frustrating for all involved. He said: “The Hermitage Garden is based at the Hermitage golf course, a social enterprise run by Autism Initiatives which seeks to create employment opportunities and experience for adults with autism.

“The garden provides a supported and safe environment to learn new skills and develop self-esteem, confidence and general wellbeing. We were just getting back to normal and then on Monday night, a similar thing happened again. It’s just unnecessary.”

Ian Murray MP visited The Hermitage last week alongside his office staff to help with the clear-up. He said: “It looks as though it could be a cumulation of about £6000 of damage. It’s a senseless thing to do. Because of the conditions of the client base there, everything has to be absolutely perfect for their needs and they just can’t allow their clients to use it at the moment.

“It’s a great organisation – they do a lot in Edinburgh.”

Inspector Graeme Nisbett said: “It is extremely disappointing that this local beauty spot has been the subject of two mindless acts of destruction in such a short space of time, both of which have resulted in expense repairs being required.

“We will have high-visibility patrols in the area and I would ask that anyone who remembers seeing any suspicious activity around The Hermitage over last weekend or at the start of last week contacts police immediately. Similarly, anyone with any further information that can help us trace those responsible is also asked to get in touch.”