A PENSIONER on a mission to help people living with dementia will open a new community garden tomorrow in defiance of a callous thief who threatened to rain on his parade.

Ernie Mart, who has vascular dementia, is the driving force behind the launch of the Cornerstone Sensory Garden, in Evenwood, near West Auckland, County Durham.

But last month, the garden was targeted by a masked raider who broke in under cover of darkness and stole tools, timber and donated ornaments.

However, the community rallied to get the project back on track and now a day of celebrations is planned, with more than 100 guests expected, including residents, councillors, the police and firefighters.

Mr Malt said: “Out of badness has come a lot of goodness. People came up to me in the street and put money in my hand – others gave me trees and plants or offered to do some work.

“I had been feeling really down after what happened. It got to the stage where I was avoiding going down to the garden because I was worried that something else might be missing.

“But then I thought to myself, I’m letting the thief win by feeling this way, so I forced myself to carry on as normal.”

The 70-year-old, who was named Inspirational Individual of the Years at the Alzheimer’s Society’s 2016 Dementia Friendly Awards, runs a dementia café at the Cornerstone Christian Centre in Evenwood, where the garden is based.

It has been designed specifically for people with dementia, visual impairment, physical disabilities or special needs, but will be open to everyone.

He added: “I’ve over the moon with the way the garden looks. It’s spectacular – even better than I’d envisaged.

“The space we have is more than I’d originally planned for, so there is now a children’s play area as well.”

The event, from 10am to 2pm, will also feature a barbecue and a performance by a gospel choir.