YOUNGSTERS and staff at a long-established playgroup have been left devastated after vandals trashed their newly-opened garden.

Stunned staff arrived at Eastbourne Playgroup, Darlington, to find the children’s much-loved seesaws broken beyond repair and newly-installed solar lights ripped out, smashed and scattered around the play area.

Tree decorations created by the children were also ruined, and colourful bunting tied to the eight-metre high security fence was also ripped down, as well as a number of educational posters.

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The playgroup, which has been running for more than 20 years, moved into its new home at Eastbourne Sports Complex, in Bourne Avenue, earlier this year.

It is the first time the group has had a garden and staff had spent months transforming the overgrown site into an area suitable for the children.

Playgroup manager Gail Wilkinson, who has worked at the group for more than ten years, said she had never seen anything like it.

“I couldn’t believe it when I saw it, I just thought why? It is not just our staff who are angry about it, the rest of the complex were appalled,” she said.

The Northern Echo attended the playgroup on Friday (March 14) to help celebrate the group’s move, but the vandals struck just hours after.

Mrs Wilkinson said: “Because this was our first garden we spent a lot of time doing it up and making it nice for the children.

“The children absolutely love going outside, even if it is raining. But when they saw it today they were lost, like it was a different place.

“One little girl likes to turn the big wooden seesaw over and stand on it and tell everyone she is the king of the castle.

“Today she went to the normal place, but when she saw it was gone she seemed lost and was really upset. She came back inside early and just sat on someone’s knee instead.

“The children are going to find it strange as they are used to playing on toys that are familiar to them because it reassures them, but now they are gone.”

It is thought the vandals struck overnight on Sunday (March 16), and Durham Police are appealing for any witnesses to call 101.