LAND damaged by anti-social behaviour has been turned into a community garden in Woodhouse Park, Peterlee.

The garden has been developed where a porta-cabin once stood until it was vandalised and set alight by youths.

The land was donated by Peterlee Town Council, and the work has been funded by Durham County Council. It forms part of Peterlee Neighbourhood Policing Team’s ongoing initiative aimed at improving relationships with the community and diverting young people away from crime. PCSO Michelle Burr said: “This garden is about giving young people something they can be proud of and take responsibility for, which is our way of bringing the community together around something really positive.

“We’re taking an act of vandalism and turning it into something beautiful and productive for all.”

Young people from Groundwork North East, local schools, residents associations and other groups will be given care of their own flower beds and vegetable patches. The crops will be grown, harvested and donated to food banks and care homes in the Peterlee area.

Holme House Prison will donate plants to support the continuation of the scheme.

PCSO Burr said: “It’s a full circle approach whereby prisoners can give something back to their local community too, as well as the young people who have perhaps been involved in the sort of behaviour that could lead them down a path to criminality.” Officially opening the garden, Mayor of Peterlee Scott Meikle said: “This project is about community. Peterlee is a community, but I think we’ve lost that direction.

“This year, it’s my aim and the town council’s aim to bring that community spirit back together, and to make Peterlee the place it used to be.”

The opening of the garden was also attended by a crew from County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service, . Crew members demonstrated their equipment to school children and took part in a game of rounders.

The event culminated in the opportunity for the children to throw wet sponges at the police, mayor and fire chief.

PCSO Burr said: “We can lock people up and tell them off, but community policing is about more than that. We want to solve problems in the long term, not just mask them in the short term.

“Sometimes the best way to improve our relationship with the public is to let them get one over on us once in a while, and if that means getting soaked by wet sponges, then so be it.”